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In recent years, American culture has become nothing short of cynical. It seems commonplace to be mistrustful of people, to believe that everyone has a hidden agenda and will do anything and everything in their power to see it through. Every headline portrays the constant turmoil facing the country both abroad and on home soil, creating a sense of hopelessness. Even in a population of over 400 million, we all feel like we're going through life alone. And that's what makes a show like Bob's Burgers stand out.
Bob's Burgers is an animated series centered on a struggling restaurateur, Bob Belcher, his wife, Linda, and their three school-aged children (from oldest to youngest), Tina, Gene, and Louise. On the surface, it is very similar to every other animated show: Each episode the family is faced with a new, wacky situation to overcome in order to reestablish the norm. This same formula has worked since the groundbreaking days of I Love Lucy, so what sets it apart from its contemporaries?
Since popularized by The Simpsons in 1989, adult animation has grown to become one of the most beloved genres of television. Although most animated shows are unique in their own right, there are many common characteristics used across the board. A primary component in adult animation is the use of some level of crudeness. Some shows are crude for the sheer sake of being crude, such as South Park and Family Guy. Others use their crudeness to magnify a theme that carries the overall narrative, such as Rick and Morty.
On the other hand, Bob's Burgers relies very little on crude humor, if at all. In fact, the showrunners purposefully refrain from using words and phrases that will be censored on television, a dying sentiment these days. The show also tends to avoid politics and social issues, making it a refreshing escape from the normalization of cynicism in today's entertainment. Instead, it focuses more on the aspect of family. One thing that stands out most (to me) is the fact that each character has a specific and unique relationship with every other character on the show. Secondary characters aren't presented as running gags (cough, cough Apu from The Simpsons cough) but rather as a member of a larger family outside of the Belchers. Even when two characters are portrayed as adversaries—for example, Tina Belcher and Tammy Larsen—there is an undertone of caring.
Another trait that separates Bob's Burgers from the herd is lack of selfish characters and plotlines. Every predicament is met with a team effort, whether solely from the Belchers or the community as a whole, even if things don't go as planned. This can be seen in the episode "The Oeder Games" (S5 E21), where the landlord, Mr. Fishoeder, threatens to raise the rent for all tenants on Ocean Ave, to which they retaliate with a unifying rent strike. Even when Fishoeder tries to entice the tenants to turn on each other with an intense water balloon fight, Bob refuses to succumb for the sake of the greater good.
In an episode entitled "A Few 'Gurt Men" (S7E11), the students of Wagstaff partake in a mock trial for fairytale villains when a dispute breaks out between two faculty members. Mr. Frond, the school counselor, is accused of stealing a cup of yogurt from the school librarian, Mr. Ambrose, and as a result, the students are told to perform a trial for the missing yogurt. Despite being sworn enemies, Louise is forced to defend Mr. Frond in court against the prosecution, carried out by Gene. Like most nine-year-olds, Louise would like nothing more than to see her nemesis suffer, and she even decides to give a mediocre defense at the trial, but after learning of Frond's innocence, she reluctantly sets aside her prejudice to clear his name. Many would see this as a mature display for a child, and, like many of her family members, may even be shocked by the gesture. It is apparent throughout the series that Louise wants to be viewed as a master of mischief and often goes to great lengths to prank her family and members of the community. But time and time again, she lets her heart of gold shine through with acts of selflessness, making her and Wagstaff better for it.
The Belchers are far from perfect, but that does not stop them from working together and caring for each other. And in a society where it seems all hope is lost, we could all learn a lesson from the tenants of Ocean Ave. Although healing a community, let alone a nation, is a long and arduous process, it only takes small acts of kindness and selflessness to get the grill going.