This Valentine’s Day, Fox is expanding its Animation Domination Sunday block with a show that immediately seems familiar enough to qualify as comfort TV from its very opening minutes.
“The Great North” follows a family of lovable, scrappy weirdos — headed up by gruff but sweet dad Beef (Nick Offerman) — who stumble into strange adventures so often that every episode is called some variation of the “[X Event] Adventure” (i.e. “Romantic Meat-Based Adventure,” “Curl Interrupted,” et cetera). Even when they clash, the Tobins are fiercely loyal to each other above all else. So while the Tobins may live in the wilds of Alaska, they’re very close spiritual cousins to the characters of Fox’s sweetest cornerstone comedy “Bob’s Burgers,” which makes sense given how much overlap there is between the two series. Not only is “The Great North” also animated by the Bento Box studio, but it’s co-created by “Bob’s Burgers” mainstays Wendy Molyneux and Lizzie Molyneux-Logelin, alongside Minty Lewis of “Regular Show.” With that team behind it, “The Great North” eases into a gentle, oddball brand of comedy that initially makes it more charming than outright hilarious. There’s enough talent behind the show, however, that “The Great North” should have no problem growing into a worthy addition to the venerable animation block it’s joining.
One of the most promising aspects of the show is its voice cast. Offerman is perfectly cast as Beef, a lumberjack with a broken heart of gold. Megan Mullally, a voice actor veteran and Offerman’s real life wife, pops up as a love interest for Beef and also as several other Lone Moose residents who cross paths with the Tobins. Will Forte and Paul Rust, playing Beef’s sons Wolf and Ham, quickly find their own ways to convey their characters’ individual neuroses, with Forte especially making his mark with his singular line readings. As Wolf’s fiancée Honeybee, Dulcé Sloan has perhaps the trickiest job in creating a performance that feels both of the family and slightly outside of it, a task she takes on with ease (especially in the February 14th episode, “Avocado Barter Adventure”). The character with the most immediately specific voice is Moon, the enigmatic baby of the family played with pape-dry wryness by Aparna Nancherla.
It’s also a welcome treat to have Jenny Slate, a perennial “Bob’s Burgers” highlight, be part of this regular cast as Judy, Beef’s confident daughter who dreams big and spends a significant amount of time hanging out on their roof talking to an “Alanis Borealis,” or a giant celestial imagining of the singer Alanis Morissette (voiced by none other than Alanis Morissette herself). This choice in particular has the effect of making “The Great North” feel like something of a throwback rather than a show about a family living in 2021, but that’s not ultimately a point against it. Teen characters don’t have to be talking about TikTok in order to feel authentic, after all.
Due to a somewhat bizarre scheduling choice on Fox’s part, two “special preview episodes” of “The Great North” (“Sexi Moose Adventure” and “Feast of Not People Adventure”) have already aired, with the upcoming “Avocado Barter” episode considered to be the show’s true series premiere. There’s something to the idea of just jumping further ahead; most show, especially sitcoms, need a few episodes to develop and hone their own rhythm, and “The Great North” is no exception. Still: if you watch and like “Avocado Adventure,” but missed out on “Sexi Moose Adventure,” I’d nonetheless recommend you go back and check it out. This is the chapter that reveals Beef’s sadness over his wife leaving the family, his determination to shield his family from the truth, and his kids’ longstanding agreement to just let him spin whatever yarn he wants if it’ll make him feel better. Even though “The Great North” is clearly still finding its voice in this episode, it also roots the Tobin family in a tender sadness and sweetness that provide the show’s true heartbeat.
“The Great North” joins Fox’s Animation Domination block at 8:30 pm on Sunday, February 14.