Bill Burr and Michael Price brings us an animated comedy based around family life in the 1970s. But is it a case of F is for Failure? Or F is for Future Classic?*
(* Yeah, I apologise for that, the F is for… idea sounded a lot better in my head)
There’s something I need to point out right from the off. It is not a family comedy. This is a comedy about a family. Do not gather your kids and the grandparents around the TV for some good clean family entertainment!
I explored in quite a bit of detail my thoughts about Netflix’s strong original output when reviewing w/ Bob & David Review, and F is for Family is another addition to the comedy line-up. BoJack Horseman is an absolute favourite of mine, so I was looking forward to another Netflix original animation.
Based on the stand up of creator Bill Burr, this is the story of Frank Murphy (voiced by Burr) and his family in 1973. Murphy is a baggage handler working for Mohican Airlines, his wife Sue (Laura Dern) is a homemaker who does most of the raising of the children Kevin, Maureen, and Bill (a surrogate for Burr as a boy). We’ve also got Sam Rockwell as the young, successful, lothario neighbour – think Dazed and Confused era McConaughey – and a few other neighbours and children round out the cast.
A lot of the promotion for this show focused on Bill Burr’s non-PC stand up routine, possibly aiming to try and tap into the Family Guy crowd. But setting the show in the seventies mean that the modern sensibilities he normally rails against are no longer around. It’s actually the characterisations of the family that make this a show to look out for. The very first scene feels a bit familiar (a phone call interrupts the family dinner, and Frank refuses to answer it) and a little bit like part of a stand-up routine, but afterwards we get a comedic yet surprisingly somber and even at times sensitive look at working class life.
The first episode sees Frank have to buy a new TV to watch his favourite boxer (brilliantly named Irish Mickey Ireland) in his big fight with all of his neighbours, instead of them watching it at Vic’s. All very sitcom-y but the small touch make it stand out. Frank’s hatred of Vic is funny, but the introduction of Colt Luger, star of Frank’s favourite show, and his “sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man does” is perfect.
Similarly, the second episode has Kevin failing school, so his father takes him to work. Instead of the typical “father and son come to an understanding”, the episode however has the son come to pity his father for putting himself through the humilation of his low-paid, menial joke to put food on the table. This episode also introduces Shire of Frodo (Kevin’s favourite band, a pastiche of King Crimson and various prog rock bands) and Sue’s own part time job selling tupperware, which becomes a major point through the later episodes.
One area that could do with improvement is the neighbours, who even after a rewatch I couldn’t name outside of Vic. It’s a credit to the show that with Frank’s work colleagues and the various other airline people are all memorable. And I’ve to give special mention to David Koechner for his voice work as Frank’s boss, the obese Bob Pogo. But if the show returns it feels like that story has been told and there would need to be more development to the characters who live on the street.
Having said that, it is one of the neighbours that shows the hidden depth to the show. In the very first episode, the neighbourhood children are afraid of the horrible German who lives on the street, who they describe as a Nazi (“Hitler’s little brother”) who has murdered so many people he has the number tattooed on his arm as a scoreboard. When the man comes to the door however, he is a friendly, harmless, jovial Jewish man (and you can probably guess what that number is). The character is only involved a few times in the season, and always for the same purpose, but it’s a brave choice and one that works and could be used for plenty of comedic misunderstandings.
Surprisingly for this type of show, we have storylines that play throughout the full 6 episodes. After a “promotion” in the first episode, Frank has to deal with industrial action that develops and pays off in the last episode. Sue’s tupperware business is seemingly a hobby, but in fact is a vessel for her hopes and dreams of being a independent and successful woman. Even over six 27 minute episodes, we see Kevin grow or at least get to understand him better, being more than just a moody teenager who hated his father. Even Bill has an impressive story arc that builds from a fight with a bully to… well, I’ll leave that as a surprise.
The Bill character is actually the most interesting to me. Frank is definitely the focal point of the show, and it’s not Bart Simpson levels of focus-stealing, but in Bill Murphy we have way into the real world of the Murphys. When he overhears his parents arguing and… err…”making up” afterward, we have the foundation of the show basically laid out for us. And that argument scene is one of the most authentic I have ever seen, almost in itself making the whole show worthwhile.
A definite thumbs up. Not always a hilarious, laugh riot comedy, but it’s a funny world that I want to return to. By the end of the run, this does feel like a full-realised world, and there are dramas that don’t pay as much attention to story or character.
Recommended for fans of: Bob’s Burgers, King Of The Hill, BoJack Horseman, Everybody Hates Chris, early The Simpsons, early Family Guy.
F is for Family is available on Netflix now.
PS as a special treat for reading all the way to the end, here’s the brilliant advert for Mohican Airways: