As the adult animated sitcom terrain becomes a progressively well-beaten path in television, FOX’s The Great North bravely embarks into uncharted territory… more specifically, to small-town Alaska. With seasoned writing duo and sisters Wendy Molyneux and Lizzie Molyneux-Logelin at the helm, along with co-creator Minty Lewis, The Great North brings a fresh spin on the irreverent family dynamic that has become synonymous with the Molyneuxs from their work as writers and producers on Bob’s Burgers. Swap the Belchers’ meat locker for an arctic tundra, and you begin to get a gist of the lay of the land.
The series follows the oddly lovable Tobin family—led by Beef (Nick Offerman), a rugged single father with some major anxious attachment issues; along with eldest son Wolf (Will Forte) and his fiancee Honeybee (Dulcé Sloan); misunderstood teen Judy (Jenny Slate) and her imaginary friend in the aurora borealis Alanis Morisette (Alanis Morisette); and brothers Ham (Paul Rust) and Moon (Aparna Nancherla). The series has released two sneak-peek episodes—filled with a bothersome moose and morbid local traditions—on FOX and Hulu in preparation for its Valentine’s Day premiere. It has already been renewed for a second season.
Amidst eager anticipation of their series premiere, as well as their recently announced role as writers of Deadpool 3, the Molyneux sisters caught up with Esquire to discuss all that the sister duo has in store.
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Esquire: This is an obligatory question for you guys. Being sisters and writing partners behind two of these very family-centric animated television shows, do you find that having this shared family history and dynamic informs a lot of your writing and provides a lot of fodder for it?
Lizzie Molyneux-Logelin: I feel like our taste in comedy is something we sort of developed together as we grew up, so we have a bit of a shorthand, when it comes to our writing… We have five kids in our family total, so we came from a big family. And I think that also really informs the stories we like, and a lot of the family moments that we have that have come into play on both Bob’s [Burgers] and now, The Great North as well.
Wendy Molyneux: It was either a big family or a small sketch group, the five of us.
LML: Small for a sketch group, large for a family.
ESQ: One of the first things I think people will notice about The Great North is that the cast is just stacked with so many big names. Was this something that you were expecting to reel in? And, how has it been working with so many comedy legends in this setting?
LML: I think from looking at Loren Bouchard’s example on Bob’s and working there for so long, we really wanted to think of who were the people that we love to work with, whose voices we love, who we felt like we could really build a character around. Did we expect that we would get everyone that we got? Absolutely not. We were totally thrilled that we ended up with the cast that we did. At the first table read, it was just like, “Wow. How are we so lucky that we got all of these people to be on this show?”
WM: I think we lucked out, too, in that these are incredibly busy people who are somehow magically available to us. We feel thrilled that they are making time for this because they’re also busy. I think it’s kind of this journeymen showbiz attitude that they all have of like, “Oh, no, I’m a performer, I’m going to show up and perform.” I think we find that very inspiring to work with. And so we feel lucky that our cast is filled with people like that. That’s just a really a big stroke of luck for us, that they’re such great people.
ESQ: I have to ask about Alanis Morissette. I think just writing it out on paper having this kind of imaginary friend in the sky who happens to be Alanis Morissette and is voiced by her, just sounds like a fever dream. So how did that how did that all come together?
LML: Because she is such a musical legend, people forget that she’s really funny. She was very open to people who saw her as really funny because she’s definitely a foil for Jenny Slate. And that’s been really fun. Any joke we give her she’s game to try and it’s just been really thrilling for us to work with her.
WM: Coming from being a super fan at, you know, age eleven or whatever, and looking back, and just being able to say that I could work with her now. I think it’s just been really fun and special. So we’re just so glad that she read it and did it.
ESQ: I was going to ask if she was one of your comfort listens throughout adolescence or something. Because that’s how it definitely seems for Judy.
LML: Yeah. And, “You Oughta Know,” has always been my husband’s karaoke song. So, that’s kept it very much alive in my life.
ESQ: That’s a power move.
LML: Yeah, really bold.
ESQ: The setting of Lone Moose, Alaska, seems to inform a lot of the humor and content for this series. I know you guys grew up in Indiana, which I could see maybe some parallels between those areas in terms of being a bit more rural. I wanted to hear from you guys how this came to be and how it sprung up in Alaska?
WM: We grew up partially in Indiana, and then moved to Southern California … so we inhabited two very different worlds. But I think when you’re a teenager you inhabit a world all your own no matter what. Like, every childhood has its own distinct landscape. Even if you’re somewhere very recognizable to everyone, you’re sort of still locked in your own mind and your own world at that age. And I think, for us, Alaska is a great manifestation. No matter where you are, in your youth, you’re sort of up against a strange landscape no matter what, unless you’re a kid who fits in perfectly, which - God bless.
LML: I think I had been [to Alaska] a handful of times. My husband’s brother lives up near Anchorage. And so, we had just gone up for a visit and then also gone up a couple times for the Iditarod. I think just seeing some of what life is like up there was definitely an inspiration for a place that was very different than anywhere in the lower 48 or whatnot. I think the people that live up there, you have to sort of really want to be up there because life is a little bit more intense, like there is a lot more wildlife roaming around. There are just moose on the side of the road. You can also really just build out from this one family into this bigger world and this landscape that surrounds them. Just how much time you have to spend sort of just preparing for your day and having wood for your fire and stuff like that. So I think it just felt like a world to explore.
