‘The Great North’: Fox’s Latest Animated Family Comedy Is Thriving by Listening to Its Cast
Set an animated comedy in Alaska and you’re bound to get any number of jokes that come with the literal territory. “The Great North” co-creators Wendy Molyneux and Lizzie Molyneux-Logelin wanted to make sure that the show was true to its location, especially when it came to the people providing the voice cast.
So when auditioning performers for some of the roles on the show, they made sure to hear from people who lived in the state. “Our casting department reached out to Alaskan community, Alaskan Native actors living in Alaska,” Wendy Molyneux said during a panel for Fox’s “The Great North” at the Television Critics Association’s virtual Winter 2021 Press Tour. “It’s just finding organic ways to build from hiring actual Alaskan Native actors and then building stories from there as the show goes forward. It’s super important to us.”
That audition process also led to some other welcome surprises that helped to inform where the series went with the main Tobin family beyond its opening episode. “We definitely knew some people we wanted to work with when we started developing this. And so we built some of the characters around voices we were already familiar with,” Molyneux-Logelin said. “For Aparna [Nancherla] for sure, we had a slightly different idea of who Moon was. And when we heard her audition, it was like, ‘This is absolutely who Moon is,’ and it sort of changed how we wrote the character.”
Another instance of “The Great North” drawing on the strength of its cast came from Dulcé Sloan, who plays Honeybee Shaw. Sloan said that the producers of the show sought her input on how the character would look and remained open to ideas about how Honeybee might react to different developments in the family and community around her.
“When her and Wolf first meet, and she’s in the bed on her phone and she has a head wrap on, I was like, ‘Yes!!” I was so excited just to see a Black character with a head wrap,” Sloan said. “I think sometimes when you’re a person of color that’s in a predominantly white, you know, show or white area, I think sometimes white people try to make you comfortable by acknowledging your race all the time…Honeybee’s not there because she’s Black. She’s there because her and Wolf love each other. I do like that they do acknowledge her family and they do talk about her family. But at the end of the day, she’s in love and she’s getting married. She met somebody on the internet and it worked and she didn’t get murdered.”
It makes sense that a show with that kind of openness would also be one that embraces a loving, sincere foundation in its main Tobin family, just as on “Bob’s Burgers,” where the Molyneuxs spent multiple seasons as writers and producers. “What makes it so sweet is that there’s like no bitterness on our show,” said Jenny Slate, who plays the lone Tobin daughter Judy. “The mom has left their whole family and they’re kind of traumatized by it. They live in a really inhospitable environment. Sometimes they get in arguments and stuff and there’s conflict, but there’s no bitterness, which I think actually makes for really great comedy.”
Finding that sincerity and a natural source of jokes on the show has its advantages. Paul Rust, who co-stars as the family’s middle son Ham, joked about what he as an actor gets to avoid by being a part of “The Great North.” “It’s a very wholesome and kind show, and the other benefit is that there are no celebrity pot shot lines. So I don’t have to worry about, like, bumping into Ray Liotta and having him be mad at me,” Rust said.
“The Great North” airs Sunday nights at 8:30 p.m. on Fox.
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