As I live and breathe, I love nothing more than cartoons. As much as I disappoint myself knowing I could watch an enriching documentary about salmon or some other niche topic, I love the mindlessness of cartoons. But there is one cartoon that I love more than any other and consider to be a favorite child of mine: We have our inside jokes, I hang their artwork on my fridge and I drive them to their soccer games.
I am talking about “Bob’s Burgers.” I’ve got the music album, the trading cards, a Kuchi Kopi and I even ordered the cookbook which should be arriving in five to 10 business days.
“Bob’s Burgers” lies at the beautiful intersection of humor for all ages and definitely not all ages, and has captured the hearts of its 10.9 million viewers, enchanting them with awkward characters and referential humor. It champions the values of family, honesty and acceptance toward the queer community, a refreshing shift from other *cough, “Family Guy”* shows.
It was not always like this, though.
For its 11 (and counting) seasons, “Bob’s Burgers” has changed significantly from its dirtier past self, in which it too made fun of the queer community and lacked POC representation in its characters and the actors who voiced them.
So what changed? When did the Bob who sold burgers made of human remains become an alleged “bisexual icon?” And how did Marshmallow go from being a mockery of the trans community to a representation of it? All this and more I will try to extrapolate thanks to my Rolodex knowledge of “Bob’s Burgers” and its iconic Wiki page, in a quest to detail the range of the show: the bad and the gouda.
The show’s origin story is fairly straightforward: Loren Bouchard’s past work in “Lucy, Daughter of the Devil” is noticed by a FOX executive, and he is asked to create a new animated series. Bouchard accepts this opportunity immediately, beginning to think of a new show. Bouchard’s work in the early 2000s was full of skewed and dark humor — perfect for Adult Swim, but for FOX it was a bit of a stretch. His past shows like “Home Movies” and “Lucy” relied heavily on referencing pop culture in the same way “Bob’s Burgers” does now: constantly and obscurely.
However, his past work also relied on more macabre elements, such as making fun of sex offenders and human sacrifice. Overall, Bouchard was perfect for the show slot, with the caveat that he cut out these comedically risky elements. But even after rounds of editing and “Bob’s Burgers” being picked up by FOX, was Bouchard’s palette fully cleansed?
Short answer: no. Long answer: also no.
In the first season of “Bob’s Burgers,” during a birthday party for 13-year-old Tina, Bob’s “nighttime” friends crash the party, one of whom goes by the name of Marshmallow. Marshmallow is a Black transgender woman who wears white fur and a body thong. She is one of the most iconic characters of the season, but there is a problem. Marshmallow is not voiced by a Black trans person, rather a white cisgender man.
Why did Bouchard and “Bob’s Burgers” do it? Well, it was 2011. “Glee” was considered progressive at the time, so obviously Bouchard wasn’t worried about casting a good light on the queer community. Still, the episode had one of the highest ratings out of the entire first season, and “Bob’s Burgers” was greenlit for another one.
Throughout the second season, “Bob’s Burgers” appeared to maintain a prideful streak with the obscenity to make Edith Cranwinkle (the show’s prudish art store owner) faint. It is not until Season 3 when I started to notice a shift in tone from mocking to genuine.
One of the first episodes to legitimately rely on exploring the family members’ unique relationships with one another is “Mother Daughter Laser Razor.” This episode explores the previously untouched dynamic between Louise, the youngest daughter, and Linda, Bob’s wife. The episode is magnetic, dealing with issues of communication between mother and daughter. It mixes together laser tag, freaky Friday and mommy blogs into a comedic story that has a little bit for everyone. Moreover, “Mother Daughter Laser Razor” had the highest number of viewers since the first episode, with over six million viewers.
For me, I remember watching this episode on Netflix and becoming obsessed with Louise and her voice actor, Kristen Schaal (“The Last Man on Earth”). The episode was one of many to feature genuinely tender moments that complemented a script packed full of comedy. “Bob’s Burgers” continues this genuine investment in representing a family that always finds ways to depend on each other, no matter how ludicrous things get.
This heartfelt representation also applies to the diverse voices and characters introduced within the supporting and guest casts. Specifically, “Bob’s Burgers” incorporates two openly queer characters: pink limousine driver Nat Kinkle and foodie blogger Dalton Crespin.
What’s really interesting is that Nat Kinkle only exists in the episodes that the Molyneux sisters (“The Great North”) wrote for the show. Furthermore, it is not at all surprising that this duo also provided a fully openly gay character in their own FOX animated series “The Great North.”
Shows like “The Great North” have the opportunity to succeed in beginning where “Bob’s Burgers” failed in 2011. Writing characters that still have the referential humor that is the heart of “Bob’s Burgers” universe without being offensive to the people or stories they’re referencing heightens the script and the show overall. Writing space for queer voice actors allows for more stories to be brought to the table.
It may not be the range that easily comes to mind when you think about the show’s vast understanding of pop culture, but seeing the “Bob’s Burgers” universe become more inclusive with time is a gift, as is seeing queer directors and queer guest stars get the chance to toe the line for inclusion in the cartoon industry.
Daily Arts Contributor Matthew Eggers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.