I hadn’t seen an episode of I Love Lucy until last year when I had to binge-watch it for a Writing for TV class. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and at the end my overall feeling is one of ‘meh.’ I mean, it’s notable for what it pioneered, but I guess it’s not so much up my alley.
One of the things that I noticed about I Love Lucy, especially in comparison to The Honeymooners, a contemporary show I also had to watch, was how the conflict among the couples was different: in Lucy it was internal, in Honeymooners external. That is, in many plots Lucy would have husband and wife scheming against each, whereas Honeymooners had Ralph and Alice against the world at large. Way I saw it, there was a more genuine feeling of family from The Honeymooners than I Love Lucy. Ralph’s inane get-rich schemes were to make life better for him and Alice, there as a sense of togetherness and of being a team. Conversely, Ricky and Lucy (without the financial strain) would try to undermine each other’s plans, which while funny, often felt a little mean.
Of course, the fun of pitting family members against each other is hardly unique to the ‘50s. That ‘70s Show gets a lot of mileage from the tension between Eric and his father, Red. But it’s still a very sitcom family, meant more for entertainment and comedy. Emotional beats come more from Eric’s relationships with his friends rather than his parents.
Bob’s Burgers, on the other hand, might just be the best representation of a comedic on-screen family I’ve seen. Which sounds a little bizarre, given that the Belcher family’s animated live in a very goofy world.
So why’re they the best? Because they’re actually like a family. Like The Honeymooners, Bob’s Burgers seldom pits the Belchers against each other antagonistically. Rather it’s usually an outside force: Bob gets frustrated with his son, Gene, when he unwittingly steals the attention at a cooking show. Conflict between them is born out of it, but it’s never done in a way to have them hurt each other. Linda, in this case, doesn’t side with either her husband or son and is instead more along for the ride.
But what really makes the Belchers feel real are the small family moments they share. Bits like the kids crawling into bed with Linda really make them feel real. This grounding helps, especially because the episode in question includes by Bob and a friend going to a weekend stuntmen bootcamp to get in shape and Linda and the kids starting a battle dome on the ice rink in their restaurant’s walk-in freezer. It’s a really small beat in the episode (“Friends with Burger-fits,” if you’re wondering) but it’s one that really cements the Belchers as being an actual loving family.
It’s all this that makes Bob’s Burgers so wonderfully refreshing: it’s not remotely mean. This stands in great contrast to I Love Lucy where many of the plots had Ricky and Lucy acting against each other or That 70’s Show where characters are usually the butt of the joke. The characters of Bob’s Burgers never become malicious and remains one of the funniest shows on TV. How? By letting a family be true to itself and having the humor come from the characters being themselves, combining a wonderful blend of the funny and the heartwarming in the process.