Brothers Shane and Chris Houghton’s Emmy Award-winning series, about a mischievous 10-year-old who moves from the farm to the big city with his out-of-place family, returns with new stories taken from their own lives growing up in rural Michigan before moving to LA… where people don’t respond to friendly waves; new season debuts September 23 on Disney Channel.
After three seasons, a Daytime Emmy Award, and two Annie Award nominations, the Houghton brothers’ Disney Television Animation series Big City Greens returns Saturday, September 23 on Disney Channel with a fourth season as well as a 100th episode celebration and a movie on the way.
“We are somehow surviving,” says Shane Houghton, co-creator with Chris Houghton. “It's been a lot. There’s the movie crew, the TV crew, and there’s some cross-pollination between the two but not much. It’s been a lot of work, but it's been a lot of fun, too.”
The animated comedy series, which debuted in 2018, follows mischievous and optimistic 10-year-old Cricket Green (voiced by Chris), who moves from the country to the big city with his wildly out-of-place family - older sister Tilly, father Bill and Gramma Alice - after the family loses their Smalton country farm. Cricket’s natural curiosity and enthusiasm lead him and his family on epic journeys and into the hearts of his new neighbors.
In Season 4, which will be available on Disney+ Wednesday, October 25, the comedic and wacky adventures continue as the Green family establishes a new normal with mom Nancy staying on the country farm while the rest of the family returns to Big City.
“We thought about the first time you go back home, after having left for a while, which really highlights this strange feeling that the new place you moved to doesn't quite feel like home, but now, when you go back home, that also feels different because you’ve changed,” says Chris. “Season 4 starts off with the family bouncing back and forth between Smalton and Big City and we wanted to explore those questions of ‘What is home?’ and ‘What makes a place feel like home?’”
Big City Greens has always been based on Chris and Shane’s own experiences, moving from their small rural hometown of St. Johns, Michigan to well-known big cities in the U.S. for school and work. The series' characters are even inspired by the brother’s real-life family members.
“We spent our entire childhood in St. John's and then, when it was time to go off to college, I left for Detroit and Shane left for Florida State,” shares Chris. “Then, we both ended up in Los Angeles. Each of those moves brought with them their own culture shock.”
Of course, both brothers have since become known for their cowboy comic book series, Reed Gunther, and have served as comic book illustrators for The Simpsons, Adventure Time, and The Peanuts. Chris later became a storyboard artist for Disney's Gravity Falls and Wander Over Yonder, while Shane became an editor for the reality series Tattoo School. Then the duo came back together to work on Harvey Beaks and eventually create Big City Greens, with its Gravity-Falls-meets-The-Simpsons character animation.
“As you work on a bunch of different shows, you kind of become a chameleon,” notes Chris. “And all of these different styles definitely seeped into Big City Greens.”
And, still, after all the acclimating and success, Chris and Shane say they find moments where they can’t escape their country upbringing. “I remember there was one hot summer night in Los Angeles where I walked down to the gas station to buy a popsicle,” shares Shane.
Chris interjects, “Midwest boy alert.”
Shane continues, “So I get there and give the guy my credit card, he charges it up, then starts staring at me weirdly. I was naive and just took my popsicle and went home. A couple days later, I checked my statement and saw I was charged for not just the popsicle, but also a bunch of cigarettes. The guy had left the transaction open, and that weird pause was him waiting to see if I’d notice that he didn’t give me a receipt. It was a good lesson in, ‘I’m not in the country anymore and people can see the small town on me.’ To this day, I still feel like I’m that country kid in a big city.”
But the brothers unapologetically mine personal, everyday experiences like these for new stories to infuse into Big City Greens.
“It’s probably one of the most fun things about having a TV show,” admits Chris. “We can have some experience out in the world, it charges us up in some way, and then we have this outlet to put all that energy.”
It’s a good thing, too. Because otherwise Chris would have to find another place to rant and rave about the inconsiderate nature of not returning a wave.
“Chris came into the writers' room one day fuming,” remembers Shane. “He was coming in hot. And we're like, ‘What's going on?’ Chris likes to take walks, and when he takes a walk, he likes to wave to people. And out here in L.A., people don't always return that wave. And this was really getting under Chris's skin. It was so funny to see him rant and rave about how nobody will return his wave that we're like, ‘Man, this is funny. There is a story here.’ And that ended up becoming a Bill Green story, where Bill is walking around Big City and is so mad that nobody will return his waves.”
There are numerous moments like this that the brothers have transformed into entire episodes for the show. Either Shane, Chris, or one of the writers will come in with an experience they’ve had and, the more annoyed they are about that social interaction, the more likely it is that event will make it into the series. One such kernel of truth making its way to fans in Season 4 is called “Handshaken.”
“Cricket meets this kind of cowboy in the country, and he's got a really firm handshake,” says Shane. “Maybe a little bit too firm. And it's like he's trying to dominate people with his handshake. So, we turned it into this kind of gunslinger duel with Cricket in this cowboy standoff against each other, and their weapons are their tough handshakes. We’ve all had those experiences where you shake somebody's hand and it's like, ‘Why are they trying to hurt me?’”
Big City Greens’ upcoming 100th episode marks a creative culmination of all the experiences, laughs, tears, joy, anger, frustration, enthusiasm, and good ‘ol family bonding that Shane, Chris, and their team have offered up from their lives to the show's viewers. And, according to both brothers, it’s going to be as magnificent as it sounds.
“We hit this incredible milestone of making it to 100 half-hour episodes, which is really more like 200, because we do 11-minute episodes, and there's two per half-hour,” says Shane. “We wanted to look back at the entire series, all four seasons worth, and come up with a story that honors hitting this milestone and also celebrates everything that's come before it. It is definitely a tall order, and it’s shaping up to be probably one of the biggest, most epic, and hopefully one of the funniest episodes we have ever done. But we also can't go bigger than the movie.”
Chris adds, “Or can we?”
The exact release dates for the 100th episode and the movie have yet to be announced. In the meantime, Chris and Shane are working to maintain Big City Greens’ rank as the #1 Disney animated comedy to date with kids aged 6-11.
“Even though we're writing from our own experience, I don't think we quite realized how much the show would resonate with everyone else,” says Chris. “We thought, ‘This is our experience and we’re just writing what we know.’ But that whole, saying that ‘Personal is universal,’ is really true. There are so many people we hear from, so many fans, who say the show captures their feelings. That's been a really cool surprise and we hope to keep that going.”