When last we saw temperamental family man Frank Murphy (Bill Burr) on “F is for Family,” he had just been fired — on Christmas.
Though we had to wait out a year-and-a-half time lag between seasons, season two picks up just three weeks later. Frank is depressed, Sue (Laura Dern) is singlehandedly putting food on the table with her part-time Plast-a-Ware job and the kids are, well, coping the best they can. Maureen (Debi Derryberry), the youngest and smartest Murphy child, wishes her parents would stop shouting at each other. Middle child Bill (Haley Reinhart) is at odds with the local bully and begins to act up out of frustration. Fourteen-year-old Kevin (Justin Long) is frustrated, but mostly in a way that involves his hand and a box of tissues.
It’s the family crisis that carries us through season two of “F is for Family.” This time, the show follows a more linear structure than season one, which in conventional sitcom fashion mostly jumped from one quirky family situation to the next.
This season’s structure was made for binging. The “F is for Family” writers were less concerned with putting out a punchy new 1970s family sitcom than with building a genuine crumbling, complicated world for the Murphys to inhabit. While the show is still charmingly vulgarity-laden, there’s plenty of palpable thought and care put into developing the imperfect Murphys. We see a family and marriage persevere, for better or worse.
Thankfully, the Murphy family troubles aren’t overly sentimental. It does help to have Bill Burr — the master of quick-witted, ignorant rage — behind the show. We get our expected dose of raunch and flying insults.
Frank quickly gets his mojo back after proving himself to be a loving father (albeit rough around the edges), but the season’s new focus becomes Sue and her quest throughout the season to put on a happy face for the family through a period that’s the living definition of a rough patch.
Still, as hard as they’re trying to keep a lid on their rage, the Murphy family crisis reveals the ugly, flawed underside of the adults. Frank and Sue manage stressful situations by reverting to childlike tendencies: they lie, hide things from each other and throw tantrums.
Frank in particular is selfish and proud under pressure, and he is altogether not much better behaved than the unruly children he’s raising.
While Frank tried to keep Sue from getting a job in season one, he fails here to support Sue as she prepares to pitch a salad tosser invention to Plast-a-Ware. He later admits to secretly wanting his wife to fail so he can still “be a man.” Frank shows that he’s more sensitive and insecure than we first thought, while Sue proves herself to be the rock of the family.
In terms of crafting honest, multifaceted characters, “F is for Family” is strides ahead of other television shows. Remember when “Breaking Bad” broke the mold on television by showing that humans can change over the course of a series? “F is for Family” is pulling a similar move in the world of family sitcoms. For instance, we tune in to “The Simpsons” every week and see a family that hasn’t grown emotionally in over 25 years, and that suits the show’s format just fine. But “F is for Family” is telling the story of a real family going through some real shit. They grow, they learn from their mistakes and march onward.
There’s one small, likely self-indulgent scene in the season that sets the familial issues aside for just a moment. The younger Murphy son, Bill (a semi-autobiographical version of “F is for Family” co-creator Bill Burr) wears headphones and clutches an off-brand Cheech and Chong album sleeve. The duo begins their act, and a giddy Bill is happy for an instant — until Kevin punches the shit out of the poor kid for getting into his stash of records. Sue proceeds to smack them both with a spoon to get them to shut up.
The scene and the series let us know that growing up isn’t easy — not for kids, not for adults and especially not for a family. But a little comedy always helps.
Season 2 of “F is for Family” is available on Netflix.