When it comes to portraying families on television – comedy or drama – there’s an important balance to be found between conflict and unity, being able to bring family members into direct opposition with each other for dramatic purposes, yet having a strong enough foundation to make sure those conflicts can be believably resolved in the space of an episode (or in some, a few episodes). Rarely, a comedy is able to maintain that balance without either becoming too bitter or too spiteful: even classic comedies, from I Love Lucy to Frasier, struggled with the idea of having a family that can annoy each other, but still love each other – which makes Bob’s Burgers ability to do it so effortlessly even more impressive.
Even in its earlier, much rougher episodes, Bob’s Burgers has always been an antithesis to this: where many comedies draw conflict from isolating members from the family, Bob‘s Burgers always takes the opposite route, usually keeping everyone in the family together through stories, both as a support system and a family unit, with all the quirks and recurring annoyances that come along with it. It’s why arguments between Bob and Linda never feel as ugly as they do on other shows centered around family (I’m looking at you, Modern Family): the two are able to poke at long-standing problems in their relationship, but are always written as empathetic characters, both in the sense of how they’re portrayed on the show (most of the time, Linda annoying the crap out of the family because she loves them so much, something each member of the family clearly knows), and how they approach others they’re having problems with (in a recent episode, Bob struggles with the knowledge that Teddy is probably his best friend, something his wife helps him understand throughout the half hour).
However, it’s not just the central marriage that’s taken with such care: arguments and insults on Bob’s Burgers are never taken too far, or turned into a series of repetitive, bitter jokes (Bob doesn’t get mad at Linda singing all the time; just once in awhile): even though the show constantly mines dramas from disagreements within the family, Bob’s Burgers never separates the family from each other, which forces them to go through experiences together, leading to a shared understanding that only strengthens the bonds between characters. “A Turkey In A Can”, arguably the show’s best episode, is able to play off all this built-up connection, re-positioning Bob’s relationship with his oldest daughter in a signature emotional moment, as he struggles with the knowledge that his little girl is starting to grow up.
There are lots and lots of families on television; however, there just aren’t as many tight-knit families as the Belchers – or as many shows as optimistic as Bob’s Burgers, an important philosophic distinction that firmly establishes them as the best family unit on television today. It’s not often we get to watch families who support each other, even when they don’t agree: Tina’s ghost boyfriend, Bob’s food truck expansion, Linda’s dream of holding dinner theater in the restaurant… these stories (and their heartwarming conclusions) are only possible because of the family at the center of the show, an impressive accomplishment too often overlooked in the crowded television landscape.
Photos via FOX