In sifting through the many candidates for TV Parents of the Year, the first category for Vulture’s Best of TV awards, I thought first about the Braverman family of Parenthood. Eh — it’s a good show, certainly, but not that much good parenting actually occurred. How about the Kennish and Vasquez families on Switched at Birth? There was strong collaborative child-rearing between the two families, sure, but the kids (teen girls, switched at birth!) seemed more interesting than the parents. The Hecks on The Middle? The Granthams on Downton Abbey? Rufus Humphrey on Gossip Girl? No, no, and no. There was only one parenting duo that made its mark this past season in a way that allowed the whole family to enter the pantheon of great TV clans, and that couple is Linda and Bob Belcher from Bob’s Burgers.
It takes a special kind of parent to raise joyously weird kids, and Belcher siblings Tina, Gene, and Louise are nothing if not joyously weird. Tina is perhaps overly articulate about the throes of puberty and her own rich fantasy life; Gene’s best friend is a talking toilet, and he enters elaborate table-setting contests; and Louise has a evil-villain streak a mile wide. But beneath it all, the Belcher kids love each other and get along well enough, and that’s a reflection of their parents’ very stable and real-seeming relationship.
This season’s seventh episode, “Tina-Rannosaurus Wrecks,” was a perfect distillation of everything the show does well, particularly on the family front. The episode starts with Bob encouraging Tina to try driving the family car, since they’re in an almost completely empty parking lot and, hey, most teens would leap at the chance to get behind the wheel of an automobile. Tina being Tina, she proceeds to issue painful moans the entire time, and somehow manages to crash into the one parked car in the lot.
She and Bob debate leaving a note on the car, but Tina is adamant in her position. “We have to leave a note!” she cries.
“Okay, okay, you’re so honest,” jokes her father. “Who raised you?”
“I don’t know!” wails Tina.
“It … it was me — I did,” Bob replies, not a little stunned.
The whole episode plays out with Bob trying to avoid a huge insurance-fee increase and a guilt-plagued Tina not knowing what to do.
I thought that would be the most adorable parenting moment on the show until the penultimate episode of the season, which found Bob chaperoning Louise’s school trip to the museum. All together now: D’aawwww.
It’s not that Linda and Bob never fight with their kids. They do, and the kids fight among themselves, but there’s never anything at risk except slightly hurt feelings; there’s never a threat to the nuclear Belcher fam. The universe of Bob’s Burgers is a universe largely free of shame, which is maybe what makes the Belcher family seem so sweet. Sure, Linda likes to make up silly songs, and Bob and Gene have the occasional farting contest — so what? And if Tina wants to talk to an animatronic shark, she does — who would ever tell her not to? On Bob’s Burgers, it’s not really about freak flags and letting them fly: In the Belchers’ world, no one seems like much of a freak at all. It’s how we want our parents to see us and how we hope we’re able to see our children.