‘The Great North’s Showrunners on Exploding Rotten Meat, Climate Change Gags and Summer Strike Bods
The town of Lone Moose, Alaska has never faced a crisis this big before.
In the Season Three finale of The Great North — the second part of which aired last night on FOX — the town discovers that there are a series of bunkers buried beneath it that house frozen meat scraps from decades earlier. Thanks to rising temperatures in Alaska, the meat has thawed and begun to rot, giving the entire town a terrible, gravy-like odor. The worst part, though, is that the rotting meat is emitting a gas that’s built up enough pressure that all the bunkers are about to explode in a violent flurry of rotten meat mush.
The biggest bunker is located under the high school, where Ham Tobin and Judy Tobin — the teens of the Tobin family, the stars of The Great North — are enjoying their prom. And so, the family’s levelheaded patriarch, Beef, teams with his other two sons, Moon and Wolf, to rescue Ham and Judy before the building explodes, all while the ground is splitting open around them and a disgusting meat substance is destroying the town.
It’s a harrowing environmental disaster and the first two-part episode in the history of The Great North. I recently caught up with series co-creators Lizzie Molyneux-Logelin and Wendy Molyneux to talk about the finale, the inspiration behind its “rotten meat bursts,” the idiosyncrasies of Alaska, the sky penises in the show’s future and the ongoing writers’ strike.
Heading into Season Three, what did you want to do differently than previous seasons?
Wendy Molyneux: I think we were on a twofold track. One was to expand what we know about the Tobins, which we see in episodes like Moon Court (“Code Enough Said Adventure”), where they have these weird family traditions. We were also looking to have a lot of fun with the town of Lone Moose. We wanted to expand the world a little more so we were really getting a sense of place.
Lizzie Molyneux-Logelin: We also wanted to do some bigger episodes. We did our first season right up against when the pandemic started, and we did all of Season Two in a bubble. For Season Three, we wanted a bigger look at the world.
Which episodes did you like best this season?
Molyneux-Logelin: There was really something special about Moon Court. It gave us a chance to spend a full episode with our family and their quirks. With this show taking place in Alaska, there’s a greater chance you’ll be stuck in your home more often because of weather, so it was really fun and special to explore that with the Tobins.
Molyneux: I loved letting Beef be a little wilder in that one. We all know him as the lovable, dependable dad — the Nick Offerman-type character — but during Moon Court, he literally says he wants his son to be executed for destroying his DVD copy of the Nicole Holofcener classic Enough Said. We get to see this other side of Beef that, when he’s trapped with his family, he also goes mad. That’s a fun flavor for Beef.
Another episode we loved, especially for the quirkiness of our characters, was “Woodfellas Adventure.” In that one, the entire town decides that the only rational solution to win a contest called “The Best Boat Town” is to carve a handsome wooden man and stick them on the deck of their boat. That episode is by Kevin Seccia, and it’s about how the entire town of Lone Moose is strange. Everyone gets onboard with the idea, and there’s just this shared madness to the town.
Finally, “Sister Pact Too Adventure” has one of my favorite characters, Zelda, played by Jana Schmieding from Rutherford Falls. Zelda is this absolutely wild character who is convinced that she and Beef should get married because they made a pact in high school that, if they weren't married by the time they were 40, they’d marry each other. Then Beef and his sons spend the entire day trying to find a way to convince her that Beef has already re-married when he hasn’t. The episode grows slowly to this over-the-top place. I’m also a big fan of slamming-door farce, and this was our way of doing that.
Molyneux-Logelin: Zelda Blop is a very special character. Her design and weird movements were really fun to animate. She’s a little more cartoony than our family is, so it gave us an opportunity to push our acting and visuals in a way we don’t always do.
When it came to the finale — the two-part “For Whom the Smell Tolls Adventure” — did you know that you wanted to do something bigger as well?
Molyneux: Yeah, this was our first time trying a two-parter, and it was part of our mandate about making things bigger and more Alaska-centered. The first time Bob’s Burgers did a two-part finale it was about commercialism. For us, we wanted to start with something more serious and figure out how to have fun with it.
