Since first debuting more than four years ago Big City Greens, the Disney animated comedy about the titular Green family that moves from the country to the aptly named “Big City,” has quickly become one of the top-rated programs for the network. So it won’t come as a surprise that not only has a fourth season already been greenlit but a movie musical has also been announced. Before that though, the current arc of Big City Greens Season 3 brings a big change as the Green family returns to their roots in the country.
During the New York Comic Con, we had the pleasure of taking part in a press roundtable to interview the Big City Greens cast and crew including brothers Chris and Shane Houghton (the show’s creators and executive producers) as well as voice actors Bob Joles (Bill Green), Artemis Pebdani (Gramma Alice), Marieve Herington (Tilly Green) and Zeno Robinson (Remy). Topics during our discussion included offering comfort TV in chaotic times, the major changes in store for the Green family this season and teases for the aforementioned movie musical.
Taimur Dar: For many, including myself, binge-watching comfort TV was an integral part of the lockdown experience. The Office was my go-to show during this time but also Big City Greens. It dawned on me that Big City Greens has quite a bit in common with a sitcom like The Office balancing humor and heart. Both feature deeply flawed characters that are somehow still endearing to the audience. Did sitcoms at all inform your approach for the series?
Shane Houghton: Definitely. The show has a lot of hope which is comforting especially in times of tumultuous chaos. You need something a little comforting. Growing up we just loved family sitcoms. Big City Greens is a family sitcom and we lean heavily into the comedy. We always try to have a nice earnest moment of humanity. I think that’s where you get that little heart squeeze that just feels nice.
In the pandemic times when people are looking for a little solace, I know I turned to comedies like The Office and shows that made me comfortable. If anybody felt that way about Big City Greens I am deeply honored. It’s a huge compliment.
Chris Houghton: I think we’re all looking for connection especially when we were all in quarantine and isolation. We focus a lot on the show on the relationships between the characters. We try to approach them honestly and with that come the flaws that you mentioned and how they contribute to the relationships and cause dysfunction. I think people relate to that because it’s real life. It’s an honor to feel like people are connecting with the show in that way. We hear that a lot from our fans that the show is comforting. I also think you could switch out the word “comforting” with just the word “honest.”
Houghton: Season 3, and really by extension the series, is all about change. The characters go through growths and arcs through every episode where something changes within them. Season 3 highlights that because the whole premise of the show is that this country family moves to the city. But enough time has gone by throughout the series that we needed more change because they’re getting complacent in their new surroundings. To keep that fish out of water element, they’ve moved back to the country but they’re not the same country people that they were at the beginning of Season 1. Life is all about change. Big City Greens likes to focus on the changes that happen in life even as you try to back to the way things were. Everybody goes through that. Hopefully we’re tapping into something that is very relatable.
Q: What are you excited for fans to see in the rest of Big City Greens Season 3?
S. Houghton: The rest of the season is all about the country. We have new characters like the Greens’ country neighbors from the past as well as new people that they’re meeting for the first time. We have a Halloween inspired episode. It’s coming out October 28th called “Pizza Deliverance.”
C. Houghton: Even though we’re in the country and doing country episodes, we’re still doing weird, fun Big City Greens adventures. We have this episode called “Montage” which is basically an Inception parody episode where Cricket learns about montages and how you can gain a skill in a short amount of time. And he succeeds but he gets stuck in this loop. It’s very trippy and weird and it was one of those episodes where we all scratched our heads and said, “Can we do this?”
S. Houghton: We give ourselves the allowance to do one really weird episode every 10 episodes or so like “Cheap Show” or “Animation Abomination.”
Chris Houghton: We just finished our first 10 episodes of Season 4 and they’re so fun.
The first full episode I boarded together with @EricThomasB premieres this Saturday morning at 9/8c on Disney Channel, and at midnight on the Disney NOW app! Written by @NateFederman and directed by @nicksumida and @Camperjon.
It was… a VERY weird episode to have as my first. pic.twitter.com/jfk8bq7ZV1
— ☃️ Gabi Rodea ☃️ (Yultide Gay) (@TheGabiType) October 18, 2022
Q: Any more you can reveal about the movie musical?
S.Houghton: Earlier in the year there was a movie musical that was announced that we are currently working on. We finished writing [it] about a year ago and we’ve finished storyboarding.
C. Houghton: We did write songs during quarantine which has been tricky to balance both the series and movie. Now that we’re back to the office we have a series production space and next door is our movie production space. Fans will see as the series has gone on we have included more songs because we like it so much.
S. Houghton: I think of it more as a movie with songs versus a musical. I don’t know what the difference is!
C. Houghton: Now you’re splitting hairs!
S. Houghton: A big criteria of the movie for us was we wanted to do something that we could never do in the series. We landed on an idea we very excited about. Big is in the title, Big City Greens, so we knew we had to take it to a whole new level. We found a very fun angle. It should feel like a big event and spectacle.
C. Houghton: There’s an expectation if a series goes long enough you make a movie. We didn’t want to just get complacent and say, “Now it’s time to make a movie!” We really wanted to sink our teeth into it and tell a story in this format that we could never tell in the series. We can’t wait to share more!
Q: How has Big City Greens changed your lives?
Bob Joles: It’s made me more aware of being a dad, which I’ve never been, [through] the lessons that come out of it and how I have to present the lesson. It’s an interesting dynamic that I never got to experience in my life but now I am through animation.
Artemis Pebdani: I finally give to live out my inner truth being an ornery old lady. I’ve gotten to see that grow and it’s something I aspire to be in my old age.
Joles: You mean this show is foreshadowing your future?
Pebdani: A little bit!
Q: How have your characters grown since the beginning of the show?
