For too long media has perpetuated the falsehood of the shrew wife, withholding sex at her whim, and the horndog husband, desperate for affection. This uneven dynamic is often compounded when the spouses are parents, trading beleaguered sighs before retiring to bed fully clothed. These tropes are tired, doing nothing for audiences except perpetuating misogynistic ideas about gender and sexual desire.
That’s why some of the best sitcoms also happen to feature some of television’s horniest couples. Linda (John Roberts) and Bob Belcher (H. Jon Benjamin) of Bob’s Burgers and Lois (Jane Kaczmarek) and Hal Wilkerson (Bryan Cranston) of Malcolm in the Middle are TV’s most endearingly lustful parents. Not only are the couples openly affectionate over the series’ runs, but both the men and the women involved are portrayed as equally amorous, contrary to heteronormative myths.
Bob and Linda run the titular diner Bob’s Burgers together while raising their rambunctious offspring—Gene, Louise, and Tina—but in their free time they like to get freaky (even if their activities often get thwarted in the name of comedy). The couple end up getting swept downstream in the Season 4 opener “A River Runs Through Bob” because Linda is so intent on boning down. The Season 5 Valentine’s Day episode “Can’t Buy Me Math” follows the pair as Linda’s romantic plans—sexy cooking, joint bubble bath, etc.—go hilariously awry, culminating in a bawdy strip tease by Bob that not even hecklers on the street can stop. Their attraction is apparent from the show’s start, since the series pilot ends with Bob and Linda making out at the top of a Ferris wheel like a couple of teenagers in puppy love.
As for Lois and Hal, they’re also parents to a wild (though much more intentionally rebellious) bunch of kids, but none of their boys’ hijinks can keep them from making time to get in each other’s pants. The seriousness of the workplace gender discrimination Lois experiences in the Season 3 episode “Lois’ Makeover” is lightened by Hal’s cartoonish attraction to her; he practically says “AWOOGA” whether she’s sporting the face full of makeup her boss insists she wear or looks like a tomboy in a backwards baseball cap. Their perpetual horniness manages to serve the plot, too, when Lois gets pregnant with their fifth child, Jamie, at the end of Season 4. Their sons inevitably use the couple’s lustfulness against them (because of course they would), with the eldest, Francis, confiding in Dewey that by lighting the parents’ “sex candle” he can get out of trouble in a pinch.
Horniness in a vacuum isn’t necessarily that charming in sitcom parents; at that point, you’re just watching two lecherous adults swapping one-liners and fluids. What makes the Belchers and Wilkersons special is how much they remain attracted and devoted to each other even as they contend with everyday struggles, in particular financial strains and the misadventures of parenthood. They feel similar to people you might actually know, who keep the magic alive in spite (or even because) of everything they’ve been through.
Bob’s Burgers doesn’t gloss over the Belchers’ money problems. They’re always on a budget, always worried about paying the bills, and almost never in the black. On top of that, Tina, Gene, and Louise are constantly getting into trouble, even if they don’t mean to (though that last bit doesn’t really count in Louise’s case). Bob and Linda aren’t perfect either; he often forgets anniversaries and underwhelms gift-wise, while she can be so caught up in her own fantasies that she ignores Bob’s more immediate needs. Nonetheless, they always come together in the end.
Lois and Hal’s struggles as the parents of a lower-middle-class family are all too relatable. Firstly, you’ve got their progeny, who are hell-bent on schemes that rain even more problems down on them (and which make Malcolm in the Middle so fun to watch). Then there’s the everyday awfulness of trying to make ends meet as working parents: long hours, the hunt for an affordable-but-effective babysitter, meals scraped together from fridge leavings, the list goes on. It wouldn’t be surprising if Hal and Lois threw in the towel, living as sexless roommates too exhausted for romance. But that’s not them. As Hal brags to his poker friends, they still find the time to have sex twice a day.
Let’s raise a glass of wine (Linda’s favorite) to these horny sitcom parents. Nothing can stop their sexual appetites: not bad report cards, shitty bosses, overdue rent, or any other impediment. They may be fictional, but their love feels very real.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.