Ben Watches Television : F is for Family, Season One (2015)
Cancelling your cable subscription and replacing it with a Netflix membership is a great fucking idea on paper, but the reality of it is that it'll transform you into either 1) a brooding slave that complains about his streaming service never being updated or 2) a power user of whatever torrent site is not currently sued by Interpol. Some of you keep asking me how I can read so much every week, well, I'm just waiting for Netflix to offer interesting movies I haven't seen eight times already. Sometimes I luck out, though. I stumble upon a hidden gem nobody seems to have noticed. I found Bill Burr's F is for Family while browsing for new Saturday morning cartoons and it made my day a little brighter. It's over before you know what hit you, but it's a blast while it lasts. I should've know better than to doubt the almighty Bill Burr.
F is for Family is the story of Frank Murphy (voiced by Bill Burr himself), a Korean war veteran trying to quietly raise three children in a world that's constantly changing around him. He works a shit job at a failing airline company to provide for his family, but he swallows his pride and tries not to take his bullshit home. Frank tries his best to enjoy himself between two shifts, but the utter madness of raising a lame rebellious teenage son, trying not to fuck up his two younger children and doing right by his family in a world that values individualism a little more every day is driving him closer and closer to the edge. We've come a long way since the 1970s, but it wasn't any easier raising a family back then. It was only a different kind of existential mindfuck.
So, F is for Family is a adult cartoon. Barring a scene or two it's not THAT violent or steamy, but I suspect you can't really enjoy it if you don't understand what the grind of adult life is. By that, I mean you need to be out of school and have your ass kicked every day by the job market to related to Frank Murphy's conundrum. F is for Family is a show ABOUT being an adult. About having to sacrifice and downsize your dreams to fit your economic reality. It's something you can't really "get" until you've experienced the loneliness and insanity of trying to steer your ship and remain a normal person when everyone around you is trying to get a piece of the happiness you thought you were entitled to. Being an adult is fucked up because it goes against everything you were taught as a child. If you doubt that F is for Family is about that, just look at the intro credits.
So, what is there to F is for Family that you can't find in That 70s Show? It's a valid question and fortunately, F is for Family has an answer for it: both shows discuss much of the same ideas, except from opposite perspective. F is for Family is what That 70s Show would be if the lead protagonist was Eric's father, iconic television dad Red Forman. Frank and his wife Sue (voiced by the always excellent Laura Dern) are the two only real characters in the show. The children, neighbors and co-workers are parodies, embodiment of a selfish and carefree society that longs for a level of enjoyment that Frank an Sue have never and will never know. The society that emerged in the sixties and seventies is a direct byproduct of what children of the forties and fifties have fought several wars for and the generational disconnect is both apparent and inevitable. Frank fought in Korea for the right to become an alienated suburban dad, which is the source of his existential loathing.
Perhaps my favorite episode of F is for Family was The Bleedin' in Sweden, where Frank battles his bachelor neighbor Vic (voiced by Sam Rockwell) for the right to host the neighborhood's boxing match viewing party. Frank has to promise his neighbors a color, big screen experience without even knowing if he can afford it. It's a classic senseless consumerism storyline, but I though the historical perspective Bill Burr and co-show runner Michael Price brought to it was interesting. Television was the entertainment center of the family back then and upgrading it was an event celebrated by an entire neighborhood. There were no computers, smartphones or tablets to fragment the experience then. It was a little soulless, but at least it forced us to be soullless together and it kept a family's culture in sync to whatever it was broadcasting. Entertainment has undoubtedly upgraded over the last couple decades, but did our experience upgrade as well? I'm not so sure.
F is for Family HAS been renewed by Netflix and WILL be coming back for season 2 sometime in 2017, so you've got ample time to catch up with the six 30 minutes episodes of season one. I loved watching F is for Family and I could've easily burned through a twenty-four episodes season given the quality of its writing. I mean, it's not an emotional powerhouse, but it has the potential to become one and it universal depiction of the existential conundrum of adulthood makes it constantly fun and pertinent to watch. Where can it go from here? Fuck, if I know but season one ended on somewhat of a cliffhanger and there is much more material to tackle until the show really needs to evolve and become something else. Entertainment has become somewhat disposable with the proliferation of television series produced by streaming services, but I'm not ready to let go of this one yet. F is for Family is not going to compete South Park anytime soon, but it doesn't try to. It's a show that's comfortable in its own skin and that's what makes it so goddamn enjoyable.