i Need Media
The big, smelly heart of Bob’s Burgers
By Matthew Singer 02/27/2014
Comedy is only as good as its fart jokes.
Oh, sure, call me immature. If you don’t trust my opinion, though, surely you’ll trust Louis CK, right? “You know, farts come out of your ass and they make a fucking trumpet sound,” he once said. “What the fuck is not funny about that? It’s perfect, it’s a perfect joke.”
True that, Louis. The thing he doesn’t mention, however, is that not all fart jokes — or poop jokes, or dick jokes, or scatological/anatomical humor in general — are created equal. As great a comedic device as farts may be, in the wrong, um, hands, a joke based around bodily functions can be robbed of all its divine perfection. See: Adam Sandler’s entire career. When used correctly, though, a gross-out gag can be transcendent — sublime, even. Take, for example, the Mud Butt sketch from Chappelle’s Show, a fictional profile of the Rosa Parks of segregated toilets. Somehow, Dave Chappelle managed to frame biting social commentary around one African-American man’s desire to defecate wherever he pleased. And it’s hilarious.
I write all that in order to say this: Bob’s Burgers is the best animated sitcom since The Simpsons.
It’s not just because the show, which focuses on the Belcher family and its struggling hamburger business, revels unabashedly in its love of potty humor . . . but it’s a pretty big reason. Sure, there are the rich characters and great vocal performances from H. Jon Benjamin, Kristen Schaal, Eugene Mirman and Dan Mintz. There’s the whip-smart writing and absurd animation. Heck, the songs that play over the end credits alone could earn the show Top 5 status.
But many of those things could also be said about King of the Hill and Archer. What makes Bob’s Burgers stand out is the sweetness of its profanity. As opposed to Family Guy, which wields vulgarity only for the sake of being vulgar, Bob’s Burgers’ repeated references to the three B’s — butts and boogers and bowel movements — are detonated with love. There’s an episode in which Bob and his three children hide from a father-son bully tandem in a playground tube slide. As he’s wont to do, Gene, the middle child and only boy, lets out a blast of nervous gas, and Bob says it smells just like his. It’s an oddly touching moment — enough to bring a tear to your eye. And not for the reasons you’d expect.
Some of you are probably gagging at the thought of that scene. And there are, indeed, gags that even make me dry heave a little. (I’m thinking of one in which Gene eats mystery mold growing on the wall of the family restaurant.) But it’s hard to think of another show that’s ever navigated the gray area between the heart and the rectum with such skill. I’m not prepared to put Bob’s Burgers in the same league as The Simpsons quite yet. But much like the heyday of Springfield’s First Family, its observations reverberate with a familiar “hrrrmph.” What I’m trying to say is, its farts smell like ours.
i Need Media is a biweekly media column by Matthew Singer. Follow him on Twitter@mpsinger.