Greetings to the New Series: “Bob’s Burgers”

It’s never a wise move to predict great things from a new animated series based solely on its pilot, nor is it generally safe to play the benefit-of-the-doubt game when it comes to a creative team, so feel free to call me stupid and dangerous for going out on a limb and hoping that I’m going to really enjoy “Bob’s Burgers.”

You will note, however, the use of italics…but we’ll get back to that in a moment.

First, let’s focus on the one thing about “Bob’s Burgers” that is absolutely undeniable: H. Jon Benjamin is a god amongst adult animation voiceover actors.

As is the case with far too many voice actors, even if you don’t know Benjamin’s name, you most likely know his work. He’s Ben Katz on “Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist.” He’s Jason, Perry, and – yes! – Coach McGuirk on “Home Movies.” He was part of “O’Grady,” an underrated animated series that aired on The N, as well as the coulda-been-a-contender “Freak Show,” which David Cross still laments as one of the great missed opportunities of his career. Then there’s “Lucy: Daughter of the Devil,” “Assy McGee,” and, most recently, FX’s “Archer,” where he plays the title character.

Here, Benjamin is Bob, proprietor of a self-named burger joint that he runs with the help of his wife, Tina (Dan Mintz), and his kids Gene (Eugene Mirman), Linda (John Roberts), and Louise (Kristen Schaal). Even though he’s married with three children, Bob’s Burgers is really the end-all and be-all of Bob’s existence, with his intensity in keeping the restaurant rolling along such that he regularly forgets his wedding anniversary, his wife’s birthday…even his own birthday. Fortunately, Tina is so self-absorbed, not to mention slightly delusional, that they’ve managed to maintain their successfully dysfunctional relationship for many years now. As for the kids, Gene would seem to be a budding prop comedian (when outside the restaurant, wearing a giant burger costume and passing out samples, he regularly plays with a megaphone that makes fart noises), Linda’s destined for a life as a social outcast (she spends the pilot complaining about her nasty case of crotch itch), and Louise is disconcertingly cheery but seems to have no understanding of what’s socially acceptable (she changes the name of the Burger of the Day to “The Child Molester” and tells her class that Bob makes his burgers out of corpses from the funeral parlor next door)…but, of course, all of these character traits could change, since – as noted – all we’ve seen so far is the pilot.

And, say, how about that pilot?

Family sitcoms may be a dime a dozen, particularly animated ones, but the concept of a family-owned restaurant is fun, and I like the idea that Bob’s so obsessed with his burger joint that his response to Linda’s question about her itchy crotch is, “Are you asking me as my daughter, or are you asking me as my cook? Because my cook wouldn’t ask me that.” But even though Louise’s antics are funny, you can’t help but think that any kid who’s smart enough to find humor in the idea of naming a burger “The Child Molester” is also smart enough to know the effect it could have on her father’s business.

All told, I wanted to like “Bob’s Burgers” decidedly more than I actually did, but thanks to the fact that it reunites Benjamin with series creator Loren Bouchard, his collaborator on two of his greatest creative successes (“Dr. Katz” and “Home Movies”), I still want to give it the benefit of the doubt that it’s salvageable. To be worth watching on a regular basis, Bouchard is going to have to lose the lowbrow that permeates way too much of “Bob’s Burgers,” embrace the uniqueness of the premise, and keep things grounded in reality rather than ridiculousness. Like I said at the beginning, I’m hoping the series will grow more appetizing in the weeks ahead, but I know it’s a tall order to fill, and my expectations are realistic: since I’m pretty sure the ingredients that leave the worst taste in my mouth are what led Fox to greenlight the series in the first place, I’m resigned to leaving “Bob’s Burgers” still hungry for laughs.

  

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