In the end, what Frank Murphy learns from his months of familial and workplace turmoil is completely predictable, considering the world that F Is For Family creators Bill Burr and Michael Price have set forth. Over the course of this six-episode season, Frank’s been the center of an often wrenching, always crude, surprisingly thoughtful story about a man and a family in a mess no less maddening for how commonplace it is. If there’s a core to Burr’s comic point-of-view as presented through F Is For Family, it’s that Frank’s screwed, his family’s screwed, but at least they have each other—and they don’t really want each other, either.
There was no way Frank was going to come out on top at work. Here, his appeal to both Mohican Airways’ management and union workers to put aside their differences and come together like a family leads to momentary, strike-averting triumph—and an immediate firing from Gary Cole’s CEO Mr. Dunbarton and David Koechner’s corpulent, vicious underling Bob. Dropping the bomb that Frank’s televised appeal to the CEO’s humanity means a petty revenge termination, Bob grinds Franks face in the dirt, explaining they’d chosen Christmas Eve for the deed so, “that way you can watch your kids open the presents you can’t afford.”
And Frank wasn’t going to win at home, either, despite everyone in the Murphy family’s baby steps toward detente over the course of the season. Frank’s still dismissive and resentful of Sue spending so much time at her new job. Sue knows that, and, finding her dream job less of a fix-all for her lifetime of disappointment, weeps alone as she tries to set up for the Murphys’ annual Christmas party. (Talking Frank out of canceling the party, Sue says, “This year is more important than ever—we have some fence-mending to do. Speaking of which, the Petersons’ fence burned down.”) Kevin’s promises to reform are a “one step forward, two steps back” situation, as his job selling Christmas trees sees his temper and poor judgement costing Frank more than Kevin was going to earn in the first place. Bill burned down the surrounding woods (and the Peterson’s fence) and, even if the fire department isn’t pressing charges, Bill’s corrective stint as altar boy sees him running afoul of school bully (and larcenous priest’s pet) Jimmy, whose brutish father comes to the Murphy house looking for revenge. Oh, and the family dog probably burned up in the fire, much to daughter Maureen’s dismay. After coming home from a disastrous strike negotiation earlier on Christmas Eve, Frank is bombarded by everyone’s problems, failures, and resentments at once, finally snapping back at Maureen’s certainty that the dog, Major, is dead, “Oh, then he’s the lucky one!”
In this world of blue-collar frustration, compromise, and anxiety (and incessant yelling), victories are what you can convince yourself they are. Frank and the family (and one of the dwarf partiers from neighbor Vic’s drug-fueled shindig) manage to beat up the bully’s bully of a father and share a sweaty, disheveled moment of solidarity. “I got the best family in this whole goddamned town,” yells Frank after the retreating jerks. ”You mean that about us?,” asks a taken-aback Kevin, to which Frank replies, “You’re damn right I do.” Never mind that Frank’s sporting a shiner and that all the family’s problems (including the very real threat of losing Frank’s job) are still in place. Similarly, after Frank is actually fired later in the evening, Burr’s furiously redundant, “Fuck you, fuck Dunbarton, and fuck you!” to Bob is deliciously cathartic. (And the way he calls the abusive, obese Bob “Bobby” before trapping him in his car simply by dropping the keys at Bob’s feet is just as justifiably mean.) Never mind that Frank now has to go home and tell his family he’s out of work at their Christmas party. F Is For Family posits that such petty, puny wins are all you’re going to get in this life, so you’re wise to let them carry you as far as they can.
There are two moments in this last episode where Frank comes home and hesitates outside, contemplating how he’s going to break the news to his family that victory has turned, improbably and brutally, to defeat. Bill Burr—doing his best work of the season in this episode—finds, in each case, just the right notes of anger, pain, and humiliation as Frank confronts his failures, as he sees them. After that disastrous negotiation—where, rather cartoonishly, the deal he’s brokered is undone at the last second by a silly fight over a pen—Frank sits in the car, crooning earnestly but tunelessly to the lovely, heartfelt version of “O Holy Night” (from Haley Reinhart, who voices Bill) on the radio.
In the second, unable to face the happy-looking friends and family inside the house, he, seeing ever-slick next-door neighbor Vic inexplicably clipping his hedges in his short-shorts in the snow (Vic likes cocaine), offers the guy his coat, and confesses, simply, “I lost my job tonight. I don’t know how I’m gonna tell Sue.” Vic’s heartfelt reassurance that he knows Frank’s going to be fine because he’s seen how much his family loves him is simple stuff, but Sam Rockwell, bringing to his swinging party guy a lovely, earnest sweetness (between offers of coke and a mission to talk down one of the tripping reindeer from his all-day Christmas bacchanal) brings the message home—to Frank and to us.
When Frank, buoyed by Vic’s unexpected kindness, strikes up the nerve to open his own door, he psyches himself up with a tired, “You can do this Frank,” that he follows with a downhearted, “No you can’t.”
Then he does.
Frank Murphy’s a bad father, a bad husband, and a bad guy. (Although not a bad employee, oddly—his efforts to settle the strike have been sensible and fair—but that may be a function of his fear of losing his job.) He’s also, in Burr and Price’s conception, a deeply, sometimes painfully relatable one.
- “Skee-Ball, no!”
- “Why is there a person-and-a-half fucking on the hood of my car?!”
- “An accident is clipping a guy changing his tire on the interstate and he’s wearing dark clothes and he didn’t light a flare. Then it turns out he’s a cop, so it’s gonna be your word against his, and who do you think a judge is gonna believe? So you keep going and you get your fender painted in a different state! That is an accident!”
- Frank, telling Bill the reason he doesn’t attend church any more: “If Jesus comes back and does some more magical shit, I’ll come back and listen to that.”
- Frank’s go-to threat to his children reaches its apotheosis as he confronts Bill over his accidental arson: “If I started building walls today and didn’t stop for the next ten years there still wouldn’t be enough of ’em to fuckin’ put you through.”
- If F Is For Family gets a second season, the show really needs to develop its secondary characters. With the exception of Vic and Kevin Michael Richardson’s Rosie, supporting roles have been poorly conceived and shrilly performed in equal measure.
- “You soiled my surplice, you fucking catamite!”—Jimmy might be the world’s worst altar boy, but he’s done his homework.
- And that’s a wrap on season one of F Is For Family, gang. Thanks for reading, and for not puttin’ me through a fuckin’ wall too much in the comments. Have as happy a holiday as is goddamn possible.