Wednesday, July 9, 2014

I Am A Strong, Smart, Sensual Woman (Bob's Burgers)

It didn't feel tonally appropriate to mention this during my epic downer of a review for Snowpiercer, but I actually just had a really lovely vacation. I spent a week in Los Angeles visiting old friends, and then a week at home, visiting those people to whom I am related and who may or may not have given me life and breath and all that stuff.

It was nice.

I mention this partially to brag about my vacation (I went kayaking and met Hillary Clinton - not at the same time), but mostly to reflect on some things I noticed/remembered while I was at home. Sleeping in my childhood bedroom, in my old bed, accidentally hitting the wall every five minutes because my old bed is a twin and I've gotten used to being able to spread out... Staring at my books, my movies, my old protest posters and theater magazines and knicknacks and stuffed animals...

It's always weird to go home, and it only gets weirder every year. That's not a bad thing, really, but there's a certain kind of cognitive dissonance that happens as a grown person spending any amount of time in your childhood home. I was very fortunate as a kid because my family has lived in the same house since before I was born. But this does mean that the instant I cross the threshold and step into the house, it's like I can't figure out how old I am anymore. 

Am I a grown, capable woman who pays her bills on time and has a great job doing what she loves? Yes. Am I also a sullen teenager who would rather sleep than do literally anything else and who prefers the internet to social interaction? That too. And am I a petulant child who hates eating vegetables and leaves her stuff everywhere? Also that.

I'm always all of those things, but it's somehow most pronounced when I'm at home, with my parents, in the house that has seen my transition from fetus to adult. It's weird. Good weird, but still weird.

While I was home, in between being a whiny child and a morose teenager, I found some time to watch a little television with my parents. It's a thing we do where I introduce them to new shows, because I am the only one in my family who is super obsessed with being up on pop culture. You really only need one, though. To be fair.

This past week, the new show was Bob's Burgers, a delightful animated sitcom about a family of misfits trying desperately to keep their restaurant from folding into bankruptcy. Also it's about poop jokes. Like, most of it is really well written crap humor. Just fair warning.

Now, there are a lot of reasons why I like this show, chief among them being how the humor is never mean or angry, just fun, but the one I want to hit on today is the female characters. Louise, Tina, and Linda Belcher are all totally and completely different characters, all hilarious and amazing, and they're also all, well, me.

Call me egotistical, but I totally love that.

Here's what I mean: Louise Belcher (voiced by Kristen Schaal) is a total kid. She's the kiddest kid to ever kid. A mild sociopath, addicted having fun and being irresponsible, and totally and completely convinced that all the grownups are nuts, Louise is exactly how everyone sees themself as a child. (Or at least everyone I know.) She's invincible, always right, and kind of evil. Isn't that what children are?

Tina, on the other hand, (voiced by Dan Mintz) is a moody, awkward, and devastatingly strange teenager. She's swept along by hormonal urges she doesn't understand. Still into unicorns and fantasy lands, she's also got a firm appreciation for butts, a budding sexuality that threatens the family stability more than once (with her crush on the rival's son, Jimmy Jr.), and a desire to understand herself and her place in the world.

Finally, we've got Linda (John Roberts). Well, actually, we could count Linda's mom in here too, but we won't, because she's not really a regular and also I don't like her. So we've got Linda! Linda is a grown woman, who still has her sense of play and fun, but also recognizes that she has responsibilities and jobs. She's a restauranteur, a mom, a wife, and an obsessive fan of dinner theater. 

Linda believes that she deserves to go after her dreams, even when it's not practical, but she also believes in paying their bills on time (as much as they can), and being there for the kids. Linda might be a messy, strange woman, but she's just that. A woman, not a kid playing dress-up.

Part of what I love is that all of these characters are so fully realized, with strengths and weaknesses (yes, even Louise has weaknesses - somewhere), but a bigger part is what I said before. All of these characters remind me of me. And sitting in my childhood bedroom, staring up at the posters and books and wall-hangings, I was painfully reminded why.

Like, I remember this. I feel this. I remember being an eight year old, reading books well beyond my emotional comprehension level and being slightly disgusted and terrified by all the cooties. I also remember that one of my friends got banned from playing over at my house because of that time we set my sister's old Barbies on fire, and how I had a weird habit of just leaving the house all the time, at all hours, without telling anyone.

