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Bob’s Burgers isn’t the most distinct show on television. It’s not minority-centered like Black-ish or as racially diverse as Brooklyn Nine-Nine. When you’re thinking of the top 10 most progressive or diverse shows, it probably doesn’t even make the list. Why? It’s not blatant about it.
Some shows thrive on shock humor or taking the most socialist, progressive stance possible. Some shows were made famous by having a minority-majority cast or addressing a relevant social issue. These shows may or may not last, but they conjure plenty of press. Berating Family Guy and praising Modern Family are both easy examples.
Bob’s Burgers is a show about a (more or less) normal American family. It’s similar to other animated shows targeted at teens and adults, except there are no talking non-humans. In its ninth season, it’s a show the audience still loves. There are plenty of reasons why, but it’s partly due to the fact that it’s accepting without being loud about it.
Here are four reasons why Bob’s Burgers is quietly progressive.
1. It’s a great show for gender nonconformity.
Gene is a feminist. There are LGBT+ characters. Characters are voiced by the opposite sex. Bob is, at the least, heteroflexible. Louise is... Louise. This point is important enough to deserve its own article.
2. It’s more racially sensitive than its competitors.
The show certainly isn’t as racially diverse as it could be. For the most part, White people voice White characters. Still, it’s better than other animated shows.
While it’s never been exactly confirmed, interviews with cast and crew reveal that the Belchers are some type of race that isn’t your typical White European. They’re most likely Greek and you’ll notice their complexions aren’t as pale as the undefined Jocelyn or Zeke and differs from the very Italian Pestos.
Additionally, it’s never specified if Darryl is Indian, but because Aziz Ansari is vocal about Indians playing Indian characters without the stereotypical accent, it’s a safe bet that Darryl has an Indian heritage. African-American Tim Meadows voices the presumably African-American mailman, Mike. Mort, the Jewish funeral home director, is voiced by Andy Kindler, who is also Jewish.
There are a few minority characters not voiced by minority actors, but the show clearly makes an effort to be authentic in its representations.
3. It’s an honest, unflattering look at the American dream.
If Roseanne is the realistic live-action sitcom about the working class, Bob’s Burgers is its animated counterpart.
Bob’s Burgers is a show about a married couple, often drowning in debt, who have three children to support. That’s slightly higher than the 1.87 children per family in current America, but three siblings makes more sense for the show. Plus, Bob tells us that two of the children were conceived due to boredom. We all know a family like that.
Bob has a strong entrepreneurial spirit, which is encouraged by his wife. She plays important roles in making his dream possible including keeping customers happy and magically balancing the checkbook. They dream of a beach house, a boat, and a better life for their children.
However, the family is constantly in debt. Purchasing a single item requires multiple credit cards. The banker lectures Bob about his finances. Every year, they are unsure how they will afford Christmas presents. They pay rent in pennies.
One could argue that this is their own fault. A longtime fan will tell you the restaurant closes at 7 PM, doesn’t serve breakfast, and often closes for any number of reasons from paying taxes to talking to Mr. Frond about a kid’s misadventure. It’s a family-owned business in a relatively small town, so this isn’t completely unrealistic, but it does limit their income potential. Additionally, they’re not the most frugal couple. Toy helicopters, food trucks, and $300 knives are all avoidable expenses.
Nevertheless, this is a realistic example of the working class, as many millennials, business owners, and blue-collar workers will concur. Feeling fear when the landlord drops by unexpectedly, frustration at being unable to afford to fix your car, or embarrassment for begging a bank for money are real feelings, and they aren't glamorized by the show.
4. The elderly are vibrant.
Some could consider the show ageist at times, especially the very stereotypical “old man” role of Harold. Nevertheless, senior citizens are largely represented realistically. Grey-haired Calvin Fischoeder is still investing in schemes, stealing pumpkins, and enjoying life. Linda’s parents are sexually-active swingers. Bob’s father dances and runs his own restaurant. Harold and Edith teach art and are vocal about what happens in their neighborhood.
Meryl, a sweet elderly woman in a nursing home, is being taken advantage of by her greedy nephew, which is a rare look at financial abuse of the elderly. Unfortunately, Meryl isn’t living a fulfilling life, but she’s still able to dance with retired Admiral Peter Wilcox.
The elderly aren’t forgotten in the show. They’re not all deaf, handicapped, or suffering from dementia. Overall, they’re written as real people with dreams and loves.
Is Bob’s Burgers going to cause the controversies that start conversations about political and social issues? Probably not. However, the show demonstrates that you can be accepting without being explicit. In a society where we constantly shout our opinions over one another, it’s a refreshing reminder that actions speak louder than words.