For quite a while, Loren Bouchard (Home Movies, Dr.Katz) has been intrigued by idea of multi-generational restaurants and guys that get stuck working in the family business. "It was expected and now it's a little archaic to the modern sensibility," Bouchard suggests. "I just thought that was interesting: Bob's is a workplace comedy and a family comedy, if you can tap into that." Bouchard shared some of his experiences so far on Bob's Burgers, the new Fox animated series that airs Sundays at 8:30 pm.
Bill Desowitz: A family flipping out over burgers. It's an interesting multi-generational twist.
Loren Bouchard: Yeah, originally, I thought we would do three generations with the grandparents. But that would've been too much. There's a rich tradition among a lot of ethnicities. There were a lot of Greek families that I knew in the New England area had restaurants, and there's a great restaurant that used to be in the west Village called Shopsin's, which was made into a movie called I Like Killing Flies. It was a really easily sell: Fox has been onboard from the get-go.
BD: So you've got a gung-ho dad, two precious kids and a wife who's the mediator.
LB: It's the portrait of a businessman as an artist -- he's driven to do these creative burgers and has his burger of the day. But he's not succeeding yet he's committed and he's committed his entire family. The kids aren't just comic relief but built into the DNA of the show is this idea that even the parents can be amused by their own kids -- and irritated. The show is going to survive or fail on the strength of the characters and whether people will give them time.
BD: And you're obviously very performance driven with H. Jon Benjamin as Bob, Dan Mintz as his wife Tina and Eugene Mirman, John Roberts and Kristen Schaal as the kids.
LB: That's right, but it's not that hard: you find people that you want to work with and you cast them. It's true for our regulars and for our guest characters. We try to write to the strength of our actors, so much so that every single one of these characters was written for the actor to play.
BD: What have the voice sessions been like?
LB: We insist that the actors play off each other. And when the schedule forces us to record an actor, it always feels like a loss. Even if they don't go off script, just the energy that the actors bring to the session, fooling around and making each other laugh, is fun and inspires us. That little [grunt] that Linda says or Bob's [grunt] isn't going to look good on the page, but it becomes part of the scene that's the funniest and you board to and animate to and try to highlight.
BD: What have been some of the happy accidents going off script?
LB: Almost everything that sounds like a tangent was probably improvised or at least was inspired by an improvisation. In episode one, when Tina says she's good with customers and Bob and Linda disagree and the waitress says she can't help it she's autistic and Bob says she's not, and Gene goes and gets toothpicks and does that Rain Man bit, that's all improvised. That's definitely one of the reasons why I'm talking to you now: a little bit of improv that's crafted into the sound of this family. They can be troubled by the health inspector and move along with their little story, and then, all of a sudden, there's this sharp right turn where the kids cause the father to veer off track. And you can tell by the sounds he makes, that Bob is amused. And that's what Jon Benjamin brings as an actor with just the hint of a smile in his voice. And this is straight from a character that Jon does that's his own mother. And he has an extremely deep well of stuff that he draws on effortlessly to bring this character to life. And he does it on YouTube with a wig and glasses and it's really well observed with these wonderful nuances.
BD: And what's the most unusual burger?
LB: Well, in the pilot we had this gag where he had the less than inspired "New Bacon-ings" because it was their grand re, re-opening. And then his daughter erased it and changed it to: "The Child Molester -- Comes with Candy."
BD: What have you learned so far?
LB: Once you establish a family, it doesn't mean that you then go and write a bunch of interesting outside characters and dress up the world and tell the story of the family vs. the world. What was good to realize was that, ideally, if an audience likes that family, they want more of that family. And they are perfectly fine to have the family in conflict with each other: that's basic sitcom writing wisdom. But I forget -- and I think a lot of writers forget-- that we're living with a show so much longer than an audience and a new character is like a new toy that you want to play with. But I think the best thing that we've learned or at least have been reminded of a few times with this show is to just keep going back to your core characters and keep finding out new things about them, inventing new conflicts for them to have and discovering new ways that they're funny. That's what our job is first and foremost: everything else is adding texture and color to a world that is entirely based on those five characters.
BD: What about the animation?
LB: The production company that we're working with here in LA is Bento Box. They are a new company but are old hands. Mark McJimsey is one of the principals and he worked on The Simpsons and then King of the Hillfor its entire run. They're in the process of acquiring Film Roman. And then we're doing something new: we're not sending traditional animation to Korea; we're working digitally with Bardel in Vancouver using Harmony. So we do the boards and the audio and the character design and background design here, and then it's all animated in Vancouver by Bardel.
BD: How's it working out?
It's good: I think this is the first time that Harmony has been used on a network show like this. I have nothing to compare it to except I've always worked this way because I come from much lower budgeted shows where we didn't have the option of working traditionally. So for me, it's very familiar. For a lot of people here who worked on King of the Hill and other shows, it's a little unfamiliar. And there clearly are advantages and disadvantages and we're striving to not make it obvious to the viewer. We're hoping you can watch The Simpsons and then Bob's and not have to shift gears in any way and change your expectation of what the animation is going to do.
Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.