For a solid decade, an obnoxious yellow clan on an upstart broadcast network catering to stoners and weirdos was the best representaiton of a family on television. That family, a lower-middle-class grey-collar father who likes his food greasy and his beer cold, a stay-at-home mom who works hard to keep the family together, a bratty almost-teenager who is failing at school, a know-it-all little sister with as many political causes as teeth, and a silent baby who seems like the most intelligent one of the bunch, are better known as The Simpsons. For the bulk of the show’s run, they were as authentic and meaningful a televison family as the Cleavers, the Huxtables, or the Bunkers.
Their situations were as exaggerated as any you’d ever run into, but the core of the show wasn’t Homer’s wacky antics or Bart’s tomfoolery, it was love. They might yell and strangle, but deep down the Simpsons were there for each other. Homer was a bad parent, but he tried his best to give his family a good life. Marge nagged, but with good intentions. Lisa and Bart feuded like siblings, but they had one another’s back against the world. And Maggie, lest we forget, is the Simpson most sensitive to the troubles of others, always offering her stuffed animals or pacifier to a mopey relative.
However, in recent seasons, the love seems to have gone out of the Simpsons (or the well of creativity is drying up) and the show is getting too mean for its own good. There’s a causticness that wasn’t there previously, and while it still has some great moments to this day, it’s obviously not what it once was during its salad days. However, Fox has stumbled upon a new replacement American family, and that’s the Belchers, the family behind both the restaurant and the show Bob’s Burgers.
Bob’s Burgers is what The Simpsons was fifteen years previously, and that is the most loving, stable family on television. In its way, Bob’s Burgers is even more transgressive than the Simpsons ever were, while somehow being even more normal. There’s less strangling, less rolling on a gurney down Springfield Gorge, fewer accidental nuclear catastrophes, but more heart. To examine the Belchers, you must first take a look at the Belcher children, since the kids are the stars of pretty much every television show about a family for better or worse.
With Bob’s Burgers, the kids are definitely one of the show’s biggest assets, both from a pure comedy standpoint and from a tolerance standpoint. Tina, the eldest daughter, is a very odd child. Nervous and with low-self-esteem, Tina is the Belcher on the cusp of adulthood, trying to find her place as a strong, independent woman without losing the job of childhood. She’s confused by all these new feelings, like her attraction to Jimmy Pesto Jr., and she channels this urge through something she’s dubbed “erotic friend fiction,” which is basically Tumblr but where everyone ends up touching butts for a climax. She’s needy and insecure, and she over-shares with her family, but Bob and Linda go out of their way to make sure she knows she’s beautiful and loved, and when she becomes bad-girl Dina, everyone pretends they don’t notice how odd she’s acting, because she’s always been odd.
And then there’s Gene, the middle Belcher child. Gene is not terribly bright, but incredibly creative. He’s a source of frustration for his parents, who never seem to get too cross with him in spite of his high energy and fart-noise keyboard. Interestingly, the show has casually hinted over the course of its run that Gene is a little skewed on the Kinsey scale. Gene refers to himself as a woman on several occasions, he’s shown to cross-dress and indulge in both makeup and wig play, and yet this gender bending is almost never mentioned by his family and friends, who merely accept this as a part of Gene’s character. Compare this to the many gay panic episodes in which Homer is horrified by Bart potentially becoming homosexual, and it’s an interesting contrast between Homer’s loving but ignorant attitude and Bob’s loving (if passive) acceptance of his children.
Speaking of unique children, there’s the youngest Belcher, Louise. Tina is shy but well-meaning, Gene is goofy, and Louise is, for lack of a better description, a budding sociopath. She lies constantly, she’s manipulative, she’s prone to violence, she constantly wears her pink bunny ears hat, and she’s the Belcher most likely to get the other two in trouble alongside her (as well as most of the other kids at Wagstaff). Clearly her parents honor her wishes, otherwise why would she always be wearing her pink bunny hat? Even Louise, despite her malevolence towards everyone, seems to have a soft spot for her family, hence her humoring Linda in that mother-daughter parenting class they both attend in “Mother Daughter Laser Razor” (even if it does take bribery to get her to go).
In the end, Louise comes around to accept her mother, thanks in no small part to Linda’s wackiness and willingness to defend her daughter even against someone she heretofore respected. Linda might be the flighty one of the bunch (refreshingly), but she’s usually there for her kids, and she wholeheartedly supports their crazy schemes, like when the kids turn the walk-in freezer into an ice rink and start a Thunderdome-style ice fight series. She’s nurturing and supportive in a way that exasperated, loving Bob typically can’t be; Linda can get right down into the madness with a little help from Mister Vino while Bob is the family’s rock, because family is all Bob really has.
That’s been the cornerstone of Bob the character, and the main driver as to why the Belchers are such a spectacular representation of a family unit. One crucial thing to remember about Bob is that his favorite holiday isn’t Christmas or New Year’s or Kwanzaa or anything else, but Thanksgiving. The whole point of Thanksgiving is to eat too much and spend time with your family and friends, and Bob, third-generation restaurant owner, is gung-ho about doing Thanksgiving properly. His restaurant, his self-imposed pressure to succeed, his love of Thanksgiving… it’s all about family, specifically a family legacy both passed down to him and that he will pass down to his kids (whether they want him to or not, though it seems like all of them are positively disposed to keeping the restaurant in the family at some point or another).
The Belcher family isn’t wealthy, or particularly smart, and they’re definitely not going to be going back to the yacht club or King’s Island on a permanent basis. The one thing they have is each other. Sure, Tina is socially awkward, Gene is weird and pungent, and Louise is a sociopath, but they’re all Belchers, and that comes before pretty much everything else in their lives. No matter how outlandish the relation might be, the Belchers band together and there’s real love between them, and that’s not something that can be said about The Simpsons anymore.