Created by Bob’s Burgers writers Lizzie Molyneux-Logelin, Wendy Molyneux and Regular Show scribe Minty Lewis, The Great North is another family based sitcom, though it’s a very different setting as we’re in Alaska in a cabin in the wilderness and it’s a quite broken family as Dad Beef (Nick Offerman) is raising the kids on his lonesome after his wife Kathleen left, and because he really isn’t dealing with that well he pretends that she is dead.
Also quite different is that Beef’s daughter, the sixteen year old Judy (Jenny Slate), has an imaginary friend called Alanis Morissette, who yes, is based on (and voiced by) the pop star, which is taking the series dangerously close to Family Guy / American Dad style weirdness, and in this first episode there’s also a good few fantasy sequences. They’ve more substance than the cutaway jokes found in Seth MacFarlane’s shows, but only just, and the surreal elements often only partially work.
It does have quite a lot in common with Bob’s Burgers though, from Judy being a daughter who’s somewhat posterior obsessed, and there’s a few jokes about farts that Gene Belcher would probably find very funny. The dialogue feels very similar to Bob’s Burgers as well, with the way the kids interact being quite similar to Louise, Gene and Tina, and only Beef, gay son Ham (Paul Rust) and the fiancée of son Wolf (Will Forte), Honeybee (Dulcé Sloan) feel like characters that we’ve not previously met in a Fox animated sitcom.
Perhaps that is a little unfair as there isn’t anything particularly wrong with the show, and there’s a good few funny moments in this opening episode. Amusingly the middle son Ham (Paul Rust) comes out only for everyone to comment that they know and that they love and support him, and Beef has some choice dialogue where he toasts his family with the line “From the day we chew ourselves of our mother’s umbilical cord to the day a wild animal eats us, we are fighters, born to wrestle nature itself in to submission year after glorious year”.
There’s some strong visual gags including a couple of scenes with the moose and some birthday balloons, while a boat based birthday party is also amusing enough. The cast are all game too, Will Forte sounds a little older than the character he portrays but otherwise they’re all pretty great at what they do, and as it’s such a diverse cast hopefully there’s a fair amount of scope for original storylines before it inevitably begins to repeat itself like every other Fox sitcom, if it survives long enough to do that anyhow.
Right now I’m really not sure if it will as this pilot episode is only quite good. It deserves some kudos for introducing all of the characters and quickly defines what makes them different from each other, while the plot is an intriguing enough one which offers hope that these characters can learn from their mistakes and won’t repeat them ad nauseum. But when it came to making me laugh it only occasionally managed to do so, I’ll watch a couple more episodes in the hope that it gets a little stronger, but I’d be very surprised if the end up having a Bob’s Burgers sized hit on their hands.