Once upon a time, nobody would have even dared sacrilege like suggesting that the Simpsons were anything other than the greatest family ever drawn. But times change and Springfield’s first family have fallen from grace in quite an alarming manner. Where once there was joy, warmth, biting satire and nuanced wit, now there is mawkishness and mirthlessness.
Interestingly, the clans that have challenged the Simpsons’ superiority have both come from within the Fox stable, almost as if the network has a policy of grooming a new king the first time the current one gets a sniffle. First came the Griffins, Family Guy’s irreverent purveyors of endless non-sequiturs. But while the first few seasons of Family Guy weren’t short of hilarity, they were utterly devoid of the heart that elevated classic Simpsons.
Enter the Belchers. After a painfully long mid-season hiatus, the continuation of Bob’s Burgers eighth season is nigh. The seven and a half seasons to date have represented an astoundingly consistent run, the kind of reliability that can encourage the more excitable TV writer into hyperbole like “the funniest animated show of all time” or “an irrefutable reason to live”. Just as the acerbic nihilism of Rick And Morty inspires rabid obsession, the boundless warmth of Bob’s Burgers inspires adoration. I’m not embarrassed to call it my happy place.
But if all it consisted of was group hugs and good deeds, it would probably be the most tedious and nauseating experience this side of The Voice. Dad Bob (played by voice-acting deity H. Jon Benjamin) is weariness personified, understandable when you consider how long he’s been married to the ticking time bomb of improvised show tunes and terrible ideas that is his wife Linda. But these two failing restaurateurs are so obviously deeply in love, no matter how many of Linda’s whims result in catastrophe. It’s a nice reversal of TV tropes that Bob is the (generally ignored) voice of reason, while his wife is the spontaneous, impulsive one.
And then there’s the kids. Tina (voiced by a brilliantly monotone Dan Mintz) is a creepy teen whose awkward puberty seems to revolve mainly around butts and zombies. Gene is a one-man gas factory who has inherited all his mother’s musical weirdness. And youngest Louise (the inimitable Kristen Schaal) is a bunny-eared megalomaniac who seems to be locked in a constant battle to disguise her love for her family.
Around this quintet, the show has assembled a cast of even more eccentric family, friends and neighbours, from Linda’s unstable cat lady sister Gayle (Megan Mullally) to the one-eyed, white-suited lunatic landlord Mr Fischoeder (Kevin Kline). In Bob’s Burgers, as in life, everyone has their weirdness, their annoying quirks, habits and compulsions. What the show’s creators and writers understand is that those quirks are sometimes hilarious, sometimes adorable, sometimes a borderline reason for homicide. Most of the time though, they’re all three at the same time.