Bob's Burgers: A Love Note to the Mediocre Artist
I have loved Bob’s Burgers since it first aired. The Belchers hold a special place in my heart and I suspect they always will. Until recently it has been incredibly difficult for me to verbalize why I am so enamored with a fictional cartoon family. However recently I’ve discovered that despite the numerous reasons I love the Belchers (Bob’s salty attitude when things go wrong, Louise’s plotting, Linda’s ineffable enthusiasm, the list goes on and on) the reason I truly love The Belchers is their inability to be successful in their chosen field.
Now this seems cruel at first, and to be quite frank a little bit of me is glad to see others who don’t succeed immediately at what they enjoy doing. However mostly what I admire about the Belchers is their continued passion for their chosen field despite their lack of success.
The most obvious example of this is Linda. Linda loves to sing and put on shows, however as shown in “Hamburger Dinner Theater” (Season 1 episode 5) Linda is unable to create the dynamic and entertaining show that she wants to. She is only able to pull off her dinner theater show when a burglar shows up to rob the restaurant and ends up singing along. The burglar actually has talent and is able to hold up the show for Linda.
Linda also desperately wants to be accepted by certain social groups. This is exemplified in “Gene It On” (Season 4 episode 20) where Linda says that she wanted to be a cheerleader in high school. When Gene is made a cheerleader she lives vicariously through him so much so that she ends up smothering him. She wants so badly to be a cheerleader even though she’s well out of high school and unable to actually achieve this dream.
Despite Linda’s inability to actually be successful at singing, playwriting, or cheerleading (or any number of activities for that matter) she isn’t bothered by it. She continues to enjoy her passions even though she’s mediocre at best. It’s a fantastic lesson to teach the viewers, that art isn’t exclusively for those who excel at it.
At least for myself, and I think for many others, we find that trying to participate in any art form demands excellence. There’s no media, at least as far as I’ve been able to encounter, that encourages those of us that aren’t fantastic at our chosen fields. Bob’s Burgers is a revelation in this area.
Bob Stuck to the Toilet in "Glued, Where's my Bob?"
Bob himself is another example of this, but in a more nuanced way. Bob is not a bad cook, this is reinforced constantly over the course of the show. Even in the episode “The Moody Foodie” (Season 2, Episode 7) when the food critic initially writes off Bob’s food as “overdone and dry” it’s Bob’s food that in the end stops the critic from reporting Bob’s crime of making the critic a hostage in his own home.
Where Bob fails is in his ability to run his restaurant. Despite numerous attempts at creating a more profitable environment in his restaurant, nothing seems to work. In the episode “Food Truckin’” (Season 2, Episode 7) Bob tries to make a profit off of owning a food truck. The family ends up winning $1,000 for best food truck (after some manipulating from the Belcher children), however he ends up accidentally destroying the check in an explosion (seriously, this show is a wild ride. If you haven’t seen it I 100% endorse and recommend it).
The interesting thing though, that we’ll have to wait for season 7 to find out, is that Bob actually gets some good publicity in the Season 6 finale “Glued Where’s My Bob?” Coaster’s Magazine comes to interview Bob. Unfortunately due to circumstances that the Belcher children (read: Louise) create, Bob ends up super glued to a toilet for the interview. This should spell disaster for his interview right? In reality, Bob gets a decent review from Coasters which hints at him getting more customers in the future. It’ll be interesting to see how the show runners decide to handle this, will Bob become successful? Or will he continue to be broke and scraping by. If I had to wager, I’d say the later. Being poor is so much a characteristic of being a Belcher that it’s almost the 6th Belcher.
Again, just like Linda, Bob is incredibly optimistic and passionate about his restaurant. He believes in it just like Linda believes in her failed dinner theater. The point being that neither of them define their success as an artist through their fiscal success.
Tina, Gene, and Louise Belcher in "The Frond Files"
If we turn to the Belcher children, they are similarly a part of this formula. Gene is a great example of this. In the episode “The Itty Bitty Ditty Committee” (Season 5 episode 17) Gene, Louise, and Tina team up with Regular Sized Rudy and Daryl to form a band. However at their first official practice, Gene reveals that he actually only knows two chords. Tina and Louise only play the straws so the Belcher children are unceremoniously ejected from the band. Gene even goes on to sing a song entitled “I Don’t Need Music Anymore” to prove that he wants to quit his hobby for good since he’s no good at it. However after tricking him into thinking that his keyboard was burned, Louise and Tina are able to encourage him back to music. Bob even admits that the girls out parented him and Linda.
This is one of the only cracks in Gene’s musicality that we see throughout the entire series. We know in our hearts that Gene isn’t very good at music, after all every single one of his songs is littered with fart sounds and dog barks, but it’s never really addressed in the show. This is another subtle way that the show is able to encourage mediocre artists, by simply not pointing out that someone is mediocre at their chosen medium. Gene is by no means bad at playing keyboard, however he’s still young and has a lot to learn. Perhaps in the future he might be better at playing it, but the show focuses on this moment where Gene is not a fantastic musician. The important thing though is that they show Gene enjoying his art. I can’t think of a single episode off the top of my head where Gene doesn’t appear in some way or another with his instrument.
Tina is another great example of this with her erotic friend fiction. Tina is a writer and, as demonstrated constantly throughout the season, she writes anything and everything she can. As a writer myself I have a deep admiration for Tina’s continued determination to hone her craft. In “Bad Tina” (Season 2 Episode 8) Tina is so confident in her writing that she reads it aloud in the cafeteria. Of course, due to it’s sexual nature and the fact that her audience is middle and elementary schoolers, she’s laughed at until Tammy farts and steals the embarrassment. Tina isn’t a paragon of creativity just like the rest of her family, however just like the rest of her family she is just as enthusiastic about it.
Even Louise isn’t exempt from this trope. Her pranks and plots are incredibly creative and well thought out, but again and again she’s proved to be in the wrong. Examples include “Beefsquatch” (Season 2 Episode 9), “Glued Where’s My Bob” (Season 6, Episode 19), and numerous others. Louis’ plotlines usually end with her learning a lesson and regretting her actions (see “House of 1,000 Bounces” Season 6, Episode 11). Despite being constantly reminded that her actions have consequences, Louise continues to prank and trick her family, classmates, and Mr. Frond (especially Mr. Frond, see: the Brownie Chair Surprise).
In the end Bob’s Burgers is all about loving what you do, no matter your skill level. The moral at the end of almost every story is that you don’t have to be amazing at something to be successful at it. You don’t even have to be successful at it, you just have to enjoy it. The Belcher family is the perfect example of the mediocre artist who finds enjoyment despite their lack of success. It’s a message that resonates with any viewer, we’ve all got hobby’s that we wish we were better at, we’ve all got talents we’re insecure about. Bob’s Burgers teaches us that we need to spend more time with activities that we love, and that it's ok if those activities are different than what we're good at.