ESQ: So, from the first two episodes so far, I noticed a lot of the tension is this very tight knit family having to face change in these kind of eccentric ways. How does this running theme—of tradition and being so tight knit and embracing or struggling with change. How does that inform the series as a whole?
WM: I think that is one thing that we talked about early on. That one of the central struggles on Bob’s Burgers, where we come from, is that they’re always struggling a bit financially. And I think a lot of times the underpinning of the comedy is, you know, this sort of thin thread of sadness. I think on [The Great North], the family’s a bit defined by the mom running off, and this anxiety of loss. And then this wanting to grow and wanting to change, but also pulling apart in all these different directions, will definitely keep coming up over and over again.
ESQ: Ham is established pretty early to be an openly gay character. I think with most series, they would kind of put a pin in that to save it for some big reveal. And I loved how it was such an-anti climactic scene, how his coming out unraveled and it was kind of just, “Oh, you already told us that and just forgot.” Was this an intentional move that you guys made to make it a more normalized event?
LML: We felt like it would just be great to hit the ground running in the first episode—just to have it sort of established that Ham is gay, everyone’s totally happy with it, and that he’s a character already sure of himself. It was just important for us just to get his character established, and let it be part of his character, but not be the whole focus of an episode or having that be that drive for his story. It’s just a part of who he is already.
ESQ: The second episode kind of loosely touches on the history of settlers in Alaska and mentions Alaska Natives. Is background research on the history of Alaska as a state something that has gone into your writing process, and something that is going to continue to be incorporated into the series?
LML: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s something that we’ve touched on, and that we’re interested in moving forward in a way that’s organic to the series. We were fortunate that our casting person for some of the upcoming roles reached out to find Alaska Native actors. We were able to set up recording them in Alaska. I think we’re interested in incorporating historic aspects of Alaska and also modern day Alaska Native culture as something going forward. Obviously, we don’t have experience with [Alaska Native culture and history]. So, it’s not like, “Let’s start with this thing that we know nothing about,” or whatever. It’s definitely something that is a is a theme for us going forward.
ESQ: Making this shift from Bob’s Burgers and coming out with a series that, on paper, I think a lot of people could think is along the same lines as Bob’s Burgers. Did you feel any kind of pressure to either fit in or explicitly defy the expectations of people who are familiar with Bob’s?
LML: Because we’ve worked on Bob’s for a decade and just love everyone involved in it and it’s been a big part of our life, I think we would be just happy if people feel that it is sort of a family member of that show. We feel like we live in a space where we hopefully will attract people that like Bob’s for the same reason that I think we like working on Bob’s and watching it ourselves.
ESQ: The Great North goes above and beyond having very distinct names for their characters. Was there a method to coming up with Beef, Wolf, Ham, Moon, Judy, and Honeybee, or did it just kind of come come out of nowhere?
WM: I think we called them these things because it gave us an idea of how to imagine them from the beginning and then they just kind of stuck. We knew we wanted them to have names that reflected a little bit of the natural setting in Alaska and all of that. And then Judy as a bit of a square peg is the only one with more like straight edge name. And then Beef. I think because we grew a little bit out of Bob’s Burgers. It’s like, “Oh, so our next character is just named after a hamburger.” We were talking about the show in 2017 and we aired in 2021. That’s how long animation takes. So, by the time you’ve been calling your character Beef for three or four years, it would be like renaming your child at age three. You’re like, “Well, we can’t rename them now. That’s their name.”
ESQ: Speaking of Beef, and Nick Offerman. Wendy, I know you were a writer on The Megan Mullally Show. So what is it like now, working with Megan and Nick so closely?
WM: I think we’ve always kind of worked together ever since then . The minute I met Megan and Nick, they were my muses, or something. I just loved them. And when Megan had her talk show, Nick wasn’t even yet on Parks and Rec. And so he was around the office a lot. And we just used to shoot goofy videos and hang out and goof. And I mean, to a certain extent, I think it still kind of feels that way. Both Nick and Megan have done a lot of stuff on Bob’s. And now this. You can ask them to do anything. And they’re always good at it, which is infuriating and great. They can both sing, they can dance, they can act.
ESQ: Are there going to be musical numbers incorporated into The Great North?
LML: Definitely … I think writing music for Bob’s was always one of our favorite things to do. It’s just so much fun. I mean, if you listen to the opening for Great North, that is our cast all singing. They all have amazing voices, so we really leaned into that. We have a lot of music coming up and throughout the episodes. So, definitely something to look forward to. We have a full musical episode in Season 2.
ESQ: You guys have been tapped to write Deadpool 3 and I just wanted to hear whatever you guys are comfortable with sharing—
WM: What if we just pretend there’s interference on the line?
WM: What if we just started making crackling sounds?
ESQ: Yeah, you guys went through a tunnel. I’ll write that in the transcript.
WM: You lost contact with us.
ESQ: Okay, perfect.
WM: Our ship went down. We were on a ship and our ship went down and it was tragic.
ESQ: Okay. That’ll be the clickbait title for this…
WM: “Molyneux Sisters’ Last Interview Before Ship Goes Down.”
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