The Significance of Tina to Bob’s Burgers

Tina Belcher

Tina may not be your favorite character on Bob’s Burgers –her sister, the fun and unpredictable Louise is quite popular, as is their cheerful mother, Linda. However, I would argue that Tina, more than the others, is imperative to Bob’s Burgers in making it the successful animated series it is today. In many ways, her character embodies all the wonderful qualities about the show and perhaps even more importantly, Tina exists as a significant female character within the entire television landscape.

Though many smart, well-written animated series exist on television, Fox’s Bob’s Burgers is in a category all of its own. Shows such as Archer, South Park, and The Simpsons are all funny, witty and enjoyable, yet they lack a certain something Bob’s Burgers brings to the table –warmth, and a family unit that thrives on mutual love for one another. This is not to say that the families within the aforementioned shows, or others such as Family Guy or American Dad, do not love each other, but it is not often expressed in a heartfelt manner. Instead, these shows focus on sharp, crude remarks, a tactic that fosters humor yet casual cruelty.

Bob’s Burgers is different –it’s heartwarming, and the family dynamic is both nuanced and realistic without losing any of the humor. Bob and Linda’s traits manifest in complex ways within their children; Gene may seem like a carbon copy of Linda in his passion for music and loving personality, yet he also shares Bob’s external appearance and fondness for food. Louise inherits her mother’s extrovert demeanor and manner of speaking, but also possess Bob’s cynicism. And Tina, my personal favorite, shares Bob’s monotone speech patterns yet also has Linda’s sweet optimism, which gives her character a both hilarious and interesting disposition. The other characters, though funny, bring nothing new to the screen with their personalities. Louise is the snarky younger sister who enjoys pranking her siblings, Gene is weird brother, Bob is the apathetic father with a heart of gold, and even Linda embodies the perky and optimistic mother. Compared to the rest of the Belchers, Tina is revolutionary in a sense.

Tina’s comedy largely stems from the fact that she remarks about subjects not often broached by 13-year-old girls on television. She is unashamed about her sexuality –she often fantasizes about boys’ butts and writes “erotic friend fiction” about her crush, Jimmy Jr. She just really enjoys looking at males, whether they be an entire baseball team in “Torpedo,” or her somewhat odd dentist, Dr. Yap. Her obsession with boys is not completely naive or innocent. Instead, it translates into bizarre scenarios –she dreams about zombies making out with each other and of an island where she can kiss as many boys as she wants. The show unapologetically delves into what being a 13-year-old girl really feels like, despite how occasionally odd and uncomfortable it may be. Tina is socially awkward and quirky and at times inappropriate, but always utterly unafraid to be herself.

627Part of this may be rooted in the fact that the creators initially intended for Tina to be a male. She is written as a boy, Daniel, in the original unaired pilot, but the revised script transforms her into a female character. However, certain jokes written for the character do not change at all; for example, her very first line in the pilot is that her crotch is itchy. A joke that is funny though overdone for a teenage boy suddenly becomes unconventional, slightly shocking and even funnier when written for a teenage girl.

However unlike any other girl Tina may be, in certain respects, she is exactly like every other girl. She shows an eagerness to grow up and sit at the ‘adult table’ in “Turkey in a Can,” she moons over boys, and she experiments with makeup and changing her look. However, unlike many shows where this typical girly-girl character is one-dimensional or stereotypically popular and pretty, Bob’s Burgers juxtaposes Tina’s girly qualities with her social awkwardness and plain appearance. In doing so, the show actually creates a realistic female teenager. All Tina’s problems are not magically resolved –her makeovers are never successful, her crush often ignores her, and her father is unwilling to let her grow up. The show allows Tina to be everything –both smart and concerned with her appearance, sometimes confident in herself and at other times unsure, because why should a character be pigeonholed into one specific stereotype? She says it best herself in “Weekend at Mort’s” when she declares, “I am a smart, strong, sensual woman.” Tina encompasses all aspects of being a teenager, from the awkward to the exciting, which creates a truly compelling character.

