Dad Rage Fuels The Comedy Of 'F Is For Family'
Comic Bill Burr's new animated Netflix series is set in the 1970s and definitely for mature audiences — think of it as an R-rated cross between All in the Family and The Simpsons.
It's called F Is for Family, and its patriarch is the often-frustrated Frank Murphy. We learn Frank's back story in the opening credits: On high school graduation day, Frank dreamed of being a pilot. You see him soaring carefree into the sky when suddenly the debris of life starts smacking him in the face — a draft notice for the Korean War, a baby bottle, a wedding cake. Soon Frank is wearing glasses, growing a belly and losing his hair. His face turns from eager anticipation to fear, and he crashes back to Earth.
"That whole part of his life happened quicker than he wanted," Burr says. Frank gets his girlfriend pregnant, and a wife, three kids and a mortgage later, he's given up his dream of becoming a pilot. Instead, Burr says, "He works at the airport every day and sees his dream take off and land while he sits there managing baggage claim."
But he's still a good guy, even if he is angry and deflated. "I think a lot of people who play by the rules have a temper," Burr says, "because they watch people passing them in the breakdown lane and end up flipping out."
Still, Frank and his wife, Sue, are doing the best they can. They're raising a family in an age before arranged play dates, mandatory seat belts and helicopter parents — a time Burr remembers fondly. "What I loved about back then is you just went outside," he says. "My mother would just say, 'Go outside,' and you'd walk outside, meet your friends and then, as kids, you would meet another group of kids, and then, with your kid brains, you would decide what you were going to do that day. Sometimes it was play baseball and sometimes it was, 'Let's go break some windows or throw rocks in people's pools.' "
F Is for Family takes place in 1973. With simple, realistic lines, it even looks like it was animated in the '70s. (The animators were inspired by Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoons and King of the Hill.) Burr says he got the idea for his adult "cartoon," as he calls it, because he has so many riotous stories about his family, and especially his dad, who had five kids by the time he was 33. Those stories — of his father's angry outbursts and how his mother dealt with them — often make it into Burr's stand-up (along with plenty of expletives).
F Is for Family co-creator Michael Price can relate to Burr's experience of paternal anger. Price has been a writer, animator and executive producer on The Simpsons for nearly 14 years. Like Burr, he was raised in an East Coast Irish-Catholic family in the 1970s and had plenty of time for mischief.
"We didn't have supervision," Price says. "It was ... the perfect time to be a kid, but also dangerous. You could've been killed easily by not wearing seat belts. Everyone was smoking."
One of Price's memories involves mosquito control trucks that would make the rounds on summer evenings in his New Jersey neighborhood: "It went through neighborhoods very slowly, blowing out this incredibly dense fog of pesticide. ... Our parents let us run outside ... and walk behind the truck. It was this incredibly fun event — every kid would walk, slowly breathing in the fog. It had kind of a sweet smell. God knows what disease I caught those nights."
That memory made it into an episode of F Is for Family, and so did a memory from Price's wife of being rolled down a hill inside an empty oil drum. But the show isn't entirely written by children of the '70s — some of its writers weren't even born when Burr and Price were up to their antics. The co-creators had one important criterion when they were hiring for their new show:
"We would just ask people about their childhoods," Burr says. "And if it was too nice — like, 'Oh, it was great. There was always an apple pie cooling in the window' — we were like, 'OK, take it easy.' But if they were like, 'My brother used to throw me down the stairs,' we were like, 'All right, let's see what you got. Send us some scripts.' "
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