Like the last few seasons of The Simpsons, a Netflix program being animated doesn’t necessarily qualify it as a comedy. Bojack Horseman, while full of funny moments, edges far closer to drama than comedy half the time.
Coming from a comedian who is as overtly cynical (but still hilarious) as Bill Burr, perhaps I should have expected the same from F is for Family. Watching his stand-up you note that he’s not someone who necessarily hates life but hates what society has become and the way people are, and he’s not shy to admit it. Do you have to know Burr and his take on life to appreciate the show? Not necessarily, but I think it helps.
What this show proves is that such frustration with the times and the self-loathing and contempt for others that people develop are timeless, and perhaps F is for Family is as much about growing up angry at different stages in your life than it is a biography or a ‘period’ piece.
While the 1970’s setting and family ensemble may well have equated to Burr’s family as he grew up, you also get the impression that each of the characters represents the creator himself at a certain point in his life.
The youngest boy, accordingly named Bill, holds the typical child-like mentality at the start of the series – vibrant and adventurous but not without his struggles, which only develop as he gets older. Then there’s Kevin, the older brother coming of age, full of a mix between teen angst, a desire to distance himself from youth and assert his independence, and hatred for his father while slowly realising why his old man is the asshole that he is.
Frank Murphy, voiced by Burr himself, is the patriarch of the family. He loves them, but he hates what his life has become and his resentment towards his family, his co-workers, employers and his free-and-easy-your-life-could-have-been-like-this neighbour Vic varies from palpable to outrageous thoughout the series.
The relationship and development between these three characters is superb, and as the show progresses you begin to understand how a man travels from point A (Bill) to point B (Frank) over the course of a lifetime, with puberty in between. As a (still young) guy in his early 30’s, I remember the joyful innocence of being a kid, I remember becoming an ungrateful teenager and the path towards being a middle-class working asshole doesn’t seem like too big a stretch either – although my dad was anything but a cynic while I grew up.
While heavily bitter at times, what stops the show being ridiculous is that much of the hatred and volatility possessed by the shows increasingly disillusioned characters doesn’t feel insincere, or unfamiliar. We all feel the way Frank does at times, alternating between a resentment ultimately directed at ourselves for the things we’ve done (or not done) in life evenly mixed with an appreciation for the things we do have and a desire to try and make them better or at the very least hold them tight.
But wait, this show is also a comedy, or at least there’s plenty of comedy within it. It’s less about one-liners and sight gags though, and the laughs feel more natural because they’re more human and easier to relate to, despite the fact that some of them are as traumatic as they are funny (if you watch the show you’ll see what I mean).
The biggest flaw of the show is the fact that it’s a six-episode season. It’s hard to develop too deep an understanding of the characters and what drove them to the ‘already in motion’ positions we find them in and at times it feels a bit rushed, although this affects the female characters – mother Sue and daughter Maureen – far more than it does the men.
I wasn’t alive for the 1970’s, and I’m sure there’s a decent amount of Americana within the show that was missed by this ignorant Australian, but F is for Family shows that there are moments in our lives and dynamics to familial and friendly relations and points in our lives that we all experience, and many of them are timeless no matter what decade we’re living in.
In conclusion: F is for Family does away with the heavy handed cultural references of other similarly timed shows like That 70’s Show, but still employs enough nostalgia to make you smile fondly no matter what your age is, before making you think “oh yeah, some things were pretty shit back then too”. It’s still highly enjoyable, although being a cynic might help. Continues the tradition of at-times crushing Netflix cartoons. I await Season 2.
Pros: Well-worked evolutionary dynamic between the three men of the house, plenty of funny moments, Halloween episode.
Cons: Short series, underdeveloped female characters, occasionally gets bogged down in negativity.