Welcome to Up Next, a column that gives you the rundown on the latest TV. This week, Valerie Ettenhofer reviews the Fox animated series The Great North.
The way I see it, there are only two types of people: the folks who love Bob’s Burgers, and the folks who haven’t seen enough of Bob’s Burgers to realize they love it. Those who fall into the former category might be more endeared to the animated sitcom The Great North right off the bat, but the weird and winsome show has something for even the Belcher-averse among us.
The Great North takes place in Alaska, where single dad and fisherman Beef Tobin (voiced by Nick Offerman) looks after his four kids. The eldest, Wolf (Will Forte), is starting a life with his girlfriend Honeybee (Dulcé Sloan), who is also the town’s resident big-city (or, er, Fresno, California) transplant. Gay teen son Ham (Paul Rust) and his ambitious sister Judy (Jenny Slate) are “Alaskan Twins,” tight-knit because they’re only nine months apart in age. Meanwhile, the oddball youngest child, Moon (Aparna Nancherla), is identifiable by his ever-present bear outfit.
While not actually a Bob’s Burgers spinoff, The Great North carries the same energy as that long-running series thanks to plenty of behind-the-scenes overlap. Bob’s Burgers writers Wendy Molyneux and Lizzie Molyneux-Logelin co-created the new series with The Regular Show’s Minty Lewis. And Bob’s Burgers creator Loren Bouchard is an executive producer. Perhaps most noteworthy for casual viewers, The Great North contains the same chinless, wide-eyed animation design, making it seem as if the Belchers and the Tobins could be related.
The creative team has clearly learned a lot from their other animated sitcom, as evidenced by the choice to front-load The Great North with endearing comfort-watch elements that Bob’s Burgers grew into, over time. There’s a supportive dad protagonist, a fully realized teen girl character, and an emphasis on always being your true self, even if that true self is a total weirdo.
Each of the six episodes available to press ahead of the show’s premiere has ended with a short original song over the closing credits, and there’s a musical quality to the series itself that matches Bob’s Burgers‘ penchant for breaking out into song. All this comparison might make the show seem like a knockoff, but The Great North is also distinct in several important and enjoyable ways.
Most notably, The Great North uses its rarely-portrayed setting to its advantage. Rural Alaska isn’t so much a series backdrop as it is a beautiful and often antagonistic force of nature. Angry moose storm into houses, trips to the big city involve a hydroplane, and foods like avocados are so rare as to be treated like gold.
Beef has an almost pathological level of respect for the wilderness, exemplified by the perfect casting of America’s favorite mountain man, Nick Offerman. The kids are a product of their environment, able to chop wood and catch fish as second nature, and they’re raised on a steady diet of local lore starring their questionable settler ancestors.
At one point, an event for singles is even described as a “Meet & Meat,” because in addition to snagging a date, participants get a chance at winning local hunters’ harvests. Alaska jokes may not seem like a particularly fruitful arena of comedy, but The Great North doesn’t seem like it’ll run out of ways to poke gentle fun at the most remote mainland state anytime soon.
The Great North is, in general, a great deal more offbeat than Bob’s Burgers from the start. Although its predecessor is clearly its biggest influence in terms of tone, its comedy also has flavors of Big Mouth and Tuca & Bertie, an unexpected zaniness that can’t be boxed in. In one of the series’ strangest choices, Judy’s best friend is an imaginary Alanis Morissette, whose face appears in the windy sky outside her bedroom window. The specter is played by none other than Morissette herself.
Some of the series’ funniest moments so far have involved off-the-wall pop culture references, from Harry and the Hendersons to Brokeback Mountain to an extended gag about Shrek. Meanwhile, an early episode ends with a song dedicated to a jar full of human teeth. Yes, really. The Great North trusts us to let it get weird, and it anchors its weirdness with sweet moments and a lot of heart.
So far, Honeybee is the show’s comedic high point as the town newbie who both questions the Tobins’ traditions and adds her own unique flair to their lives. While the first few episodes include several chuckle-worthy moments, it’s Dulcé Sloan’s often-incredulous delivery that’s capable of earning the most full-blown laughs.
If there’s one point on which The Great North immediately surpasses its predecessor, it’s the casting. After a full decade on the air, it’s easy to forget that the main cast of Bob’s Burgers is made up almost entirely of white men, including some who play women. Another show Bouchard helped create, Central Park, made headlines last year when Kristen Bell stepped down from voicing a biracial character. Lewis and the Molyneuxs side-step issues like these by implementing more thoughtful choices from the start. The result is a richly textured and unique cast of characters.
Even with only a handful of episodes under its belt (that I’ve been provided to screen), The Great North is already proving to be a zany and loveable addition to the animated sitcom genre. By the time it hits its stride, you’ll want to kick off your boots, cozy up to the fire, and stay awhile.
The Great North previewed its first two episodes in January 2021 and will now continue with the rest of the episodes airing weekly, starting with a series premiere on Sunday, February 14th.
Related Topics: Bob's Burgers, The Great North, Up Next