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In 'Bob's Burgers,' plenty to beef about

Fox's new animated series, "Bob's Burgers," is another gross cartoon where the laughs get burnt to a crisp, this time about a beachside hamburger joint owned and operated by the Belchers, a family of indeterminate ethnic origin.

Greek? Armenian? The simple, vertical lines drawn up and down Bob Belcher's arms seem to symbolize a swarthiness, something endearing yet undesirable that the creators are trying to subliminally convey to viewers. Or no, probably not. I'm already expending too much brainpower in trying to detect an original theme here.

Pointlessly vulgar and derivatively dull, "Bob's Burgers" is wedged into the network's Sunday night animation lineup -- a land first settled by "The Simpsons," finessed by Mike Judge's "King of the Hill," and later overpopulated and overworked by Seth MacFarlane's manic output of characters in "Family Guy," "American Dad" and "The Cleveland Show."

Although the animation in "Bob's Burgers" attempts a couple of alluringly simple touches, the script and characters exhibit a cheap emptiness interested only in exploring the ever-outwardly-shifting limits of what you can and can't say on broadcast TV. No one giggles more than I do when a cartoon for grown-ups mines some naughty, new frontier -- but "Bob's Burgers" just isn't that funny.

The first episode finds Bob fretting about drawing more business for the Labor Day weekend rush. The crowds keep passing his place by, and keeping the restaurant open appears to be an ongoing issue. The only employees are Bob; his wife, Linda; a daughter, Louise, who keeps complaining that her crotch itches; a son, Eugene, who has ADHD and a fart horn; and, Tina, a younger daughter with a twisted sense of humor who takes a piece of chalk and rechristens the burger-of-the-day special as "the Child Molester." ("It comes with candy," she explains.)

Laughing yet? The lone accomplishment of "Bob's Burgers" is making "The Simpsons" (which once brilliantly stood for the end of polite sitcom civilization) and "Family Guy" (which made good on that promise) seem even more like classic, intellectual television. All of which is a bummer for "The Simpsons," which still works hard to remain rebelliously relevant and hilarious. It's not exactly thrilling company for MacFarlane's ilk, either.

And somewhere, once again, Fred Flintstone weeps.

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Hank Stuever is an award-winning pop culture writer for the Washington Post.

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