One of the most reliable programming blocks on television belongs to Fox Sunday’s back-to-back animated shows, each of them a family comedy with its own specific tone and rhythm. And yet, it’s been a while since a fresh comedy established itself there as its own force. Attempts like “Son of Zorn,” “Bordertown,” and “Golan the Insatiable” died on the vine, maybe in part because they didn’t follow the family sitcom formula that’s served the more established trio of “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy” and “Bob’s Burgers” so well.
Enter “Bless the Harts,” a new series from creator Emily Spivey that mixes and matches elements from other family comedies in the hopes of finding its own groove. Loosely inspired by Spivey’s own childhood growing up in North Carolina, “Bless the Harts” follows the Hart family scraping by while stumbling from one inevitably disastrous misadventure to the next. With only one episode to go on, it’s difficult to say exactly what “Bless the Harts” will look like going forward, but it’s at least working with a solid foundation. And even though the Southern setting, stark animation style, and every character’s exaggerated vocal twang may draw surface-level comparisons to “King of the Hill,” the quick, occasionally manic energy of “Bless the Harts” is far more akin to something like a “Bob’s Burgers.”
Jenny (Kristen Wiig) works at a diner called “The Last Supper” while acting as the closest thing to a voice of reason as her family — most especially her theatrical mother Betty (Maya Rudolph) — ever gets. Jenny’s sweet boyfriend Wayne (Ike Barinholtz) does what he can to support her and her teenage daughter Violet (Jillian Bell), who’d rather escape into her artwork than acknowledge her everyday realities. They’re each a recognizable enough archetype — the together mom, the doofus dad, the wacky grandma, the angsty teen — that none of them push the envelope too far, but they don’t especially have to. For one, the family structure of a single mom trying to provide for her mother, daughter, and boyfriend is an unusual one that’s potentially rich for more original stories. (It’s also, not for nothing, a heavily female cast of characters from a female creator, a frustrating rarity in the world of animation.)
And as a prolific “Saturday Night Live” veteran, Spivey’s assembled an ace voice cast that can make the most of any joke, especially the ones that veer towards the surreal. (One of the pilot’s best and weirdest gags involves Jenny venting her frustrations to a hallucinated Jesus, voiced as a playful weirdo by Kumail Nanjiani.) And frankly, even if the jokes were less sharp, there’s rarely any going wrong with the pair of Wiig and Rudolph, who show exactly why they’ve become such ubiquitous comedy players. In their hands, every joke gets told to its fullest potential, and their easy chemistry makes the relationship between their characters feels all the realer, even when they’re at direct odds. That’s the best a family sitcom can hope for with its cast, so with a bit more time, “Bless the Harts” could absolutely distinguish itself from its Fox animation peers.
“Bless the Harts” premieres Sunday, September 29 at 8:30 pm on Fox.