Bob’s Burgers serves up originality on Fox

Just four episodes into its debut season, Bob’s Burgers is the best show in Fox’s Sunday night “Animation Domination,” and the only one that wasn’t created by Seth MacFarlane or called The Simpsons.

While The Simpsons is a decade past its prime — with occasional moments of genius — and Family Guy, American Dad!, and The Cleveland Show are at this point rarely amusing, Burgers has infused the lineup with fresh blood. Like its predecessors, Burgers is a family comedy.  However, it is just as interested in examining the workplace as it is the living room.

Created by Massachusetts native Loren Bouchard (Home Movies and Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist), Burgers centers around the slovenly and omni-aproned Bob Belcher, the proprietor of the titular shack. Constantly driven crazy by his dysfunctional family, he does the best he can to run the ramshackle patty joint on the New England seaside. If the stoves aren’t failing downstairs, his intolerable brood is wreaking havoc in their apartment upstairs.

In the second episode, entitled “Crawl Space,” Bob is forced by his wife Tina to go up to the attic to fix a leak in the roof before her parents come to visit. Bob, who is not very fond of his mother-in-law (“I don’t hate her, just the sound she makes”), decides to pretend he is stuck in the attic’s crawlspace when she arrives.

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Hilarity ensues as his children take advantage of this opportunity to tease him and the situation escalates: Bob is soon stuck for real. He finds that while he can’t get out, he can walk around the house inside the walls.

H. Jon Benjamin, who grew up in the Boston area, voices Bob.  Just like his performance as Sterling Archer in FX’s supremely funny spy comedy Archer, Benjamin steals every scene he’s in.  In “Crawl Space”  he loses his mind within the walls, encountering characters and experiencing scenes from The Shining, such as when he befriends one of his daughter’s nightlights.

Bob grows annoyed at his son Gene’s unyielding insistence that Salman Rushdie (of The Satanic Verses fame) wrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, defends his right to be trapped (“There’s nothing wrong with a man enjoying his crawl space!”), and calls his wife “Nagatha Christie.”

The show’s irreverent brand of humor continues behind the scenes: Tina and 12-year-old daughter Linda are both voiced by male comics, Dan Mintz and John Roberts. The funniest gag is they don’t even attempt to give their characters feminine voices.  Linda is an odd, socially awkward duck, prone to dreams of zombies making out and other more typical teenage issues.

Bay State comedian Eugene Mirman voices the son Gene, who walks around making flatulent noises on his keytar at all the wrong moments.

The sole female cast member, Kristen Schaal, of Flight of the Conchords and The Daily Show fame, brings mischievous energy to the 8-year-old Louise, who will yell “fire” in a crowded theater just to be funny.

The humor is not for everyone, however, as the pilot episode has Bob’s children riffing on child molestation, rashy genitals, and autism, all in the first 10 minutes. After that, though, the worst is behind you.  If you can stomach the weekly vomiting session of MacFarlane’s oeuvre, then you can handle Bob’s occasional lapses into amateur hour.  You may just consider it a breath of fresh air in comparison.

The storylines in these four episodes haven’t been particularly original, but the neat animation style, which is like a descendant of Dr. Katz’s Squiggle Vision, and the fantastic voice cast make it worth watching.

Burgers debuted to about 10 million viewers, which is a pretty solid showing these days for network television, and has held up well in its subsequent airings, so it may not be one of those one-and-done shows that Fox is unfortunately so used to (Lone Star, we hardly knew ye). Catch up with the first quartet on Hulu, and tune in Sundays at 8:30 p.m. for new episodes.