I felt like I was invincible, because I grew up in a small town with very little concept of danger, and I looked askance at all those people who kept insisting that I needed to tell someone where I was going or at the very least wear shoes when I left the house for hours at a time.

And I also remember hitting puberty like a brick wall, getting my period during soccer practice and having to run around the field wearing a diaper-like pad the coach had given me, horrified and convinced that all of the boys (co-ed practice) could tell that I was gross. I remember the first time I wanted to smoosh my face up against a boy's, and I also remember how awkwardly that turned out. 

I remember my cringingly uncomfortable crush on Eomer from Lord of the Rings, and I remember being asked to go out on my first date, only to turn up (totally over-dressed), and find that we were going to Friendly's* with his grandfather and little siblings.

Now I'm Linda. I have a silly side, sure, but I also understand that I have responsibilities. I get that there's some stuff I just have to do, whether I want to or not. And somewhere in the growing up process, that stopped being such a terrible thing. I'm okay with being a functional adult. I can follow my dreams and follow a budget. It can be done!

That's not to say that things aren't still awkward, and that I don't still occasionally make an idiot of myself while trying to pretend I'm not getting stood up for a date at the bowling alley (pro-tip: saying that you're there for the ambiance is officially worse than the truth, whatever the truth is), or that I don't sometimes hide in the bathroom at Barnes and Noble so I can read People magazine without feeling judged. I do. And now you know that I do. (I need a new hiding spot.)

The point isn't that I'm a mess and vaguely immature. The point is that we all are. I don't know a single adult who doesn't frequently feel like they're faking it. LIke we're all just playing at being grownups until someone tells us we can stop now. And you know what? That's okay.

That's what I want to get at. Louise, Tina, and Linda? They're all okay. Yes, they're all women at vastly different stages of life, and yes, they're all completely bonkers. But that's fine. Great, even. Because the truth is, as we grow up, we don't so much stop being Louise and Tina, we just add Linda on top. You never stop being your kid-self or your teen-self. You just become a weird, freaky hybrid of all of your past selves at the same time. 

I pay my bills on time. I also think about Karl Urban (who played Eomer) a lot more than I should, and I still have stuffed animals that I take with me everywhere. It's all me.

We don't get to see that much on television, though. I mean, the most analogous show to Bob's Burgers that I can think of is Family Guy, which also features a middle-aged woman and a teenage girl as main characters. But Lois and Meg have never felt real to me. Not like people. They're just empty shapes from whence insults issue forth. And, more than that, they don't like each other. In fact, I have trouble thinking of a single sitcom where the female characters intergenerationally like each other. Or, more than like, actually actively enjoy each other.

Louise, Tina, and Linda have their differences, but ultimately they love and appreciate one another. And that's a pretty important message to send. Yes, it's about the value of intergenerational female relationships, which are super important and rad, but it's also about you as a person. You are a different person than you were yesterday. Maybe you're a nicer, more adjusted and altogether better person. Good for you. 

But that doesn't mean that the person you were yesterday is totally gone. You are all the yous that have come before and all of the yous that have yet to happen. That's a good thing. It's a feature, not a bug. Without your past, how will you know what you want to change about yourself? And how would you be your seriously awesome self if you hadn't gone through that mildly insane obsession with wolves that lasted six years?

That last part might be just me.

I love Bob's Burgers because it's funny, and sweet, and aside from all the poop jokes, a surprisingly clean show. But I also love it because it reminds me of who I've been and who I hopefully will be in the future. Even better? My mom loves it too.

You should watch this show because it is very funny and will bring you joy.
*It's like Denny's, only regional. I think it's only in the Northeast. Great ice cream, though.


  1. Hillary! I just watched a movie with her origin story...

    1. America: Imagine the world without her
      more to the point, you can't casually drop that you met Hillary and not give details!

    2. Well, to be technical, I waited for seven hours in a line at a bookstore to meet her and get a signed copy of her autobiography. I got a killer sunburn and I was sore for the next two days, and it was totally worth it.

  2. However, it bears pointing out that Kristen Schaal is the only human female in the cast - Tina and Linda (and many other smaller characters) are all voiced by men...

    1. That is a really good point. I know that in the case of Dan Mintz, Tina is voiced by a man because her character was originally a teenage boy, rather than girl. But it is a little problematic that our representations of femininity are predominantly voiced by men.

      Then again, a lot of the male characters are voiced by women. Like Ollie and Andy and I think a few others.

  3. Cute comics! I watch the program once, and was funny!
    I laughed!