Of course, climate change and Alaska go together, so we wanted to find a way to tell a story that wasn’t preachy. We wanted to do something disgusting and hilarious, but that was also an allegory for something that was really happening.
Molyneux-Logelin: Obviously, climate change is happening all over, but in Alaska they’re dealing with it more directly — sea levels are rising and permafrost is melting — so we knew we wanted to do an episode that focused on that.
The idea of centering it around prom was about showing that this is what’s most important to the teenagers — Judy and Ham — right now, and show that alongside these big environmental things that are happening.
How much do you guys educate yourselves on what’s going on in Alaska for this show?
Molyneux: I grew up in Indiana, which has a small town vibe. The Alaska piece of The Great North comes more from Lizzie, who, through her husband, has a bunch of relatives there and spent a bunch of time there. We also have writers and consultants on staff who are Alaskan and Alaskan Natives.
Molyneux-Logelin: I had visited Alaska a few times, and it’s such a different place. It’s so beautiful, and the access to nature is so different. It’s a fun, inspiring place to think about for animation. Even then, I still don’t know enough, so it’s a constant education to be accurate — within reason.
Where did the concept for the meat bunkers come in?
Molyneux: Lizzie and I became obsessed with the phrase “rotten meat burst,” and from there, we reverse-engineered how to get one. There’s a certain possible reality there. We gave ourselves the same liberties that a big action movie might give itself, as our inspirations for this one were Roland Emmerich movies like The Day After Tomorrow, along with the fun of a Die Hard or Poseidon Adventure.
Heading into Season Four, what can fans of The Great North look forward to?
Molyneux: Next season has a lot of fun surprises in store for Beef’s character. It’s the year he’s finally going to get out there and start dating after his divorce. We have some fun turn of events planned for his character. Also, let’s just say there’s a sky-penis, played by Jack McBrayer.
Of course, everything is up-in-the-air because of the writers’ strike. How have things been going on the picket line?
Molyneux: We’re all getting very tan and very hot, working on our summer strike bods, but what it’s really about is something much bigger. Lizzie and I always say that we’re not really walking for ourselves, we’re walking for everybody else because we’ve had the good fortune of being on a network show (Bob’s Burgers) since 2010, and we’ve gotten the benefit of all of the things this strike is about.
We’re here to say that a lot of the opportunities we’ve had have disappeared: the idea of a longer order of a show, a bigger staff, coming in at the staff writer level and being able to learn how to produce and show-run. Right now, we’re the only female showrunners and creators on FOX’s Animation Domination night — Nora Smith co-runs Bob’s Burgers, but we’re the only ones where it was our show from the start. We got that opportunity by coming up through this system.
Now, people will do a mini-room and then they’re off the show. They’ll get a year or two of a small episode order, then it’ll disappear. You don’t have that opportunity to get that on-the-job training that we had the benefit of getting because they just want it cheaper, with fewer writers and for shorter periods of time every single year. It’s like this churn where other writers don’t get the opportunity to learn how to show-run, nor can they get to be financially stable.
Molyneux-Logelin: The ability to get on a show and be able to have that stable income and financial security is really what helps people stay in this industry. There’s so much good TV right now, and unless we keep the ability to keep writing as a substantial career and life path, we’re not going to get those shows. We want to create a space where this can be a career, and not just a gig where you jump from one gig to another in hopes of having stable income. If you want to hear these amazing voices, you have to have that stability.
Molyneux: The studios would like for writing to be a freelance profession. One thing that was very alarming was that the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers was proposing a day rate for late-night and variety shows. That’s a gig economy where people pick up a day of work here and there. That’s the death of benefits, the death of pension and the death of health care.
There was a time early on in my career where my husband had to have brain surgery for a tumor. It was non-cancerous, but the surgery cost over $100,000 and had we not been covered under a contract show, we would have been out-of-pocket an amount that would have taken us more than a decade to pay off. Writers need benefits just like anyone else.
A lot of people think, “Writers already make a ton of money,” but that’s not true. A few do, but most people are very middle class to lower middle class on these writing salaries and these billion-dollar companies share about one percent of their profit with the writers. Everything starts with the writers, so they need to be open to kicking the writers a little more because that’s where the product comes from in the first place.