'The Great North' is TV's next great animated series because it drops the edginess

Neal Justin
Star Tribune (TNS)
Beef enlists his daughter Judy to help coach his adult curling team in the "Curl Interrupted Adventure" episode of "The Great North," which airs Sundays on Fox.

"The Flintstones" seems prehistoric.

When Bedrock landed in prime time in the 1960s, cartoons were primarily directed at kids with occasional winks to grown-ups. They were a yabba-dabba-doo time for the entire family.

Then came Cartman.

After "South Park" debuted on Comedy Central in 1997, animated series began competing to see who could deliver the greatest shocks to the system. "BoJack Horseman" and "Family Guy" patriarch Peter Griffin made Homer Simpson look as harmless as Barney Rubble.

"The Great North" bucks the trend.

The series, airing at 8:30 p.m. ET Sundays on Fox, features an off-the-grid clan in Alaska who do everything together — inhale pancakes, go curling, hunt moose — without ever whining about needing space. They're so tight that the father (Nick Offerman, offering a kinder and gentler version of his "Parks and Recreation" character) balks when his oldest son plans to move out of the main house and into a cabin in the backyard. The most offensive thing they do in each other's presence is pass gas.

Jenny Slate is well acquainted with more adult cartoons. For several seasons, she provided a voice for "Big Mouth," a brilliant but disturbing Netflix series about conflicted kids who spend every free moment searching for novel ways to pleasure themselves.

"There's this edgy thing where you can end up trying to come up with the grossest thing you can imagine," said Slate, who plays Judy on "The Great North," a teenager whose idea of a rebellious act is getting a part-time job at the mall.

"There's still major stuff that happens on our show," said Slate in a recent virtual news conference. "The mom has left the whole family and they're kind of traumatized by it. They live in an inhospitable environment. But there's no bitterness."

Other voice contributors include "Saturday Night Live" veteran Will Forte, "Will & Grace" star Megan Mullally and comedian Aparna Nancherla. Paul Rust plays Judy's twin brother, an openly gay worrywart who panics when he takes on the challenge of baking a cake for the entire village.

"One of the benefits of this show is that there are no celebrity potshot lines," said Rust, who previously starred in Netflix's "Love." "I don't have to worry about bumping into Ray Liotta and having him be mad at me."

One bit of casting that will appeal to an older generation is Alanis Morissette as Judy's spiritual guide. Savvy viewers should look out for references to some of her most beloved songs.

"I personally watch a lot of animated shows," said the Grammy winner, who is playing herself. "I have a 10-year-old son, so that's a lot of what we do. It's nice to be on a show that's so kind, run by deeply soulful women."

The bosses she's referring to are sisters Wendy Molyneux and Lizzie Molyneux-Logelin, who work one floor up from the office of "Bob's Burgers," for which they earned an Emmy in 2017. "Burgers," which airs immediately after "North," is another series in which sweetness is the not-so secret ingredient.

"We are still a network show, so we have to work within the box of standards and practices," Wendy Molyneux said. "It's a fun challenge, finding ways to be creative with limitations. But doing a show about loving each other and getting along is our little bit of utopia. I love to watch edgy shows, but I think if I had to write that sort of dark material every day, it might bring me down."