You're all terrible and I love you: Why the zany optimism of Bob's Burgers is my pandemic oasis
At the end of the day, Brendan D'Souza is tired of having to be an adult — so they turn to cartoons
Warm Blanket is a series of personal essays from Canadian writers and artists reflecting on the pop culture that has brought them comfort and coziness during one year of the pandemic.
Every morning of the pandemic, I wake up at 9:00. I brush my teeth, I make my coffee, I sit down, and then I sigh for four or five hours. I'm exhausted.
If you also made it through the mental and emotional onslaught that was 2020, maybe you can relate to the admittedly weird headspace I find myself in. After a year of feeling powerless professionally, socially, politically, and emotionally, I feel like I'm swimming in molasses. Maybe I've made some small progress. Mostly I just feel tired and stuck.
But as a radicalized queer intellectual, not swimming isn't an option. And despite my many emails, I haven't found a modern doctor willing to perform an elective lobotomy on me yet. So at the end of a long day of reading about the corrosion of western society on Twitter, and hourly double-checking current COVID precautions, I opt for the next best thing: cartoons.
You may be thinking, "But Brendan, aren't cartoons childish and dumb? Don't they cater to the lowest demographic, indulging in lowbrow humour and absurdist situational comedy?" Yes, dear reader, in many cases your no doubt well-intentioned judgment is absolutely correct. But that is exactly the point.
It's exhausting being an adult. You write emails. You go to marches. You scold strangers on the internet for not wearing masks, and you check in with your extended family to make sure that they've stopped using offensive slurs. You also occasionally pay taxes, I am told. And at the end of it all, when I'm tired of feigning maturity, I watch Bob's Burgers.
It's not my all-time favourite cartoon, but the world of Seymour's Bay offers a necessary and whimsical escape from politically responsible adulthood. The show centres on the Belcher family: parents Bob and Linda, and their three kids Tina, Gene, and Louise, who all work at the family burger restaurant. That's it. That's the whole thing. And I revel in the simplicity. But it's the way the characters exist in their show that makes the whole thing work.
Bob's Burgers is silly and absurd, but the magic in it is the clear affection the writers feel for its characters — and the affection the characters feel for each other. Bob's famous line from the pilot, "You're my family and I love you but you're all terrible," is the perfect mission statement for the show, only in reverse. The Belchers are goofy, sometimes obnoxious caricatures, but they love each other and operate with an unshakeable core of inherent goodness. They do their best to support each other in the best ways they can. It shouldn't be revolutionary to have a family sitcom where the family actually loves each other like this, but there it is.
You might not expect a cartoon like Bob's Burgers to be so wholesomely relatable, but it is. The show is filled with well-meaning people doing their best in insane circumstances. The best episodes have the characters going outside their comfort zone to support each other. Tina wants to get her legs waxed so she doesn't get bullied at school, but she's nervous, so Bob gets his done too so she feels more comfortable. Gene wants to be a musician, so Linda helps him turn the restaurant into a piano bar. Linda's sister Gayle can't make it to Thanksgiving dinner because of a broken leg, so Bob drags her to the house through a snowstorm in a kiddie pool so she won't be stuck alone. These kinds of premises are elevated by the family's single-minded determination to see each other succeed in surreal situations with wacky characters. It's very stupid, but VERY wholesome.
The characters of Bob's Burgers can be wacky and annoying, but they're also earnest and kind, and they love each other unconditionally. After a year of isolation, it starts to feel like hanging out with my own wacky and annoying yet earnestly lovable family. Like Linda, my dad also breaks into tuneless songs narrating his actions. My sister is also an ambitious force of chaotic good like Louise. My brother is NOT an awkward boy-crazy 13-year-old girl like Tina, but they do speak in a jarringly similar cadence and register. Bless them. (My mom would either be upset about being related to this family, or she just wouldn't get the reference — just like Bob.)
Good comfort television acts as an emotional reset. It's engaging but not challenging; it's wholesome; it's familiar. Bob's Burgers nails all of that with an earnest optimism that's hard to come by these days, and wall-to-wall jokes. After a long day of feeling powerless in crushing isolation, I turn my phone and my brain off and mellow out to Bob's Burgers. It's comfortable. It's like Chicken Soup For The Soul with eccentric pop culture references and a stricter copyright.
Does surrendering to a cartoon mean that I'm no longer socially engaged? Absolutely not! Everyone still needs to wear a mask, Black lives still matter, and Britney still needs to be freed. But it's nice to have something reliable to make you laugh at the end of the day. So, at night, I fall asleep to Bob's Burgers. And then the next day I wake up refreshed at 9:00. I brush my teeth, I make my coffee, and I sigh. And then, with a newfound energy, I write another email to my counselor telling them to defund the Toronto police.
Read all 12 essays from the Warm Blanket series here.