In Defense of the Crude: Why Bob's Burgers Beats Out the Rest
by Lauren Bratslavsky — University of Oregon
March 14, 2011 – 00:00
Animation offers opportunities outside the normal fare of family sitcoms – characters don’t age, no constraints on location and scenarios, sight gags are easy. Look no further than The Simpsons, the protype for the (dys)functional family. But what has come to literally dominate primetime animation is the Seth MacFarlane brand of dysfunction—and it’s becoming a tired, lazy, and offensive brand of humor and animation. I admit, I used to be a fan and certainly a borderline drunk alien is pretty amusing. But the cheap laughs at the expense of women, race, disabled people, sexual orientation, and so on is getting stale within MacFarlane-esque formulas.
Enter a different kind of primetime animation – Bob’s Burgers (U.S. only link). It’s crude, both in visuals and humor. But it’s not the same crude humor as random bodily fluids and intentional political incorrectness (and usually not in a satirical way) of the others. The crude humor resides in the mundane bodily functions of the everyday, the awkwardness of the preteen, the plotting of a child’s imagination, or the things the dad sees when he takes a second job as a cab driver. Some claim that the crude in Bob’s Burgers is not clever, nor earned. And sure, when a diet of animated TV is filled with programs like Family Guy, it’s hard to follow a show that is character and dialogue driven rather than gags and non-sequiturs.
The crude visual style comes from a line of animated programming that tends to not do so well in the primetime network lineup. The precursor to the current show is Home Movies, featuring many of the same voice actors and writers. And children who say odd things far beyond their years. That show didn’t last more than a few episodes before it was canceled and found new life on Cartoon Network. The ratings just weren’t there for primetime and it’s looking as though the ratings aren’t there either for Bob’s Burgers. What makes the crudeness in Family Guy and the other programs (The Simpsons is not in question here) so popular and accepted? Is the spectacle and carnivalesque grotesqueness of the other shows more ratings friendly than crude characters and their dialogue? While it’s refreshing to see this program on air right now, it’s not an obvious fit with the flow of "animation domination."