The underlying idea behind “F Is for Family,” Netflix’s latest animated comedy, is more appealing than the execution, which winds up feeling like a poor man’s cross between “King of the Hill” and “Mad Men.” Set in 1973, the series — created by comic Bill Burr and Michael Price (“The Simpsons”) — derives much of its humor from the pre-political correctness of those times, as well as technological limitations (for those who remember when getting an answering machine was considered a big deal). The semi-serialized six-episode run has a dark, bittersweet quality, but despite some clever moments, “F” generally merits no more than a “B.”
Burr also provides the voice of Frank Murphy, the beleaguered family patriarch who oversees baggage handling for a local airline, and finds himself caught between callous management and frustrated workers. At home, he presides over his brood of three kids and wife Sue (Laura Dern) mostly by yelling and threatening, and when his spouse tells Frank’s young daughter that some day women might become astronauts, he says tartly, “Sue, why do you lie to the girl?”
Frank draws solace from watching an awful ’70s detective show (the star looks a lot like Robert Mitchum), and threatens to ship off his pot-smoking 14-year-old son, Kevin (Justin Long), to Vietnam.
Yet if the idea was to capture a moment when, as the press notes say, “you could smack your kid, smoke inside and bring a gun to the airport,” those satirical insights prove a little fuzzy, in part because the series lacks a consistently strong point of view. Instead, the perspective keeps shifting, often to Frank, when the more natural structure — certainly in terms of nostalgia — would be to more steadfastly see the gruffness of this Ralph Kramden-type character through the eyes of his children.
So while there are standout sequences — such as Sue, left home alone, uncontrollably weeping — many of the gags tend to be broad and fairly predictable, from the dazzling prospect of owning a 32-inch TV, to the Murphys’ hedonistic neighbor (Sam Rockwell) flouncing around in his underwear, to the old German guy up the street they refer to as “the Nazi.”
Beyond joining a fairly abundant supply of adult-oriented TV animation (including Netflix’s “Bojack Horseman”), “F Is for Family” comes equipped with a star producing pedigree, counting Vince Vaughn among the marquee names. It is, happily, only a six-episode commitment, and Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love” (released in ’73) certainly sets the mood over the opening titles.
Ultimately, though, the current wave of nostalgia has raised the bar for this sort of exercise, while blunting the comedic impact that might flow from plumbing the less enlightened aspects of Nixon-administration America. So while the show is likely to evoke twinges of recognition — especially among those who saw “Star Wars” in a theater — to borrow the parlance of the times, it isn’t as fully actualized as it could have been.