FOX’s new animated series is undeniably weird, and not just because FOX let someone who isn’t Seth MacFarlane get a show. With humor that manages to be simultaneously disgusting and intellectual, “Bob’s Burgers” seems ripped straight from Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim lineup — an odd choice for primetime on a network between titans like “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy.”
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In the pilot’s opening scene, father and restauranteur Bob (H. Jon Benjamin, “Archer”) tells his son Gene (Eugene Mirman, “Flight of the Conchords”) that “There’s a line between entertaining and annoying,” to which Gene replies, “No, that’s a myth” and subsequently blasts laser and fart noises from his megaphone. Here, Gene may as well be speaking on behalf of the whole show. While the humor sometimes hits the mark with an unexpected clever joke, the show’s awkward and uncomfortable aesthetic proves more annoying than entertaining.
H. Jon Benjamin’s comedic timing and distinct voice are just as compelling here as they are in “Archer,” and it’s nice to hear him voicing a more grounded character. He’s responsible for most of the show’s legitimately funny moments through his deadpan delivery, and he benefits from having the fewest gross-out jokes among the cast. Bob’s humor lies in pointing out just how absurd everyone around him is, which is welcome, given how unfunny the absurdity itself tends to be.
The other standout actor is Kristen Schaal (“Flight of the Conchords”), who voices Bob’s youngest daughter Louise. Louise is an exceedingly well written character — her childhood innocence shows itself with brutal honesty, lack of foresight and no speech filter whatsoever, but she still manages to be adorable. Schaal brings young, mindless exuberance to life, making viewers root for Louise even when she causes an angry mob to storm the burger joint.
Oldest daughter Tina (Dan Mintz, “Important Things with Demetri Martin”) is the real problem character. She spends the pilot complaining of crotch itch, and later is mocked for having what appears to be some rather serious mental problems. While Tina’s lines sometimes set up a decent joke from Bob or Louise, they never work on their own, even when they’re clearly supposed to.
The other problem is the uncompelling narrative. Consider “Family Guy” — the stories in that show often take crazy and unexpected turns several times each episode. Not everyone finds the ludicrous stories to be funny, but everyone can agree the show is unpredictable. Then there’s “Bob’s Burgers.” The plot of the premiere focuses on cannibalism — an off-the-wall theme with the potential to spawn a crazy, unpredictable and inherently funny story. But instead, the narrative is just boring, and events unfold exactly as expected. It’s not enough for a comedy to have funny jokes — the story itself has to be funny. Much like Tina, the plot serves as a set-up for some mediocre lines that don’t compensate for how much the plot wasted a potentially great idea.
Even so, “Bob’s Burgers” is certainly not without merit. With its simplistic animation style and perverse, dry humor, it’s refreshingly different from the other primetime animated comedies out there. The series is trying to juggle wit, shock value and crazy narratives, but only the first of those three is working out just yet. If it starts firing on all cylinders any time soon, it deserves a spot on FOX over anything MacFarlane can throw at it.