Bob’s Burgers & The Great North: How the Molyneux Sisters Keep Creating Hits
Responsible for Bob’s Burgers and The Great North, the Molyneux Sisters just know how to turn out TV hits.
In January 2011, Fox audiences were introduced to Bob Belcher the restaurateur, along the rest of his quirky family in Bob’s Burgers. Creators Wendy Molyneux and Lizzie Molyneux-Logelin (in collaboration with Loren Bouchard) provided a refreshing new take on the adult animated sitcom, heightening the absurdist comedy without the trademark biting insults. Almost 300 episodes and a blockbuster movie later, the Molyneux sisters continue to entertain their fans with hilarious yet sympathetic characters and signature whip-smart writing.
The sister duo teamed up with The Regular Show’s Minty Lewis to create The Great North, featuring a loving family of Alaskans led by Nick Offerman, Will Forte, and Jenny Slate. It was renewed for a second season months ahead of its January 2021 premiere, and granted for a third after the Season 1 finale. Fans have been anxiously awaiting the Tobins’ season 4 return since it was announced in August 2022. The Great North is another triumph for the Molyneuxes, gently guiding audiences toward self-love and understanding of the human condition.
It seems perfectly effortless the way the shows’ dialogue and music pours out of the characters’ mouths. Every episode of both Bob’s Burgers and The Great North has a new pun built right into the theme song. At every re-watch, there’s almost always a few jokes and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it puns and dialogue you didn’t understand the first time you saw that episode. The first watch was spent enjoying the somehow delightfully high stakes — characters are in near-death situations all the time, but it’s never so dire that it’s a concern if Bob (H. John Benjamin) or his family will come back to next week’s episode.
From an impressive lineup of voice actors playing main characters (H. John Benjamin, Kristen Schaal, Nick Offerman, Jenny Slate, the list goes on) to great performers and actors playing hilarious recurring characters (Nicole Byer, Molly Shannon, Bill Hader, Ziwe, Paul F. Tompkins, Zack Galifianakis, Alanis Morisette), each character is entertaining, realistic, and clearly valued by the writers. While there are certainly annoying characters, or storylines where some characters are clearly antagonizing our heroes, each character is given the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, contextualize their (often wild) behavior, and make amends. This allows the team of writers to offer multiple perspectives on complex issues without shoving them down their audience’s throat.
It’s not news that people are having a difficult time in 2023. Everyone needs a little time to watch other people struggle with big life stuff. In one episode, The Great North’s Tobin family goes stir crazy during a power outage. Rather than the uncomfortable tension that actually erupts in that situation, they create a courtroom drama intense enough to rival A Few Good Men, wherein Wolf (voiced by SNL alum Will Forte) and his wife Honeybee (voiced by iconic Comedy Central alum Dulcé Sloan) act as lawyers who rest their case over and over, much to Jerry (voiced by the hilarious Ron Funches)’s chagrin.
In Bob’s Burgers, Bob and his family frequently find themselves in life-threatening danger (mechanical sharks, sinkholes, evil rich people with vendettas against their families, the list goes on), but the Molyneuxes somehow walk the line between keeping the audience on the edge of their seat, and making sure it’s clear that our beloved families will all be back next week. Even the well-received Bob’s Burger’s Movie (spoiler alert!) begins with a murder and keeps the stakes high throughout, but keeps a playful lightheartedness that delights adults and kids alike.
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Week after week, the Molyneux sisters find a way to portray these loving families in realistic ways without making it painful. The stories they write ring true of tension and conflict, but somehow manage to avoid actually becoming upsetting to the audience. Tina Belcher (played by the delightfully monotonous Dan Mintz), a prepubescent teen in Bob’s Burgers, is painfully horny to the point where she writes erotica about teenage zombies. While this certainly provides a wealth of jokes, Tina herself is never, ever the joke — in fact, sometimes it’s her horniness that gets our heroes out of binds. After her sister Louise (Kristen Schaal) commends her for her bravery in constantly crushing on boys, Tina says what teenage girls have been thinking for years: “I put my bra on one boob at a time like everyone else.”
In The Great North, when Ham Tobin (Love’s Paul Rust) confesses to his family that they were too understanding and accepting when he came out to them as gay, they don’t roll their eyes and move on with their day. They ask him what they can do to fix it, and then do it (even if it means driving hours to their obnoxious cousin’s house to give him the judgmental reaction he requires, then performing a well-choreographed song that checks off all the things on Ham’s list of reactions).
