I’d much prefer to visit any other place than Easttown.
Look at the title, and you might be tempted to say, “The Great North? Hmmmph. What’s so great about it?”
Don’t say that within earshot of Beef Tobin, one of the great denizens of this Great North. For him, this corner of Alaska isn’t just great: It’s the Greatest North ever. What could be greater than living in the middle of nowhere, fishing in icy waters from dusk ‘til dawn and spending time with your family? Like, all the time in the world with them?
Yep, every father’s dream. It’s worth putting up with the weekly family squabble and fending off the occasional rabid moose.
It’s not that the Tobin family squabbles that much. Everyone gets along reasonably well, in fact. Eldest son Wolf lives in the guest house with his more urbane (but Alaska-curious) fiancée, Honeybee. Middle son Ham announces that he’s gay every now and then, but Beef’s got no beef with that. (Plus, Ham’s made a good name for himself as the town’s Cake Lady.) Moon, the family’s youngest lad, just might be the most Alaskan of them all, wandering around as he does in a bear outfit.
And then there’s Beef’s only daughter, Judy, who works part time at the mall and has a crush on one of its smoothie makers. Sure, perhaps she dreams sometimes of leaving this corner of Alaska and going somewhere where the moose aren’t quite so rabid, just like her mentor/imaginary friend Alanis Morissette suggests that she should. But Judy’s only 16, and she’s got plenty of time to think about her future. For now, being with her dad, her brothers and several hundred miles of untamed wilderness is just fine.
Why, Judy doesn’t even miss her deadbeat mother at all.
The Great North, part of Fox’s always-strong and ever-crass rotation of adult animated comedies, is both funnier and sweeter than some. Made by the same folks behind Bob’s Burgers (and featuring Parks and Rec’s Nick Offerman as the voice of Beef), this show is a family show in the sense that it revolves around a loving, tight-knit and slightly insane family.
Alas, it’s not made for families to watch.
The Great North and Bob’s Burgers not only look the same; they feel the same, down to their treks into bathroom humor, sexualized jokes and, oddly enough, plots revolving around possible cannibalism. The laughs are interspersed with blushes and winces. Language can be as blue as a vanishing Alaskan glacier.
Some viewers will appreciate the show’s heart, and it does have heart aplenty. But for those who wonder what’s so great about this slice of animated North and decide to bypass Beef and instead ask a discerning mom or pop, the answer just might be that it ain’t so great after all.
It’s Judy’s 16th birthday, and father Beef is excited about celebrating it while fishing aboard the family boat (which is where they spend most days). But Judy has a secret, too: She got a job working at a photo store in the local mall, but she doesn’t know how to tell her father that she doesn’t necessarily want to spend all her time with the family.
Beef is still mourning over the loss of his wife. She’s not dead and all the kids know it, but he pretends that she was eaten by wild animals and keeps her fur bikini and hair extensions as mementos of her. (We see a picture of the woman in said bikini.) When a child almost lets slip that their mom lives in Pennsylvania, another cuts him off and says that she’s in “pen-cil heaven.” (She was a terrible mom, by the way: She named the family dog “Grandma” so that if someone asked where the kids were, she could honestly say that that’s who they were with. She now shoplifts with her lover and blogs about it.)
Judy wonders whether it’d be possible to pretend to have diarrhea every Tuesday and Thursday, so that she could go to her job without hurting her father’s feelings. She and her pretend best friend, Alana Morissette, discuss how a slightly older boy’s tight pants accentuate certain aspects of him. (They also have conversations about “grabbing life’s butt cheeks,” which get more descriptive from there.)
Someone breaks a leg and resigns himself to die in the woods. Beef debates whether his wife’s goodbye letter featured a picture of a middle finger or a penis. A moose invades the Tobin cabin, and some balloons spelling out “sixteen” get tangled up in its antlers (spelling “sexin” and, when the “n” pops, “sexi”.) Someone loses his pants. Ham announces that he’s gay. (The family tells him he’s come out several times in the past and that they all love and support him.) Several bathroom-related gags are made. Character say “a–,” “b–ch,” “crap” and “d–n” and misuse God’s name.
The Tobin family prepares to initiate Wolf’s wife, Honeybee, into one of the town’s most celebrated shindigs—one commemorating the early settlers’ switch from cannibalism to a more typical Alaskan diet. Wolf will be competing with his father, Beef, in the annual Cadaver Dash (where they must collect people pretending to be dead, like a macabre Easter egg hunt), and Wolf is terrified about letting his father down. Middle son Ham is terrified for an entirely different reason: He’s secretly become the town’s official “Cake Lady,” baking cakes for several celebrations under the guise of someone else. But baking a cake for the Feast of Not People Festival is a grave challenge.
Wolf shows his siblings an anatomically correct chart of how he hopes to remake his body (in a weekend) to be capable of carrying as many fake corpses as possible. (“Do you have to be nude?” one asks, seeing the chart. Wolf reassures them that he drew someone else’s male anatomy.) The day of the race, though, he puts his grabby corpse-carrying gloves on inside out and rips up his hands something awful. (We see animated cuts and hashmarks.) This causes him to wet his pants, which he and Beef make mention of several times for the rest of the episode.
Moon teaches Honeybee how to play a corpse for the Cadaver Dash. Wolf’s eventual cake is of a dead person—a way for the town, he says, to face its fears. (The cake’s filling is runny red Jell-O.) We see a flashback to the original settlers as they dine on fallen neighbors. (The scene is not particularly graphic, with only the narration really making clear what’s happening.) We hear lots of conversation (and several jokes) revolving around cannibalism. Someone talks provocatively about how another person’s cake is so moist as to be almost damp. We hear jokes related to bathroom activities and flatulence. Ham and Judy conduct what Ham later refers to as a “non-sexual role-playing exercise.”
Characters say “d–mit” and misuse God’s name.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
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