Such an approach to a young, female character is rarely seen on television. More importantly, the show does not mock Tina for being a weird character. It instead celebrates her weirdness, and her family (though perhaps because they are equally strange) never sincerely makes fun of her. Bob and Linda are careful to support her endeavors, no matter how odd, such as when Linda encourages her to read her friend fiction out loud in “Bad Tina.” Bob covers for her at the restaurant when she attempts to pursue an eccentric dance class in “Sexy Dance Fighting.” In “Bad Tina,” Gene and Louise mandate that they, as her siblings, are the only ones allowed to make fun of her and defend her wholeheartedly. This is contrast to other female teenagers in animation, such as Meg from Family Guy, whose family often mercilessly teases her and results in her low self-esteem issues. Tina largely experiences support from her family and perhaps for this reason, doesn’t feel the same need to fit in with the norm as Meg displays. She is comfortable with who she is, but also has periods of self-doubt that are universally felt. As a whole, her multi-faceted personality is nuanced and complex, and her crazy antics are always rooted in true character development rather than just for a joke, which is why we feel her triumphs and losses so deeply. We as an audience are always made to laugh with, not at, Tina, which makes all the difference.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Margarita

    Have to say, one of the things I most like about Bob’s Burgers is that the Belchers are poor.

    It sounds weird, but it’s so rare to see American TV shows about families that aren’t in a decent sized house and basically unrestrained by money (even if they work jobs that would never pay for such things). Generally, if a TV family *is* poor, that will be their entire reason for being on screen, and we’ll be rooting for them to make it into radiant middle-classdom at some

    The Belchers are poor without being defined by their poverty, and there’s no real suggestion that they are working towards being better off. The show is about what they DO rather than who they ARE, and it makes the show seem weirdly mature for what is basically King Of The Hill with herpes gags. Just the willingness to portray poverty as something other than a transient state is quite brave really. I can see why it has put a few people off, but it’s good that people have come back to the show as well.

    • Nilson Thomas Carroll

      This completely echoes my article I wrote a while back about Broad City and Roseanne. Good eye for television.

    • Mary Awad

      I agree, Margarita. They are a family that’s just getting by but the plot of Bob’s Burgers isn’t about them trying to make money and be super successful. It stays with the theme of family instead of branching off into televisions typical themes. I didn’t think about that until you brought it up just now so thanks. It’s a really smart show!

    • I actually think Bob’s Burger is a solid successor to King of The Hill, where focus of the humor is character based, rather than bland esoteric references.

  2. Tina is one of my favorite characters in this show. It wouldnt seem right without her!

  3. The show IS about Tina. Not overtly and not every week, but the show usually seems to somehow pivot on the angst and agony and occasional triumphs of the often ignored, always misunderstood Tina. Her feeble, meek announcements and declarations are very, very often the most poignant, heartbreaking moments in the otherwise buoyant, carnivalesque, frantic atmosphere of the show. Tina is the sad, tender counterpoint to everyone else’s preposterously feisty optimism. Even Bob – the put upon, fumbling, hopelessly self defeating leader of the clan – is a festive, joyful clown compared to poor, depressed, invisible Tina. Tina is the character with whom the creators and writers most identify and through whom they deliver their most solemn, most tragic expressions of emotional and psychological alienation, which is the common horrible condition of all comedic writers worth anything. I tend to see the entire show as emerging directly from Tina’s particular perspective of the family and the local world.

  4. Okay, yeah. My GF has been a religious viewer of this show forever and I, reluctantly, converted. Tina was my gateway drug, delivering all the best non-sequitirs and being oblivious and unpretentious in a way that gave her a butt-lovin’ everyman vibe. But after learning to appreciate Tina my attentions definitely turned to Bob: he’s a little sad, sure, and in contrast to Tina he is OFTEN the butt of jokes (a la the yacht club fracas in “Burger Boss”), but he’s also perfectly dignified about his failings and the show makes it clear that compared to Homer Simpson, Bob is a normal guy who is perfectly aware his nuclear unit is straight nuts, but tolerates it all with good cheer.

    I think of Bob and Tina as kindred spirits: both a little weary of the madness but still capable of being indifferent to it (Tina) or treating it with patience and humor (Bob). They’re the “real” characters on a show full of bent archetypes, and I think the show is happy to make either the star of an episode in equal measure. Although it’s probably easier to start by loving Tina unless you’re a fan of vintage-’70s facial styling.

  5. Great thought, and take on the character. As a lover of Archer, I do see your point about how a character who emphasizes warmth can make a show more endearing.

  6. Valeri Joy

    I have to agree with you that this show is unconventional in that it does not rely heavily on the dysfunctional aspect of the family’s physical relationship with one another (I like to call this the ‘Meg Tactic’ as it is so often seen in family guy). This show is so refreshing and I do think that Tina is the only reason I enjoy it so much. Of course it is funny to see how uncomfortable she is, but it is even better to see her be loved for it at the end of the day.

    I also had no idea that she wasn’t always written as a girl. While this does explain A LOT, it is hilarious. Definitely the best move the writers could have made!!

