In Defense of the Crude: Why Bob's Burgers Beats Out the Rest

Curator's Note

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."


Great post, Lauren. I can't help but think the question you raise addresses a question of worth--what are non-sequiturs worth versus what are satirical/politically aware jokes worth? Bob's Burgers seems to fall somewhere between the two and in the meeting of such different styles, make its mark and determine its own worth. Perhaps its success (in my eyes, if not ratings) comes from neither trying to teach us a lesson or help us turn off our brains (feel free to try to figure out which animated series fits either of those categories). If nothing else, the series speaks to the crude, awkward moments of daily life that depend upon shock value and heart alike.

 I've only seen two episodes, but it seems like a great lead-in to Bob's Burgers would be Ren and Stimpy circa the early 90s.

I thought it would be interesting to point out that to promote the show, Fox transformed several FatBurger locations into Bob's Burgers. This is very similar to what they did with 7-Eleven to promote The Simpsons Movie. You can read more about it here and check out a few pictures.

I feel like animated Television has been in decline ever since the crude and lazy writing style of shows such as South Park and Family Guy has come into vogue. Animated TV has gotten to the point where a witty show like Bob’s Burgers just can’t be digested by modern day audiences.   This development is most easily tracked by following the trajectory of The Simpsons, a show that used to rule the animated comedy world with its character and story driven humor that has now lagged in popularity behind less imaginative shows while simultaneously sacrificing its more challenging humor. Though its struggled in the ratings, Bob's Burgers  was renewed for a second season. Those of us who hope for a return to a more refined style of comedy in our animated TV programs should reward Fox for its decision to renew the show, and hopefully we will be rewarded with better late night animated fare. 

I am in defense of the crude. I do not agree that animated television has been in decline nor do i believe that shows like Family Guy and the Simpsons differ from a different trajectory than that of Bobs Burgers. Bobs Burgers is a humble yet brilliant coupling of great voice actors and honest writing. During the era of The Simpsons there was a need for an honest and relatable program which held no cultural boundary and addressed the deepest of our cultural tensions through satire. Bobs Burgers does not use irony and satire so boldy as Family Guy because it we have no need for such an aggresive figure to compete with giants like Homer and Peter Griffin. Bobs Burgers responds to the honest humble household issues which have been the heart of Americas Broadcasting for decades. WIth humor and heart, Bob responds to the difficulties of fatherhood in an urban community. Where crudeness worked for shows like The Simpsons to speak to the common man, Bob uses honest personal growth and triupmh to speak its audience.  

Being a fan of "Bob's Burgers" myself, it makes me sad to hear that the "Macfarlane" comedic formula of animation is still so much in vogue when a show like this one is on the air. Originally, I feel as though Family Guy could have been considered a show that made smart jokes, but their formula is being so overly recycled that in order to push the envelope, they must become more and more offensive. Bob's burgers is still certainly not a clean-cut show, but then again, it is a cartoon targetted towards an older audience. Regardless, Bob's Burgers definitely shows diversity in the realm of "animation domination" in terms of its simplistic artwork and minimal amount of cast members. Not only the fact that there are only a few, but the fact that most of them are all male voices add even more humor to the awkwardness of the "real life" feel Bob's is trying to imitate. I hope that Bob's Burgers can stay afloat with its fresher prescription for laughter, as opposed to the slowly aging template behind all of Macfarlane's series'.


Although I’ve only seen the Bob’s Burgers a few times, I can tell that it is not the normal animation cartoon that we are used to.  It does not consist with the gag humor, and politically radical, and consciously offensive material used to shock viewers into laughter.  Although I like that the show is trying to strew from the “animation domination” norm, these mundane actions of these cartoons, and the depiction of crude characters and dialogue, can indeed be rich, yet it is this style of narrative that can be more powerfully captured by human emotion and acting.  When viewers want to make connections with characters, this attachment is easier made with physical human actors rather than cartoons.  If a cartoon focuses around crude dialogue and characters, it will gain a niche audience, but not the market that cartoons need.  Animation has a very solid following of people that expect to be entertained.  Most of the time, people don’t watch cartoons to view mundane activities and crude dialogue, because the beauty of animation is it is so easy to make different scenarios for comedy.  “Family Guy” style of animation will continue to dominate television simply because of the fact that people watch TV, especially animation/cartoons, for the reasons of quick laughs and immediate entertainment satisfaction.


I get your point Lauren. I am a cartoon lover, as in I love cartoons. And at my age you would not imagine that I still watch these kinds of shows and I've seen Bob's burger, The Family guy and the likes. But I think it's just amatter of how you interprete what the producers are trying to say. They are made to make the viewers think and also basing it to reality that what is actually happening to the society. And of course, for entertainment purposes.Smart jokes and deep humor are shown on the tv show. So, if you don't like it then don't watch's just that simple.

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