The Molyneux sisters have created a genre of adult animation that is as entertaining and well-produced as some of the raunchier animated shows without mocking anyone or leaving a sour taste in their audiences mouth. In the last decade, they’ve lent these shows their talents, from writing to performing minor parts like Jen the babysitter. Their audiences have shown a strong support for 17 total seasons and a movie, and can only hope that there will be many more to come.
For much of Hollywood’s TV history, four networks ruled the airwaves. Before the competition of streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu, the Big Four were in competition with each other: ABC, Fox, CBS, and NBC. ABC was the most family-friendly network, as it was acquired by Disney in 1996. CBS was known for their dramas, like the NCIS franchise, and for hosting many of the major awards shows. Fox was known for animated adult series like The Simpsons and Family Guy. But NBC stood out with their comedies, sports shows, and, of course, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
NBC’s notoriety doesn’t stop with what it broadcasts. The network’s dramas and comedies are often the first of their kind as far as representation goes. The groups being represented often break from traditional stereotypes and therefore avoid tokenizing those characters. For example, if an Indigenous character is a lead, like in Rutherford Falls, they are played by Indigenous actors. Or, in terms of women’s empowerment, women characters range in age, like the actresses of The Golden Girls or The Good Place, and complexity. In the case of Black voices, shows like Grand Crew are written by Black creators. Even LGBTQ+ representation pushes beyond the stereotypes like in Go On. Before Netflix’s inclusive productions, NBC was the trailblazer of television.
Although Hollywood continues to catch up with representing people of color, they often fail to center them without tokenizing them. Health outlines the psychological effects of a person being included because of their identity, or tokenizing, as elevated pressure, further separation, and depression. More often than not, this person feels like the representative for their identity, or identities, leading to the pressure to undo stereotypes without also becoming one. Representation in Hollywood has relied on stereotypes of certain ethnic groups while boasting “the first” in advertisements. NBC’s recent shows like Superstore, Sex Lives of College Girls, and Rutherford Falls can be boasted as some of the first non-tokenizing shows with POC at the forefront.
In Superstore the main character is Amy, portrayed by America Ferrera, a Latina who is a devoted mother and employee, but is unhappy in her marriage. She achieves upper management positions for her ability to organize. In the hit series, The Sex Lives of College Girls, one of the four roommates is Bela (Amrit Kaur), an Indian-American woman from New Jersey. She dreams of being a comedy writer when she graduates from college and is sex-positive. Typically, women, especially AAPI, are portrayed as anti-sex or asexual until they fall in love. Although it was canceled after two seasons, Rutherford Falls centers on two Indigenous characters portrayed by Indigenous actors. Michael Greyeyes, who portrays Terry, is Muskeg Lake Cree Nation and Jana Schmieding, who plays Megan, is Cheyenne River Sioux.
Regarding women, NBC has pushed the envelope so far it cannot be located. Throughout television’s history, women have been blonde, beautiful, thin, and young. Often, the leading women on television, especially procedural crime shows, are the epitome of brains and beauty, wanted by every man on the show, but have no time or desire to date or have sex. Hollywood’s obsession with youth is pressed even further when the lead actress is paired with an actor 15 to 20 years older than her, perpetuating the myth that youth equates adoration and needing guidance. Some would even define this as grooming. Yet NBC took these ideals and virtually obliterated them.
Golden Girls broke practically every “rule” of women on television. The main actresses were in their 50s, portraying women in their 50s, and dealing with real issues that come with aging. Whether it was employment, aging parents, and maintaining relationships with adult children, Golden Girls showed audiences that life can continue and even start over at 50+.
While Law and Order: SVU receives criticism for portraying cops as compassionate, the show pushes boundaries in another way. Lead Detective Olivia Benson is middle-aged and becomes Captain in her 50s. Despite the show’s unrealistic conviction of sex offenders, the show makes a point to undo the “ideal victim” narrative or the person who will garner the most sympathy.
In The Good Place, two women lead the storyline. While Eleanor (Kristen Bell) and Tahani (Jameela Jamil) are both young and have virtually flat stomachs, television rarely shows youthful, beautiful women dying accidental deaths. The comedy series pokes fun at the afterlife while centering on women who are smart and willing to change.