One episode was provided for review purposes prior to broadcast.
In 1994, The Simpsons began its sixth season with an ode to childhood summers that doubled as a Rear Window parody. In 2002, South Park started Year Six with a riff on product endorsement that spins wildly out of control because the word “aides” is a homonym. In 2010, Futurama began its official sixth season after a seven-year absence from broadcast. This Sunday in 2015, Bob’s Burgers begins its sixth season with an episode in which Bob’s moustache hair is falling out. Six years in, and hair loss is the only jumping off point Bob’s Burgers needs to continue its run of understated brilliance and exuberant comedy.
The most enduring of those aforementioned programs gave us the phrase “steamed hams” to describe a burger, but the pun-loving Bob’s Burgers owes its charms to another bad nickname for beef patties: small steaks (it helps to read that in H. Jon Benjamin’s voice, which is true of most any writing). The coastal town where the Belcher quintet lives doesn’t get swept up in fads or political movements, and the celebrities the family encounters are usually either local oddballs, or foreign film stars 30 years past their prime. When each episode begins, chances are things will be as dead quiet as Bob’s restaurant.
So what exactly has kept Bob’s Burgers among TV’s funniest sitcoms for nearly 100 episodes? Science, pop culture, and social mores are the inexhaustible wells from which many of the longest running animated shows draw from, but Bob’s Burgers works because of something much more difficult to refine: characters. The stories told each episode are often small, but the personalities wrapped up in them are big, boisterous, and endearing. Instead of needing to bounce between plot points and situations to keep the pace moving, Bob’s Burgers will take two, three, even four cracks at the same setup, because every character is good for a punchline – edgewise is the only way the Belchers know how to live.
Rather than being repetitive, the open mic approach gives the most mundane conversations livewire energy right out of screwball comedies, with gags flying as fast as the indelible voice cast can rattle them off. Just as important is how the quantity of jokes in Bob’s Burgers reveals the singularity of the characters delivering them. When the size of Bob’s bald spot is described as “exactly the size of the lid of a mayonnaise jar” by Tina, or “a tiny crop circle” by Gene, that’s not just two jokes for the price of one, but also another brief glimpse inside the minds of the two eldest Belcher children.