Sunday, December 20, 2015

REVIEW: 'F Is For Family' - Frank Needs to One Up His Neighbor Over an Upcoming Boxing Match in 'The Bleedin' in Sweden'

Netflix's F Is For Family - Episode 1.01 "The Bleedin' in Sweden"

Desperate to keep his buddies from watching the fight at a neighbor's house, Frank promises an epic big-screen experience. But now, he has to deliver.

F Is For Family has a pretty great opening sequence in its first episode, "The Bleedin' in Sweden." The episode that follows is a bit more formulaic. Frank's need to one-up his next-door neighbor who he hates is a pretty typical comedic storyline. But the way that the series introduces the audience to these characters is particularly inspired. The show says so much so quickly about who these characters are. This is a big episode for Frank as he often yells his opinion about everything. And yet, that's very much the point in this opening episode. That is a part of who he is as a character. His family has accepted who he is and has formed around him in a way because of it. That's what makes him screaming that his luck is finally turning around followed by him almost getting him, his wife and his son killed by a truck so effective. This is a show about a father doing his best to get a win in his middle aged, suburban life. That's a relatable through-line throughout this episode that also has a number of great gags about the era the show is set in - the 1970s.

In the beginning, Frank just wants to enjoy a moment of peace and happiness by sitting down at the dinner table surrounded by his family. These are the most important people in his life even though they all infuriate him in their own special ways. This moment is what he has been working all day for. He has put so much of his effort into his nine to five job at the local airport. He just wants to sit down and tell his family the story of something his boss, Ed, did at work. That's what brings him joy in his life at this particular point in time. He's not able to do so. It's rather hilarious watching as the phone rings and Frank gets angrier and angrier until he finally answers it. He doesn't want anyone to interrupt this moment. And yet, something is. He doesn't want to give it the satisfaction of ruining this moment. But everyone else around the table knows that Frank is going to answer it no matter what. He does and it turns out that Frank was right. It was a salesperson trying to make a sale when someone would be home. It's fantastic watching as Frank cusses the guy on the phone out and is so angry that he can't even return to the table. And then, Sue just covers his dinner up and everyone goes back to eating. This is something they have all experienced before. That kind of familiarity sets the tone phenomenally for the rest of the episode.

The show pairs that opening scene well with its title sequence. It's a truly inspired sequence that gets into the tone of this show so well. It starts with Frank at his high school graduation with so much hope and optimism for his future. He's absolutely flying high on all that life still has in store for him. And then, he repeatedly gets hit by things that take him by surprise - a draft for the Korean war, marriage at young age, three kids, bills, glasses, a bald spot, etc. These are the things that truly define his life. In a second, he has gone from flying on top of the world to crashing down to a reality that feels like it went by so quickly. He is now a family man parenting in his own special way while only getting joy from the little things that have come to define his days.

One of the things that brings him joy is getting to watch the big boxing match featuring his favorite boxer with the rest of the guys from the neighborhood. It's a tradition for him. Frank has a routine of having all the guys over to watch the match and enjoy some food and bottled beer. It's a tradition that is at risk of disappearing because his new neighbor, Vic, has a much better television than Frank. It's state of the art - meaning it's in color and is 32 inches! Frank can't let Vic just come in and change the way things are done in his world. So, he takes Sue and all the money they have as a family and goes to buy a bigger and better TV. It's an experience that is truly captivating to both of them. Sue easily could have been a nagging wife who is more concerned about what this purchase means for the future of the family. But she is in awe at the TV store as much as Frank is. That's a refreshing character detail.

Of course, Frank isn't allowed to enjoy the happiness of this purchase for very long. His youngest son, Bill, ruins it because he's experimenting with a magnet for his science project. That's an amusing sequence because it puts the emphasis on how important this purchase was to Frank. It was so much more than being able to impress Vic. It made everything that Frank watched on TV better. Frank enjoys the shows where the protagonist just beats up a bunch of ethnic people. That brings excitement to his life on a consistent basis. Bill took that away from him. And yet, the lesson here is that this experience can still be manipulated in order to get things to go Frank's way. It's great that Sue commits to pointing out just how much Frank embarrassed himself when he went down to the TV store to complain. But Bill was inspired by his father in order to win in the end - by destroying all the other TVs in the store while the young employee was distracted by an attractive woman. It's enough to give Frank a momentary sense of winning in this world. That's all he needs in order to celebrate. It's in those little details that F Is For Family truly defines its family and how special this world is to them.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Bleedin' in Sweden" was directed by Benjamin Marsaud with story by Bill Burr & Michael Price and teleplay by Michael Price.
  • There is some great time period humor on display here - such as Frank struggling to hang up the phone, Frank and Sue sending their kids out and not expecting them back until the street lights are on, and the only mentions of the civil and women's rights movements coming during the early hours of the day on a show hosted by the same offensive white man.
  • Many characters are still fairly one-note by the conclusion of this episode. That's to be expected from a premiere. Frank's friends need more depth and so do his kids. Kevin is the sullen and rebellious teenager, Bill is the impressionable youngster and Maureen doesn't really have much of a personality so far.
  • The reveal that Vic is enjoying the match with two women orally servicing him was one of the best visual gags of the premiere.
  • In fact, Vic is quite the scene stealer. He's over-the-top and exaggerated but that also really works with the tone the show is going for. He should be a fun antagonist to Frank.
  • Frank also gets a promotion at the end of the episode - though it only comes because his boss unexpectedly dies.

As noted from previous series released all at once, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments section, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.