[This is a review for F Is for Family season 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
For those familiar with the stand-up comedy of Bill Burr, you can imagine how crafting a television show around his comedic sensibility and tone might have been difficult just a few years ago. Dark, angry, sometimes combative and often contrarian, Burr's highly original and brutally honest perspective on the world has certainly helped him become one of the best comedians working today, but that same perspective is also not necessarily an easy sell to general audiences.
Fortunately, now with streaming platforms like Netflix, content creators aren't forced to filter their raw, edgy starting material into the flavorless syrup the general public is often forced to soak up from network TV. Instead, those same creators can now set up a mainline of original content -- like Burr's animated sitcom F Is for Family -- directly to the comedy fans who crave it.
And so, Netflix turns out to be the perfect home for Burr's dysfunctional quasi-fictional family, but not just because Burr fans now have immediate access to more of his voice between uproarious stand-up specials. It's also because the show -- on its own and apart from Burr's involvement -- possesses the extremely rare combination of being niche but also accessible. It's a period show set in 1973, it's somewhat crudely animated and is as vulgar and profane as any sitcom ever created; yet, at the same time, it's surprisingly heartfelt and occasionally optimistic, lending the final product a satisfying balance of dark humor and genuine affection.
On other shows, such affection may have come off as sappy and the show's messages about the importance of family togetherness might have seemed a bit trite, but even when Burr's volcanic patriarch Frank Murphy says there's no place he'd rather be than with his family after suffering one of the worst days of his life, the sentiment F Is For Family is making feels sincere. That's partly because the story, events and situations are based on Burr's real childhood experiences, but also because series co-creators Burr and Michael Price (The Simpsons) have done the work of establishing their characters as real, three-dimensional human beings, who, despite spending most of their day shouting at one another, clearly love one another too.
The often volatile and confrontational family dynamics displayed in the Murphy household -- while not often seen on a traditional sitcom -- certainly play into the honest and realistic feel of the show's humor and message. However, the normal everyday issues the working-class Murphys face are what will ultimately make them relatable, accessible and easy to root for. They struggle to make ends meet, they clash over traditional gender roles, they fail all day at work and at school, and even fall victim to their own jealousy and insecurities -- like when Frank buys a brand new color TV he can barely afford just to one-up Vic (Sam Rockwell), his hunky, womanizing, freewheeling bohemian of a neighbor. The world here will certainly feel like a place close to home for most, especially for those who've ever fought to seize their own version of the American dream.
Another way the show lets the audience in is by offering multiple character points of view. As expected, most of the time, we are following Frank in what becomes the season's biggest story arc; and we can't help but become sympathetic to his plight, as he tries to play on both sides of a nasty dispute between the baggage handler's union at the airport where he works and the uppity airline's owner. However, in single episodes, we also get smaller effective and affecting stories from the perspective of young Bill (Haley Reinhart), who can't bring himself to tell his parents of his school suspension while dealing with a bully; from Sue (Laura Dern), who longs for meaning and purpose beyond being a housewife; and even from apathetic eldest child Kevin (Justin Long), who finds he can succeed in the classroom when he actually applies himself. These small windows into each character certainly add depth to each member of the family, which will undoubtedly be appreciated even more if the series continues with a second season.
Of course, the show's continuation will likely depend on if audiences find it funny or not. While we already know that Burr's personality and his comedy are likely going to be too abrasive and politically incorrect for some to handle, it's also interesting to discover that F Is For Family's first six episodes don't contain nearly as many laugh-out-loud moments as one (especially a big Burr fan) might expect. That's not to say the show is unfunny; it's just that its humor doesn't come across in rapid bursts like many other one-liner-driven, joke machine sitcoms. Instead, the show's seething humor often seeps through tone, and from a dark tone at that -- one that requires the audience to feel the pain and humiliation of the characters at times. So, its comedy, oddly enough, won't be the easiest entry point into the show for some, but once on board and after feeling comfortable with the characters, Frank's profanity-laced tirades will be more endearing than off-putting.
Fortunately, the series' side and secondary characters lend some laughs, but their roles in early episodes are quite limited with the main focus being on developing the Murphy family. Vic is a great foil to Frank's conservative, blue-collar disposition, but they only share a few moments of screen time with one another each episode; and the white-trash neighbor kids bring some welcome absurdity to the show, but don't do much else. Hopefully, if the series does get renewed, it will find a way to make other characters more impactful, but for now, the show's A-stories are understandably reserved for the main Murphy clan.
Perhaps the best thing we can say about the show and its main cast of characters is that they are trying. The Murphys rarely get anything right, and Frank and Sue certainly aren't model parents, but at the end of the day, they show they care (even if that's by yelling at everyone). Similarly, the show's creators have demonstrated care and attention for their characters by giving them plenty of unflattering flaws while also giving them a reason to push on: each other. So, with a pleasant combination of naughty humor and a nice message, F Is for Family is indeed a present from Netflix worth opening this holiday season.
What did you think of F Is for Family season 1? Will you be returning for season 2 if Netflix offers a renewal? Let us know in the comments.
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