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Bob's Burgers 

A new animated feature that's still impossible to describe in a sentence.

click to enlarge What's in the special sauce?
  • What's in the special sauce?

All television shows must provide some sort of one-sentence synopsis (“misanthropic doctor solves cases and is a dick,” for House) in order to be picked up and advertised, but animated shows require something more.

Unless you’re the executive whose sole job is to green-light new Seth MacFarlane cartoons, you need to have a compelling reason to order a new animated series. Animated shows are usually expensive and vastly more difficult to change. That’s why, for every Family Guy, there are only two or three shows like Sit Down, Shut Up compared to a half-dozen like Hank, Joey or Mind of Mencia.

That’s the source of my reservations about Bob’s Burgers, FOX’s newest animated sitcom. It has an impressive pedigree: Created by a guy with animation experience (Loren Bouchard, Dr. Katz and Home Movies), it’s staffed with a mix of talented comedians (Eugene Mirman, Kristen Schaal) and regular voice actors (H. Jon Benjamin). Even the premise, a family working to save its burger restaurant from going under, provides both family-based and occupational opportunities for comedy.

And yet, I wonder: Where’s that special something, that aspect that forever precluded its being made as live-action? In the pilot episode, a weekend celebration could “make or break” the business, but someone tells a joke at school about the meat coming from the funeral home next door, which attracts the health inspector, who just happens to be the mother’s old flame.

When the first episode’s plot is forced to contort itself that much, it spells trouble. Worse still are the flat, archetypal characters: the annoyingly voiced wife who always stands by her clueless husband, who is ineffectual in almost every area of his life. The coterie of children consists of two wildcard youngsters (who are essentially the same character in different genders), and a “Meg,” whose sole defining characteristic is “punching bag.”

It’s unclear what kind of show Bob’s Burgers is going to be. It has potential, but it teeters precariously atop a foundation of impersonal interaction and forced wackiness. Like a family burger joint trying to compete against a national chain, it has to prove why what it offers is better than the competition. Otherwise, Family Guy and The Simpsons are going to eat it for lunch.

Bob’s Burgers (FOX, premieres Sunday, Jan. 9, 8:30 pm)


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