  7. Taylor Lambert

    I love that Tina writes erotic fanfiction (I did that as a kid, too). I love how supportive and cool Linda is, and I love all the poop jokes in this show (that’s what it’s like joking with my family all the time). Linda’s voice is AMAZING, too.

  8. Geoffrey

    I love Bob’s Burgers.

    Ultimately, I think the best animated show on TV is American Dad. I know some people never went back to it after the first season when it was more similar to Family Guy, but it really came into its own. There are some seriously classic episodes — the one about the Rapture, the Vietnam paintball reenactment, on and on.

    • John McDonald

      I like this comment. American Dad is far better than family guy and really finds success in how it takes hold of a theme, aspect of pop culture or part of history. It really sinks its teeth in! The Vietnam episode is a superb example.

  9. At first thought I didn’t like Tina that much since she’s pretty much a pervert, but as the show progressed I found her a lot analogous to New Girl’s Schmidt as played by Max Greenfield. Then it clicked.

  10. I’m glad that Bob’s Burgers has a lack of characters that seem to be designed simply for you to despise. It allows for more variance in character development.

  11. I’ve personally never really given Tina much thought… but I do enjoy the show, and this showed a nice perspective!

  12. Wilson-J

    This article is spot on ! I love Tina. I see so much of my childhood self in her. Of course, I predict she’ll be attending Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings by the time she’s 30

  13. I think my favorite character in Bob’s Burgers is Bob, because, in my opinion, he has a very glamorized life; He has his dream job, a supporting family that is filled with love and awkwardness and a competitor that he practically enjoys hating. And while having all of this, his life isn’t perfect, they go through the same issues as normal people with bills, debt and family drama, which makes it so relatable. I totally agree with your assessment of Tina. While the show would still be good without her, or with a different version of her, it wouldn’t hold together nearly as well. She is the glue where she kind of balances out all of the craziness of her family with her bland, but funny awkwardness.

  14. Tina is definitely one of my favorite characters on the show. She is hilarious, and I have yet to watch an episode in which she doesn’t make me laugh. It’s truly one of the great shows out there, and I wish more people would watch it and give it the popularity it deserves, especially for Tina’s sake!

  15. I love Tina. I do agree that she is a realistic teenager, confident and brave one minute, awkward and groaning the next. The boldness of her sexuality is funny because it is loveable and innocent, a very healthy way to look at a kid’s sexuality.

  16. Even though I love all the characters for one reason or another Tina is my favorite. She reminds me of myself when I was that age (and even a little bit now)

  17. Mattie G

    I would have never forgiven myself if I choose not to give this series another chance, seeing as it has become my favorite current animated sitcom and sitcom in general (filling in the void left by 30 Rock).

  18. Tina is an annoying weird character and not the star of anything.

  19. Tina is indeed a unique example of a complex character in mainstream animation. Most often teenage girls on television are stripped of their sexuality and end up being awkward miniature adults. The creators of Bob’s Burgers made Tina a true example of adolescence, with all the sweaty,uneasy,and lusty emotions that go with being stuck between childhood and adulthood.

  20. Wonderful observations. I have never seen Bob’s Burgers, and had only considered watching it in passing. That is, until now. I feel a watch binge coming on!

    You just made my day.

  21. Arlinka Larissa

    Great article 🙂 I’ve recently gotten into the Bob’s Burgers craze and just couldn’t stop binge watching it!

    I’m not a fan of shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy because all of the reasons you pointed out. The families are just so cruel to each other that it’s not even funny. The Belchers are a whole different story. Not only are they insanely hilarious, they also hit me with the “feels” every time a touching moment comes up.

    I <3 Tina, she's my hero. How I wish this show was around when I was growing up.

  22. Celeste

    Love this article. I think you point of some of the aspect of the show that people love but might not realize that is why they love it.

  23. I’ve only seen bits and pieces of this show and from what I’ve seen, this one stands out to me. It seems like a genuine, supportive show and I appreciate that very much. It sets itself apart from all the other shows because it’s incredibly original and doesn’t seem to follow other shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy where there’s one child who’s outcasted by the entire family.

    After reading this, I think I’m going to watch more episodes of this show.

  24. John McDonald

    In your second paragraph you talked about one important aspect of the success of Bob’s Burgers being its ‘warmth, and a family unit that thrives on mutual love for one another’. I agree with you entirely. It reminds me of the golden age of the Simpsons. I think that Bob’s is tapping into the magic that made that era so successful. Great article.

  25. Awesome. I love all of these things about Tina as well. I couldn’t pinpoint until reading this, just how much I appreciate that her character is supported by the family. Such a great portrayal of a different type of teenage girl.

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