The True Successor to The Simpsons
Lots of shows have come for the crown of The Simpsons. And what a crown it is – after running for nearly thirty years, The Simpsons is one of those pop culture mainstays that started out critiquing the media around it before it became inexorably absorbed, an indelible part of the pop culture landscape and the reigning champion against which all other animated comedies shall be compared. It found a sugar-sweet spot between unbelievably sharp comedy, social commentary, and a warm good-hearted attempt at showing, in some way or another, what life was actually like for regular working-class families, and, as I’ve said before, is one of the shows that more or less invented television in my universe.
But, for me, I’ve never seen a show capture that specific mixture ever since. Many have tried – I don’t count Family Guy among them, but hey, it probably would, so now seems as good a time as ever to remind you to fuck Family Guy – but nothing (save for maybe the absurdly brilliant Malcolm in the Middle, which is live-action and doesn’t quite qualify of those grounds) has come close in the near three decades since it came out. Until, that is, Bob’s Burgers.
Loren Bouchard’s animated comedy, following a family of five and their constantly-struggling burger restaurant, is, as far as I’m concerned, the true successor to The Simpsons. And yes, you might point out that The Simpsons is still on, and ergo doesn’t need a successor yet, but as soon as the show collaborated with Family Guy I cancelled it in my own head and that’s the only thing that matters, so back to my main point.
No other show for me has captured what the first ten years (the undisputed Golden Age) of The Simpsons did – that superb, irreverant, and instantly quotable comedy, matched with an actual familial warmth that feels earned and real and more than just a way to market the show as family-friendly. The world that these characters live in, like The Simpsons’ Springfield, feels like more than just a paper-cut out used to set up the next gag – it’s filled-out with characters who you couldn’t pick a favourite between if you tried, absurd caricatures that also somehow function as deft capturings of people in your own life. Both shows feel, at the same time, completely broad and utterly specific.
Now, you might be sitting there going “but Lou, you idiot, Bob’s Burgers is nearly ten years old now, and you are pathetically late getting on the game with this one”. And, my dear contrarian friend, you would be right – but part of the reason I’m only writing this article now (apart from the fact that I’ve been re-watching the entire show in a major binge that has maybe cured my depression) is because Bob’s Burgers has maintained a spectacular level of consistency over the course of the last near-decade of television,the same way the Simpsons did with its Golden Age. And not just in quality; no, it’s tone, the way that is has steadfastly stuck to what works without losing relevancy or its ability to address issues with a little bite. Both shows found that alchemic mix and stuck with it, not shifting and changing and throwing in gimmicks for the sake of them or to stick with the times.
When it comes to comedy, a laugh comes first. But what I’m looking for in the comedy I really love is something with warmth, too – something that feels somewhat grounded in reality and ultimate decency. Something that, when I hear the theme song alone, makes me feel like I’ve just come through the door after a long day and I’m reading to settle in for the night. The Simpsons was that for me when I was growing up, and I am lucky to have Bob’s Burgers to step in and fill that void now I’m grown. But not grown enough not to relate to Tina with every fibre of my being. I don’t think I’ll ever get that far.
(header image via With An Accent)