Loving your kids shouldn’t be radical—but on TV, and especially in comedy, it absolutely is. Homer Simpson doesn’t like his kids. Peter Griffin doesn’t like his kids. Everyone loves Raymondis Raymond didn’t like his children. It’s burned into the sitcom father’s DNA: you love Your children, you take care of them, you have the occasional heartwarming moment when the writers realize they haven’t pulled the heartstrings in too long. but how She? Do you really enjoy her company? It’s just not done.
And that makes Bob’s burger‘ Bob Belcher returns this week for his 13th season on Fox, TV’s biggest sitcom dad.
Admittedly, he didn’t start out that way. This is a guy in his very first appearancegrumbles (in H. Jon Benjamin’s beautifully surly voice) that “You’re all my children and I love you, but you’re terrible at what you do.” Throughout most of the show’s comparatively weak first season Bob is often the stereotypical sitcom dad: the guy who constantly tells his kids to stop having fun and get back to work, threatens them with plenty of house arrest, and only occasionally amuses Gene (Eugene Mirman), Tina (Dan Mintz) and Louise (Kristen Schaal) and their various weirdo impulses.
But the first signs of cracking in Bob’s grumpy, mustachioed exterior came pretty quickly, even in season one “Spaghetti Western and Meatballs.” This is the episode that establishes that he and Louise – the Belcher child who most closely shares her father’s sarcastic but secretly sweet worldview – have a regular date to play “Burn Unit,” a game in which watch them flip through the TV channels making fun of whatever. It’s one of the first signs of the show that Bob values his kids not just as kids (or cheap burger joint workers), but as people he genuinely enjoys spending time with.
That genuine affection is an unorthodox comedic weapon that’s always been present in series creator Loren Bouchard’s quiver. It goes back at least as far as dr Katz, professional therapist, Bouchard’s first high-profile gig as a writer, which saw the relationship between Jonathan Katz’s title character and his son Ben (Benjamin again) as “two roommates tearing at each other” rather than anything childish. (Another Bouchard trademark: characters who actually laugh at each other’s jokes.) The novel notion that parents and children could actually be friends was even more pronounced with Bouchard and Brendon Small home videoswhere young filmmaker Brendon and his mother Paula (Paula Poundstone in the first season, later Janine Ditullio) shared a relationship marked by an endless desire to make the other laugh.
Bob’s burger operates in a (slightly) more grounded reality than home videos, but it has still given Bob many opportunities over the years to acknowledge that he not only tolerates his children, but actively enjoys them. Another standout example (and another classic Bob Louise episode) is Season 3 “Carpe Museum”, where Bob, after some token resistance, fully accepts Louise’s desire to sneak away during a boring field trip, and the two make their own fun, even as inevitable troubles break out. (It’s also the episode that introduces Brian Huskey’s happily asthmatic, normal-sized Rudy to the series’ ensemble cast, a character whose apparent size is sadly beyond the scope of this essay.) Carpe Museum notes that Bob is not an authority figure has to work as a father; within the logic of the show’s universe there will always be some Mr. Frond guy ready to dish out penalties. Having Bob as his kids’ reserved, deeply amused ally instead is infinitely more fun than having Benjamin find another hundred ways to yell “Stop it!”
(Speaking of Benjamin: I notice that with some regularity over in my archer reviewsbut – for all he tends to play grumpy assholes – there really is nobody in the voice actor game better at expressing sheer pleasure at something. Bob’s joy on the occasions when the world hasn’t conspired to stifle him is indeed a beautiful thing.)
But even beyond his bond with Louise, Bob is just plain fun for his kids, whether that’s cooking with Gene, indulging in Tina’s various horse obsessions, or simply taking a supporting role in her efforts to put on an ice show to win the graces of a grumpy Santa Claus in the Shopping mall. The kids still annoy him sometimes, sure. He has to be the voice telling them not to do it at times. But they also make him laugh more than any other sitcom dad in ready memory.
It’s also a development process. As the show has evolved on air over the past 11 years, Bob has said yes to more and more things for the simple fact that there’s no particularly good reason for him to say no. (Beyond the limitations of how TV family comedy is supposed to work.) At the same time, the show has given us increasing glimpses of his own inner weirdness: his love of pranks, his wit, getting through all the food he cooks with goofy little voices, his ability to plunge into absurd situations with full conviction. Not only does it make sense of his relationship with his wife, the uber-hammy Linda (John Roberts), but it helps the viewer see how the Belcher spawns are a reflection both the odd sides of her parents. (Although in practice that was mostly because Bob grew more like the kids over the years, rather than the other way around.) His fatherhood grows out of their shared weirdness and an appreciation for how weird and funny they are, not nonetheless.
So raise a glass to Bob Belcher: A TV dad who outshines 99 percent of the pack with the simple trick of liking his kids. There aren’t many like him; more is a pity.