Joles: The characters keep growing mostly because of the brilliant writing on the show. We have some of the best writers. Some of them have moved on to other shows and we brought in new people. And the new people just took to it like a duck to water. Everybody keeps moving the same direction and the scripts keep getting better.
Pebdani: Grandma Alice started out trying to tamp everybody down but now she’s on board with all the games.
Joles: We remote recorded for just a few months when the pandemic started. And then all the studios in Los Angeles started looking into what they needed to do to keep things going. I would say within 3-4 months all the studios were open but they had redone their filtration systems and protocols for sanitizing. The place where we record, Outloud Audio, there is at least 30-45 minutes before someone can come back into that room after you’ve finished a session. If you don’t bring your own headphones, they change out the headphones as well as the microphones. They sanitize everything. Even though there’s a double pane of glass between us and the engineer and voice director, they have massk on the entire time we’re working.
Pebdani: It has been a little sad we haven’t been able to do a lot of group records because of it. We do go into the studio. There was that nightmarish 3 months when we were doing it in our closets. Really I think the saddest part is not being able to get into a room together and play. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that again.
Joles: We saw each other for the first time this morning and I hadn’t seen her in two years! It’s such a different dynamic when everybody is in the room together as opposed to reading your lines on your own. It’s so much better when you’re in the room and you’re with your friends and you know these people and how they react. That’s the best part of this job. It’s not a job. It’s play. There are times when I tell people, I will pay you to let me do this.
Pebdani: I don’t say that!
Q: How much room is there for improvisation in the show?
Joles: There are adlibs that find their way into an episode. An idea will just hit as a line is being done or they’re listening to a playback. They’re always open to it. They want any input they can. And if it works better than what’s already there, they’re not going to squash it.
Pebdani: I feel like that happens a lot more in the shorts and interstitials where there is a lot more room to play. The shows themselves are so well written and tightly packed. But they are open to new ideas which is nice. As far as adlibbing that’s mostly in the shorts.
Dar: I loved the episodes that revealed more about Bill and Alice’s pasts. How did those episodes affect your performance and can you say if we’ll be exploring more of their past?
Joles: That’s up to the writers, but those have been great episodes. It opens up the curtain a little bit and answers the questions that have been nagging at everybody’s minds, ours included!
Pebdani: It opened so much up for me as far as Gramma’s history. I got very emotional reading it. There are little bits of bits and pieces in the recent episode “Dirt Jar” that revealed more about their past. So hopefully there is more of that to come.
Q: What is it about Big City Greens that connects with people?
Joles: It seems to be a family unit that you can relate to in one way or another. Chris and Shane have told me they get emails, letters and cards from people saying “We wish that our dad was Bill.”
Pebdani: All the characters are so well written and are the most positive version of something completely unhinged. Bill has a need to keep everything in order but he’s still a lovely person. And obviously Grandma has her violent tendencies but she still loves everybody.
Dar: In keeping with Big City Greens Season 3’s theme of change, there’s been a major change with Marieve voice directing this season. It’s not an unusual path for voice actors to get into voice directing. I’m curious how voice directing came about for you and was that a long term goal?
Marieve Herington: No, actually. It was one of those things where the show was getting bigger and bigger. Chris and Shane directed us for the first season or two. And then Monica Ray was directing the episodes and also voice directing. With Disney, and in general, there’s more content than ever and not that many voice directors. So Disney reached out and asked if I was interested. They weren’t reaching out about Big City Greens specifically. Then we lost the person who was voice directing at that time and I joked, “I guess I can do it!” I think it was Easter and I was having brunch with Shane and he said, “Huh. That could actually solve some of our problems because you know the show really well.” So it organically came to be. I know the show. I have Shane and Chris’ voices in my head. I know that Shane is always going to want to get a tighter pass at the line. Chris likes the comedy a little flatter. I’ve always been very bossy and my friends would reach out to me for comedy auditions to coach them. This is a nice additional hat to wear!
Q: What has surprised you about the impact Big City Green has had over the last 4 years?
Zeno Robinson: Going into any creative venture, you never know what kind of impact it’s going to have. Every time we get a season renewal we’re like, “Really? Cool!”
Herington: Specifically with the pandemic, we don’t realize how necessary something is until something like a global pandemic when the kids are stuck at home. I can’t tell you how many messages I got telling me, “My kids are stuck at home and I love watching it with them.” Anything that could lighten the mood and make for an escape from what everybody is going through is really special.
Robinson: It’s a testament to the heart of the show. It definitely became a comfort show for me and my mom during the pandemic. It’s also a testament to how well the show is crafted and how much heart everyone puts into it.
Q: How do you see your characters evolving in Big City Greens Season 3?
Herington: You’ve seen the Greens adapt to this new environment and now they’re going back to the environment they’re comfortable in. But are they? The city has changed them. These episodes are interesting because there’s no this stasis. And now they’ve got to change again. Just because things are familiar doesn’t mean there’s no conflict. Quite the opposite I think you’ll find.
Robinson: Remy takes on a bigger role this season. Now he’s the fish out of water. In that way we get to see Remy adapt. Even in the Big City he was always in his shell. So now he’s gotta open up even more to these all new experiences as well as being as supportive rock for his friends. Remy is learning a lot more and growing even closer to the Greens. He’s in the opening credits now which means the world to me!
Q: What has been your favorite episode to record or watch?
Herington: “Cousin Jilly.” There’s such an innocence of Tilly wanting to preserve this lie of cousin Jilly and not let her little brother grow up too fast. I love the transformation sequence and this anime transformation.
Robinson: Recently “Rembo” was a fun one for me. It was just Remy going to the wall.
Herington: “Rembo” was one of the first episodes that I directed and you were very patient with me! Your performance withstood my incompetence!
Robinson: Don’t let her convince you that she’s not a great director!