Thursday, January 9, 2014

Bob's Burgers

Bob's Burgers doesn't always make me laugh. Not the deep in the belly, rolling on the floor till my guts hurt sort of laugh, anyway. In fact, sometimes an episode will only get a consistent pleasant giggle out of me.

Yet I always feel so good when I watch it. I like hanging out with these people.

Bob and Linda are an example of the best we can hope for in a marriage where money is a constant struggle, where you're barely keeping your family above water. They enjoy their eccentricities while taking turns playing the straight man/woman to the other's hi-jinx (how much do I love it that Linda avoids the Nagging Wife trope and often gets to be the funny crazy one, with moments of much needed clarity on the occasions Bob goes off the rails? She has it both ways and it's great, never out of character). Meanwhile, characters like Teddy, Mort, and Gayle may be single, slow, and oblivious, but seldom afraid to reach out and make friends.

Above all, I really, really wish Bob's Burgers had been around when I was a kid.

Why do I like hanging out with these people? Lots of cartoon and TV shows have characters who are quirky, zany, unusual, and downright weird and unsettling. Yet what sets Bob's Burgers apart--particularly where the kid characters are concerned--is that the characters are who they are without apology. They get off on their own weirdness. They embrace it.

If I had seen Gene Belcher happily embrace his flair for the flamboyant with such relish, would I have been so self-conscious in school? If I had seen how forthright and honest Tina is about her insecurities, would I have been afraid to appear so vulnerable? Would I have slow jammed my way into a Jimmy Jr.'s heart, at the expense of how it might look to others? Would seeing Louise manipulate through the rigors of childhood with such remorseless ease have encouraged me to be more laid back, less touchy and afraid of hurting other peoples' feelings?

Maybe not. Childhood/prepubescent self-doubt runs deep, no matter how charming the role model. What I honestly believe these kids would have taught me is to have more of a sense of humor about myself. Oh, I was always a bit of a cut-up, the clown of my social group. But I'm talking about the internal jokester; the one that says, "hey, I ain't perfect, I'm weird and loud, I like writing erotic friendfiction about that hot zombie boy Chad, and you know what? That's funny. And it's okay to be funny in weird, unconventional ways. In fact, it's pretty terrific."

I've only slowly come to terms with the weird and not-so-normal parts of myself, and it's an ongoing process, as most adults will admit. There aren't too many self-actualized people out there, frankly. But I think today's kids are getting a real advantage having Bob's Burgers on the screen, a show that manages to eschew both hipster cynicism and sentimentality to paint a realistic, lower middle-class portrait of weird people and how wonderful they are.

And hell, once kids get a little older, after they've overcome the hurdles of adolescence, Linda can serve as a great adult role model about not letting life and its troubles scare them away from bursting into horrifying and perky musical numbers. Sure, the songs may be a little dark and twisted, but if you're happy singing them, that's what really counts.