Co-creator Jennifer Crittenden talks about Season 2 of her FOX adult animated comedy featuring neighborhood pets in group therapy led by a dog name Honey, all tackling their uncontrolled anxieties, unresolved traumas, and rampant narcissism; the show’s newest episode airs this Sunday, March 26.
In 1995, after Jennifer (Jen) Crittenden kicked off her TV screenwriting and producing career on The Simpson, live-action comedy series became the writer’s bread and butter. But after 13 years of working on shows like Seinfeld and Veep, Crittenden has returned to the world of animation.
With her co-creators Clea DuVall (The Intervention), and Gabrielle Allan (Scrubs), Crittenden developed HouseBroken, a 2D adult animated series on FOX that follows a group of anthropomorphic neighborhood pets – dogs, cats, tortoises, pigs, primates, fish, and hamsters –led by a therapy dog named Honey. As the animals all take part in Honey’s group therapy sessions, the series explores each pet’s individual backstory and struggles, from textbook anxiety and teenage hormones to chronic loneliness, unresolved trauma, and narcissism.
Staring comedy legends like Lisa Kudrow (Honey), Will Forte, Tony Hale, Sam Richardson, and even DuVall (who voices a power-hungry Corgi named Elsa), HouseBroken premiered in 2021; the third episode of its second season airs Sunday, March 26, which follows two Christmas specials that kicked off the new season this past December. The show is produced by A Million Little Things’ Kapital Entertainment and Bob’s Burgers’ Bento Box Entertainment.
We got the chance to talk with Crittenden, who got the idea for HouseBroken while working with Duvall and Allan on the set of Veep. Crittenden gave us the scoop on the show’s origins, why she preferred a dog-led therapy group over a cat-led one, some of the more psychologically tormented episodes they’ve developed, and how the team approaches mental health sensitively with maximum comedy.
Victoria Davis: Basic questions first… where did the idea for this show come from?
Jen Crittenden: The idea for the show came from a conversation on the set of Veep. We loved Clea DuVall and really wanted to work on something with her and she mentioned that she wanted to go to couples counseling with her cat, to try and really understand their relationship better. We thought it was so funny and began trying to figure out if that could be a show.
VD: How long had you been chewing on this idea before it came to fruition?
JC: Oh, my goodness, a long time. We landed on the idea of group therapy for pets and other neighborhood animals pretty quickly but then spent a lot of time thinking about the characters and their issues.
VD: Why choose a dog therapist as the foundation for the series? What made you want to explore the human condition through the conduit of both loved and neglected animals?
JC: A dog just seems like the animal that has the right combination of traits to be a good therapist: smart, empathic, non-judgmental. I don’t think I could go to therapy if I had to deal with a cat acting all aloof and superior.
VD: I adored the first episode of the second season with the psychotic Cherry/Ruby, and poor Chico actually made me very glad I have two cats instead of one. You really feel for these animals. What has been your personal favorite topic to dive into with this show?
JC: Oh my god, Chico, right? He’s so sweet. One of the things I love about this show is that we can get into really heavy subject matters, like when Chief gets a zappy collar that makes him think God is communicating to him and we explore how animals might conceptualize God or a higher power. And then we can do an episode where the health department tells The Gray One’s human that she has too many cats and must narrow her menagerie down to one, so suddenly they’re all on an episode of The Catchelorette.
VD: The characters in this series are also incredibly complicated, such as our dear friend Chico who became pregnant by another male cat and then had his kittens taken from him. These pets have been through a lot. Who has been one of the most interesting to create?
JC: I’ve really loved finding the different layers in [the anxious, sweater-wearing terrier] Diablo’s personality. There’s an episode in Season 2 where he gets testicular implants – which is a real thing, as I was shocked to learn! Anyway, Diablo suddenly gets respect and a little taste of power. We were able to write some really fun stuff for him and then Tony Hale [who voices the character] just went and made it hilarious.
VD: What stories/topics did you want to incorporate into the new season that you hadn’t delved into before?
JC: There are so many new areas! Max has a relationship with a pig named Ennis (Andrew Rannells) and learns to embrace his authentic self. We meet Honey’s half-siblings (Fred Armisen and Natasha Lyonne) and explore their dysfunctional family dynamics, and we have a great episode where our animals have to confront their assumptions and unconscious biases regarding nocturnal animals.
VD: What influences the particular psychiatric topics you chose to tackle in Housebroken? Is it from your own personal life, stories you’ve heard, a mix of both?
JC: It’s definitely a mix. Everyone on our writing staff has had some experience with therapy so it’s really fun to dig into it.
VD: What were your goals for the design/animation style? There is a vast array of animals presented but also just as many different home environments. I imagine you wanted to take on a style that would be flexible and cater to both the comedy and seriousness of any moment?
JC: That’s such a great question and one we really found the answer to as we went through the various stage of character design, and backgrounds, color, etc. One of the challenges for our artists is that animals all look different and have different ways of registering emotions - whereas most people have similar faces and number of arms and legs. We gave all our animals eyebrows to help with that emotional component. It’s weird to think of a tortoise with eyebrows, but it works.
VD: You’re dealing with a lot of sensitive topics in this series – how do you straddle the line with addressing them in a comedic way, but also in a true and honest way that doesn’t lessen the importance of what someone’s been through?
JC: We have deep affection for all our characters, so if they’re going through something, my hope is that our love for them shines through. And, while I’m sure we will make mistakes, we really try to find the humor in the bad advice or in the misunderstanding of the issue, not the character who is experiencing the issue.
VD: For those who haven’t checked out this series yet, how would you convince them to give it a try? And what do you hope that veteran viewers take away from this show and the new season?
JC: I think the strongest argument for how amazing our show is, is our cast. I mean, it’s ridiculous: Lisa Kudrow, Sharon Horgan, Sam Richardson, Tony Hale, Will Forte, Nat Faxon, Clea Duvall, Jason Mantzoukas. Even our recurring cast is amazing: Maria Bamford, Bresha Webb, Greta Lee, and Tim Simons?! If any of these actors have made you laugh, chances are, you’ll like our show. So, my hope is that people watch the show, laugh a lot, experience that little moment of emotion within every story, and then laugh some more.