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"Bob's Burgers" serves up bad first course

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - It’s unwise -- and unnecessary -- to launch an animated sitcom on Fox that appears intent to ape the vulgarity quotient of “Family Guy.” For starters, what’s to be gained there?

“Family Guy” has been doing that better and longer than most and it’s one of the show’s calling cards. Second, if you start out in your pilot making jokes about child molestation, autism and itchy crotches, it only makes you look desperate to please the network with something that “fits in” or, perhaps more accurately, reveals the weakness of the writing staff.

“Bob’s Burgers,” which kicks off at 8:30 Sunday night on Fox, has a better pedigree than the pilot would suggest. It was created by Loren Bouchard (“Home Movies,” “Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist”) and co-executive produced by Jim Dauterive (“King of the Hill”), with outstanding voice talent from H. Jon Benjamin and Kristin Schaal. That’s the kind of talent that might -- just might -- suggest there’s a bit of unfortunate “pilot-itis” going on with “Bob’s Burgers” and that future episodes will be vastly improved. (Fox only sent one episode.)

The series revolves around Bob (Benjamin, who can pretty much make any dialogue funny), who runs a burger joint next to It’s Your Funeral Home and Crematorium and across the street from rival Jimmy Pesto’s Pizzeria (location, location, location). It’s a family business with wife Linda (John Roberts), daughters Tina (Dan Mintz) and Louise (Schaal) and son Gene (Eugene Mirman). Tina is quiet without much social skills, little Louise is an imp whose words and actions often cause trouble, and Gene doesn’t seem to be the sharpest knife in the drawer. Linda, the wife, seems simultaneously annoyed at Bob and in love with the lug in him, a la Marge Simpson. And yes, having males voice most of the females, without trying too hard to cover it up, is a conceit that works.

The pilot has some other elements that also work (including a jealous health inspector who claims cannibalism at Bob’s) and a few strands of family sentimentality, character-building and love, the elements that worked so well as the guiding force of “King of the Hill.” The key, unsurprisingly, is using Benjamin’s note-perfect ability to make Bob funny and likable. When “Bob’s Burgers” gets rolling and hints at the smarts that made “Home Movies” and “Dr. Katz” so good, it only makes you long for a distancing on the inane, easy-joke riffs that try to be “edgy.”

Unfortunately, those jokes dominated the pilot. It feels like a bunch of comics playing to the back of the room -- where all of the other comics are watching. It’s as if dragging out the autism and child molestation jokes is some how-daring-am-I attempt to walk the room. See how fearlessly funny we are, destroying taboos! It might be funny to otherwise jaded stand-up comedians and 14-year-old boys, but it’s probably not going to play to most people. Fox, which is trying to energize it’s comedy development department (“Raising Hope” is spot-on), seems to believe that “Bob’s” would only be a good fit between “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy” if it played the crass card. If Fox is, indeed, pushing “Bob’s Burgers” in that direction and encouraging the writing staff to be like “Family Guy,” it’s a creative misstep. Why? Because it’s too easy. And it’s overdone -- on the same network. It would be better if the writers tried to be more original. Or just tried harder.