F is for Family Season Two
Starring: (the voices of) Bill Burr, Laura Dern, Justin Long, Debi Derryberry, Haley Reinhart and Sam Rockwell with David Koechner, Joe Buck, Alison Janney, Gary Cole, Kevin Michael Richardson, Phil Hendrie, Mo Collins, Trevor Devall and others
The first season of this Netflix animated comedy-drama based on comedian Bill Burr’s experiences of growing up in the early seventies seemed to fly under the radar a little, which is a shame as it contained a well written slice of family drama, a fully rounded 3D main character and several season long arcs to cover the fact that – say this quietly – aside from some comedy swearing it wasn’t particularly funny.
In fairness, unlike a lot of other “adult” comedies, even some very good ones, it didn’t resort to crude or vulgar humour in hopes of getting a shock laugh. It was profane, sure, but rarely cheap and as a result while it had a low gag count, those gags didn’t result in cringeworthy misses half as often as other shows.
The good news for those who did follow season one through to the end is that season two is bigger (up to ten episodes from six) and it’s better in every way. The drama is better, the characterisation deeper and it’s funny. In fact, it’s frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious.
Season two kicks off a few weeks after season one ended with Frank and Sue Murphy both trying to provide for their struggling family. The focus on this series is their marriage: what makes it work? And if they are staying together just for the kids, then what made them fall for each other in the first place? Frank is angry, a man whose live happened to him before he could follow his dreams, but is heart is ultimately in the right place and he wants to provide for his family. How will he cope with Sue trying to be the main breadwinner of the family?
Last season was Frank’s story and Sue felt a little one-note, but here she has her own major plot and is now a main character on his level. In elevating her role the writers have created a comedy show with two fully 3D, flawed but ultimately real people as lead characters.
While the writers are doing an admirable job in that respect it has to be said the family aren’t the funniest characters. The real belly-laughs come from the supporting cast. Every supporting character may be a 2D caricature in comparison, but being under no pressure to make them fully rounded characters, the writers instead simply give them all the best lines; from the the wet-blanket wimpy kid and budding psychopath, the homosexual male trapped in a stifling false marriage, the chauvinist company executives, the two brain-dead baggage handlers at the airport and the sex obsessed egotistical airport boss to fall back on in the comedy stakes. Thankfully they’ve realised that Bob “Pogo” Pogrohovic (voiced by Anchorman‘s David Koechner), Frank’s morbidly obese boss is by far the funniest character and the writers seem to be falling over themselves to write the best one-liner for him. He is joined in funniest character race by a new addition, Smokey, a vending machine supplier with a foul mouth and his own mini-arc. Much in the same way as The Simpson’s has a supporting cast of hundreds it can wheel out for quick gags, so F is for Family is impressively building its own.
The Murphy family children are less successful: Kevin is raised from insufferable to bearable but not higher, Bill is still feuding with the school bully like if every Simpson’s episode was only ever about Bart vs. Nelson and Maureen is still sidelined. Of the support characters it is sadly Sam Rockwell (an actor I normally admire) who’s cocaine snorting radio DJ never quite feels like a good fit, even when he’s included amongst the main plots.
The pacing is also excellent, ten 25-30 minute episodes being the perfect length of time to tell the stories rather than padding anything out to force the popular 13 x 50 minute structure popular today.
It could be set anytime – this is both praise and criticism: the family dynamics are timeless but the seventies setting underutilised. When F is For Family tries to satirise seventies culture and entertainment it never quite hits its rather broad targets and then doesn’t bother trying again for large periods of time as if it was never truly bothered anyway. Satire and rapid-fire witty dialogue aren’t the series strong suits. It should stick to its often raw and realistic portrayal of two people raising a family – if the situations are often pushed to extreme levels – and putting the supporting cast in situations where they can deliver one line zingers. Oh, and the comedy swearing.
The Verdict: Sometimes touching, often dark frequently hilarious, this second season deserves to be a “coming out party” for F is for Family. It’s on the border between being good and very good, and for being a 100% improvement on an already solid first season I’m prepared to go to the top end of possible ratings: