Every year, the Emmys present an award for Outstanding Original Music And Lyrics. It’s a peculiar niche category, even more so than at the Oscars, that recently has been an excuse to nominate The Lonely Island over and over again (not that there’s anything wrong with that). But so far, this quirky little category has ignored a show that could easily fill it every year with a beautiful array of songs, ranging from nonsensical ditties to boy-band parodies to an improvised Thanksgiving-themed love song that was later covered by The National.
I’m talking about Bob’s Burgers, which owes a good chunk of its delightfulness to a consistently inventive use of music. On the face of it, a cartoon about a burger restaurant shouldn’t have much need for weird songs, but one of its characters is a budding musician (Gene, constantly carrying around his Casio keyboard), and another is voiced by an actor who apparently loves bursting into songs that the show then happily animates.
Comedian John Roberts, who voices the chipper Linda Belcher, freestyled the character’s crazy Thanksgiving song from this season’s “An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal.” Not long after, The National turned it into a haunting dirge emphasizing its incredible versatility. Another Linda favorite is “The Harry Truman Song” from this season’s “Mother Daughter Laser Razor,” a bouncy number that shares the ukulele stylings of the show’s catchy theme song, composed by creator Loren Bouchard.
But the show can pull off grander musical moments, too, such as Linda and Bob’s soaring duet about working apart, in “Lindapendent Woman,” or the pitch-perfect boy-band spoof Boys 4 Now, whose “Will You Be Mine (Coal Mine)” is the hard-to-shake, hypnotic nightmare that it should be.
It’s hard to tell who deserves credit, though. Bouchard definitely has a hand in the music, as does composer John Dylan Keith. Occasionally, the show will bring in special guests to perform songs, such as Cyndi Lauper’s wonderful “Taffy Butt,” from the season-two première “The Belchies.” Perhaps this is the source of the Emmy confusion, or perhaps there are just too many weird little pieces in the show to bother submitting. (There is no online nomination ballot for the music categories, so it’s hard to know for sure.)
But Bob’s Burgers is doing things with music that its Fox rivals, even The Simpsons (which has earned Emmy attention for its songwriting in the past), aren’t. Any time people break out into song on The Simpsons, it feels very rooted in classic Broadway showmanship, sometimes literally (who can forget Stop The Planet Of The Apes, I Want To Get Off?). Family Guy and the other shows in the Seth MacFarlane stable are even more indebted. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that approach, but it feels like a gear is shifting on the show each time things get musical.
Not so with Bob’s Burgers, where the songs are woven in much more fluidly. When Cyndi Lauper starts singing “Taffy Butt” she’s simply describing what we’re seeing on the screen, and there’s no particular reason for her expositional warbling except that it’s funny and exciting. Then we cruise right into the closing credits (usually set alongside a scene of the Belchers cooking and working in the store), and one of the show’s most musically inclined characters, the gotta-dance Jimmy Pesto, Jr., bursts into frame and then through it, hoofing up a storm and moving the action away from our heroes. Every part of this feels completely organic.
Bob’s Burgers is slowly building up its cult cred, and hopefully it will become an Emmy mainstay in animated categories for years to come. (Its talented voice cast also deserves recognition.) So far the show has only one nomination under its belt, for Outstanding Animated Program. The show is on animators’ radars, at least, but the musicians of the television world simply don’t know what they’re missing with this show. Because the minute they hear John Roberts singing “Here goes the hair / There goes the hair / Where is Harry Truman? / He’s dead in the ground / He’s dead in the ground / He’s dead, dead, dead, dead, dead!” how could they not want to investigate further? Heed this call, voters.