“Blow up your TV ...”
— John Prine
I can think of no more damning evidence to illustrate the sorry state of television in modern-day America: The most cleverly written and entertaining show on the air right now is a cartoon: “Bob’s Burgers.”
Yes, primetime cartoons have been around since the days of “The Flintstones,” and “The Simpsons” is one of (if not the) longest-running shows right now on primetime network TV. And no one can deny the impact “Spongebob Squarepants” has had on the medium. But with only a handful of scripted programs featuring actual human beings, as opposed, say, to drawn characters, providing quality entertainment, the high cost of TV viewing is driving more and more consumers to purchase apps that allow them to watch better quality programming at a much lower price. Free TV, indeed.
(Oh, and those rare quality shows — minus syndicated series from days gone by — that are worth watching these days: “Chicago P.D.” and “Chicago Fire,” “Gold Rush,” “The Voice” (during the early rounds), “Super Store” (which is, frustratingly, in its final season), “This Is Us” (except when it meanders too far into the maudlin zone), “Shameless” (which is not as good without Fiona running things), and a couple of exciting new shows ... NBC’s “The Mayor,” which is laugh-out-loud funny, and Showtime’s “Your Honor.” If there’s anything else, I haven’t seen it.)
Anthropologists and sociologists are able to carbon date a person’s generation these days by researching which cartoons an individual watched as a child. There is the Loony Tunes group, the Power Rangers group, the Tom & Jerry group, the superheroes group, the Transformers group, the Disney group and other subgroups that are more difficult to categorize. (Huckleberry Hound anyone? Quickdraw McGraw? Wally Gator? Hokie Wolf (and Dingaling)? Popeye? Yogi Bear (and BooBoo)? Wacky Races? Inspector Gadget? CatDog? The Powerpuff Girls? Archie and Friends? (Oh, and the cartoon was much better than the current ho-hum “Riverdale” that seeks to — and fails — update the classic comic.) Snagglepuss? Woody Woodpecker? ... I could go on, and yes, the fact that I remember so fondly and was obviously so influenced by these ‘toons says a lot about me.
“Bob’s Burgers,” which is available in syndication but is an ongoing series on Fox, quietly edged its way into the crowded “mature primetime cartoon” glut that included shows like “American Dad,” “The Family Guy,” “Rick and Morty,” “The Simpsons,” “The Cleveland Show” and a plethora of others that proliferate TV’s Cartoon Network, SyFy, FXX and other end-of-the-dial channels that offer spotty fare at best. It soon surpassed its fellow ‘toons for creativity and cleverness and became a sleeper keeper.
The Belcher family — Bob and Linda and their kids Tina, Gene and Louise — own a barely-eking-by hamburger joint that has a recurring cast of out-there customers and an across-the-street nemesis, Jimmy Pesto. Like most cartoons, the kids are smarter than the grown-ups — no big surprise — but what sets “Bob’s Burgers” apart is the clever dialog written for the trio of Belcher children, especially Gene and the boy-crazy (actually boy butt crazy) Tina.
As with most primetime fare these days (sigh, Andy and Barney, where are you when we need you?), there are elements of “Bob’s Burgers” that while not overtly offensive, like say “Family Guy” and “Rick and Morty,” are still a little much for sensitive ears. (One episode, for instance, deals with Louise’s inability to poop away from home, a malady she shares with her dad. As she nears the day when she will get to help feed the sharks at an aquarium sleepover, she has to decide whether to call her dad to go home or use the available facilities. This is not an issue I can see Archie and the gang at Riverdale High School dealing with ... or even Chip and Dale.)
Don’t let that one plotline turn you off to “Bob’s Burgers,” though. Despite the potty humor, it’s one of those shows that will have you laughing out loud in spite of yourself. And in today’s sorry TV landscape, that’s saying a whole lot.