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FOX’s The Great North is Pretty Good

Any expansion of the talents of “Bob’s Burgers” to other shows is a good thing. Last year, the show’s creator Loren Bouchard took his skills to the great “Central Park” on Apple TV and now he’s also executive producer of the new FOX show “The Great North,” created by the genius Molyneux sisters, Emmy winners for “Bob’s Burgers,” and Minty Lewis, a writer from “Regular Show.” The talent behind the scenes on “The Great North” shines through in this smart, tender, funny family comedy that very much shares a sense of humor with the Belchers of “Bob’s Burgers” and the Tillermans of “Central Park.” With an all-star voice cast and eccentric sense of humor, this is another strong offering from the Bouchard team, even if it doesn’t start as brilliantly as “Central Park” did last year. Shows like this often take a little time to find their rhythm, and “The Great North” feels like it’s destined to do just that by the end of the first season, and it’s already been renewed for a second.

If “Bob’s Burgers” is the city family comedy, “The Great North” is its country counterpart. The fantastic Nick Offerman plays Beef Tobin, a fisherman and divorced father of four living in Alaska. Beef values family above all else, as defined in the series premiere, which already aired in a “sneak preview” and is available now on Hulu (as is the second episode … technically, the “season premiere” on February 14th is episode three and then it will be on weekly from there). In the premiere, Beef panics when he discovers that his 16-year-old daughter Judy (Jenny Slate) got a job at the mall because he’s so protective of keeping the Tobin clan together at all times. If the show has a lead, it’s Judy, who drives most of the storytelling with her combination of wide-eyed optimism and big heart. She’s got a little of the Sue Heck from “The Middle” thing going on and Slate nails the tone whether she’s panicking over kissing a boy at school or talking to her imaginary BFF Alanis Morissette (voiced by the singer herself).

Slate and Offerman are accompanied by a rock star group of voice talent that includes Will Forte as Wolf Tobin, Paul Rust as Ham Tobin, and Aparna Nancherla as Moon Tobin, whose constant wearing of a bear outfit feels like a direct nod to Louise’s bunny ears in “Bob’s Burgers.” Wolf is engaged to Honeybee Shaw (Dulcé Sloan), who has moved from Fresno to Alaska to be with him while Ham is openly gay and supported by his family. These shows all have a very open view of the world that highlights connections and family without feeling clichéd in the way they do it, and “The Great North” is no exception. It’s the kind of show that has a completely unpredictable sense of humor—this week’s episode features Ham and Beef trying to throw a “Shrek”-themed party despite not having seen it, for example, with let’s just say incorrect results—but most of the jokes emerge from a warm, supportive family dynamic.

The writing needs to be fine-tuned a bit but that’s normal for a sitcom, even the animated ones. (The first season of “Bob’s Burgers” is not good.) In the four episodes available of “The Great North,” some of the Tobins still feel a little undefined and I’m waiting for the voice cast and writers to gel a little better, but I’m pretty certain that’s going to happen before the end of year one. And the one thing that’s so nice to see even in these early formative days is that none of the jokes on “The Great North” feel cheap or predictable. The humor here is unexpected and often clever in a way that distinguishes it from other modern animated shows. Well, at least from everything but “Bob’s Burgers” and “Central Park.”

Four episodes screened for review.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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