Fox Animated Comedy Is Charming as Heck

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If you would like to watch a very nice television show, watch The Great North. It’s cute, charming, kind, and big-hearted. It pops with jokes at a quick pace, but none come at an undue expense. The characters love each other and want to keep loving each other, even as they expand and grow. Stakes are low, fuzzy feelings are high. Does it push the animated comedy form in any way? It does not — but why does it need to? Can’t it be enough to simply watch, laugh, smile, and enjoy your way through a delightful show of a delightful cast delivering delightful scripts?

The Great North’s concept is simple: A family lives in the great north of Alaska — father Nick Offerman, sons Will Forte, Paul Rust, and Aparna Nancherla, daughter Jenny Slate, and future daughter-in-law Dulcé Sloan (engaged to Forte). The matriarch of the family left Offerman as a single dad, and he does his best to maintain his close-knit familial relationships while understanding they need to grow and change. Mall jobs, school dances, passionate curling rivalries, an unbridled love of the motion picture Shrek — these are some of the quaint and lovely topics explored in the six episodes watched for review, all playing like pleasing, calming ginger ale for the usually unsoothed soul.

It’s impressive how locked in and chemistry-filled this cast is already cooking with this material, but it’s all admittedly structured around well-known rhythms and tropes from its contemporaries. If you like Parks and Recreation, you’ve got Offerman as a kinder Ron Swanson (down to his love of breakfast meats) and Megan Mullally as his weirder foil. If you like Big Mouth, you’ve got a fantastical musical figure as a strange best friend (Alanis Morissette as herself, in this case) for one of the main characters, Slate performing another high-strung, awkward young girl, and credits-closing musical numbers expounding upon a one-off bit in each episode. And if you like Bob’s Burgers — well, this show comes from a creative team that’s been working on that show since its beginnings, and The Great North’s animation style, focus on a kind family, comedy rhythms, character dynamics, and penchant for accessible whimsy all feels plainly derivative from its Fox partner (Fox certainly realizes there is a Bob’s Burgers brand to be developed here, as they’ve already renewed The Great North for Season 2 before its official series debut). These ingredients all taste good, but at times overly familiar.

The cast of The Great North
Image via FOX

And with this overt familiarity can come a lack of individuality. From the jump, this series flies into a frenzied pace, communicating its characters’ wants, arcs, lessons, and games with a crackling, startling efficiency. It’s commendable, especially given its runtime is around 21 minutes without network commercial breaks. But because it moves so quickly so early, I struggle to gain a deeper understanding of these folks beyond these quick flashes of headline-based personalities. Lessons can be learned arbitrarily in its final act simply because that’s how a story works, rather than because of a demonstrably motivated character realization. Lessons can even repeat episode to episode; its pilot and second episode both orient around “a character struggling to feel like an individual from its tight-knit family,” and this similarity is noticeable. Then again, when the show does slow down to get to know its characters more, it’s often just so the characters can didactically explain themselves bluntly via telling a story. “Plot” and “character” can feel like separate entities on this show, with “character” too often being assumed as a given; it cooks the hardest when the two fuse organically.

But, as with every new comedy, the more I watched, the more this fusion took place, and the more I enjoyed the heck out of myself. So much prestige television comedy traffics in despair and darkness; to see a show dedicated to kindness, support, empathy, and straight-up love is heartwarming in all the best ways. These kooky folks care about each other, even when it’s uncomfortable for them, and goshdarnit, that’s just a lesson we all need right now! And if we can laugh warmly the entire time, bully for us, I say. The Great North is comfort viewing of the highest caliber, a glass of the same hot beverage before seeing the same friends at the same place, feeling lovingly ensconced by it all. Why on earth would we need to reinvent this particular wheel?

The cast of The Great North
Image via FOX

Rating: B

The Great North has its official series premiere on FOX on Sunday, February 14, 8:30/7:30c. Two special preview episodes are available on Hulu now.

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