Comedian Bill Burr has the kind of sharp humor and style that used to be crowned with a sitcom decades ago.
But times they are a changing so it only makes sense that a funny and bright guy like him would gravitate to the format and medium that gives him the most creative freedom. In Burr’s case, it’s a new six-episode animated series on Netflix called “F Is for Family,” which begins streaming Friday.
Smart, sincere and punctuated by four-letter obscenities in the way Burr’s stand-up routine is, “F Is for Family” is set in 1973 and follows Frank Murphy (voiced by Burr and inspired by his own father), a hardworking blue-collar father of three and husband who means well but often falls short.
Frank is in good company. His wife Sue (voiced by Laura Dern) sells a Tupperware-type product in hopes of finding her life’s purpose beyond marriage and motherhood and his eldest son Kevin (voiced by Justin Long) smokes weed, avoids his homework and mouths off.
Bill (voiced by Haley Reinhart) is the middle child awkwardly transitioning from his childhood to preteen years and Maureen (voiced by Debi Derryberry) is the youngest and only girl, constantly challenging gender roles and concepts. Meanwhile, the Murphy’s cocaine-dependent ladies man of a neighbor Vic (voiced by Sam Rockwell) rounds out a cast of brilliantly subversive supporting characters who orbit around the Murphys and provide added laughs.
Even Frank’s favorite TV show “Colt Lugar” is a source of humor as it intelligently parodies just about every cop drama from the 1970s including “Starsky and Hutch” and “Kojak.” There’s an ever present Dan Rather-esque anchorman and irresistible nods to 8-track tapes, rotary phones and bonnet hairdryers.
While the trips down memory lane are cool, the best part about “F Is for Family” is the Murphy family. Burr and co-creator Michael Price (“The Simpsons”) do a wonderful job of making us root for this dysfunctional bunch as they stumble through life and all its disappointments.
Frank is a little racist and sexist, Sue is a little manic, Kevin is immature, Bill lives in a perpetual state of fear and Maureen is a troublemaker but to know them is to love them and to love the show. The third episode includes trips to the black part of town and a disgusting men’s bathroom at a football game, both of which are thought-provoking and funny in all the right ways.
There are those who will complain about the coarse language, sexism, child abuse and political incorrectness the show enjoys but the words and actions make sense. This is the way things were then and this is how Frank Murphy would act and talk in an East Coast suburb in the 1970s.
Would the series have been a bigger showcase for Burr’s talent if it were a live-action comedy? Probably not because animation allows Burr and Price to take the characters places they couldn’t go on a sound stage or in front of a studio audience. Although “F is For Family” has some “All In the Family” DNA, this isn’t that show. Frank Murphy is more Hank Hill than Archie Bunker.
The only glaring flaw surrounding “F Is for Family” is that there aren’t more episodes. But once people start streaming it, they will enjoy it and Netflix will create more installments and seasons. Like Burr, this show is more than deserving.
“F Is for Family” starts streaming Friday Dec. 18 on Netflix.