Putting the Pleasure in Dysfunction: The Non-Humanistic Therapy of “HouseBroken”

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With a stellar cast, cracking creative team, and more troubled pets than you can shake a stick at, Fox’s Familiar, which premiered in May 2021 and is set to begin its second season this summer, has returned “fun” to “dysfunction” for animal lovers everywhere. The animated series, animated by Bento Box and created by Veep her colleagues Gabrielle Allan, Jennifer Crittenden and Clea DuVall, follow a group of neighborhood pets and strays as they work through their issues inside and outside of their therapy group.

It all begins when Honey (Lisa Kudrow), a standard poodle, opens her living room to her neighbors to come and support each other through the tribulations encountered in childhood. Among those who take advantage of Honey’s services are Shel (Will Forte), a sex-positive turtle with intimacy issues; Tabitha (executive producer Sharon Horgan), an aging Persian cat trying to adjust to life off the cat show circuit; Diablo (Tony Hale), an anxious sweater-wearing terrier whose OCD causes him to work everything twice; Elsa (co-creator/executive producer Clea DuVall), a Corgi who knows everything and craves power; and The Gray One (Jason Mantzoukas), a street-smart cat who has one eye on Tabitha. The menagerie also includes a psychopathic hamster mourning the loss of his mate, George Clooney’s pig, an excited teenage goldfish, and a possibly magical, slow-moving loris with a mysterious past.

It is a joyous and multifaceted mixture whose quarrels, one imagines, require work. And if you wonder how they do it, we have answers. We spoke with creators Allan, Crittenden, and DuVall about producing, caring for, and nurturing their comedy business, starting with what we can expect when the new season rolls out of its cage.

AWN: Let’s start with all the fun at the top. What does season 2 have in store for us?

Jennifer Crittenden: A lot is in store for Season 2. It’s a lot more adventurous, out of the house, bigger stories. It’s always rooted in therapy and neurosis and trying to solve psychological problems. The heart of the series is the same, in that Honey is still trying to help the crazy animals around her and deal with her own problems, but it’s gotten a little bigger and maybe a little more stupid. There will also be musical interludes and new characters.

AWN: What worked well that you continue, or even expand, and what haven’t you had the opportunity to do that you hope to do in the new season?

Gabrielle Allen: I think what worked in the first season was the character dynamics. How the characters are very specific and everyone has their own point of view, and no character will say something another character would say. And I love how they interact with each other. They give each other a lot of grief, but underneath it can also be said that there is love there and they support each other.

JC: One episode that I think really worked and was one of my favorites last season was the episode that Clea wrote where there’s a murder in the house and they have to find out who did it. It was great because it was the first time we saw all the characters together and turned on each other, asked questions and surprised each other. We’re going to do a lot more of that this coming season, which I’m really excited about. The whole thing is really funny and having them play against each other is super fun.

Plus, contrary to that, we can also dig deeper into smaller groups and relationships this season. We see couples we haven’t seen before. For example, there’s an episode where Honey and Diablo go head-to-head and it’s really interesting. There are so many different combinations of characters and we see the specific arguments, interactions and conflicts they have.

AWN: How long did it take you to find the tone of the series? Was it present from the beginning or did it develop gradually?

GEORGIA: I feel like the tone was set when the three of us wrote the pilot. We all three have a dynamic and I think that set the tone for the show. The types of jokes we like, the point of view of the characters, what we wanted to say and how we wanted to say it, it all felt pretty natural.

But, as Jen was saying, I think the tone is broadening. It gets a little broader and a little more surreal. We push boundaries and find creative ways to get pets out of the house, so they’re not the only ones sitting around. For example, how do we see their neuroses act in the world?

JC: Also, I think we’re becoming more comfortable and excited about doing things with animation that didn’t even occur to us at first, because we all come from real action. And the artists got the show, so they’re able to push things too. It’s a kind of mesh – the tone doesn’t change, but becomes more of what it was.

AWN: How much of the humor we see is fully developed at the script or tableau stage, and how much is really found once the animators have captured it?

JC: The animators do a ton to push the comedy. I mean, they have suggestions throughout the process. They know how to land certain jokes and how to make things work. So they get better and better as they go. But I think in terms of dialogue and story, everything is defined before we start recording.

AWN: As a group of women creating comedy, do you feel any added pressure? The entertainment still resembles a boys club, although this is changing more and more each day. Your show is a great example. Do you feel like you have to do something differently, or that people watch the show differently than they otherwise would?

GEORGIA: The blessing and the curse of animation is that it keeps you so busy that you don’t really have time to worry about things like that. You’re working on so many episodes at once, and the colors come back while you’re still producing the animatic, and there’s always something to do. Maybe if I took a step back, I could feel that kind of pressure. But I’m incredibly grateful that we have the team that we have and that we have the dynamic that we have, because it makes it so much easier and makes it fun and light.

Clea Du Vall: For me, as a woman in this profession, I never consider myself a woman in this profession. I’m just a professional person. When Gabby, Jen and I talked about working on something together, we were just three people who really connected and loved each other and wanted to continue working together in some capacity. And so we really approached this as friends and not as women. Now that I have been in different meetings in the animation world, I have seen that there are not many women and I know that there are not many creative women. So it’s really cool that we’re doing this and hopefully the success of this show will help make female animation creators less of a rarity.

JC: I completely agree. I think if we had known the numbers coming in we might have thought to feel anxious, but we just had an idea we liked and went for it. Also, as writers, I think we all have this idea that things have to be really good – and it doesn’t matter, male or female. But that’s unusual, three women, plus our other producer, Sharon Horgan. I mean, that’s a lot of women.

GEORGIA: I just wanted to add that where I am conscious of being a woman, or of femininity in general, is by writing for Honey and wanting to do her good. It’s a bit rare in animation to have a female lead. I know she’s a dog, but she has issues that human women can relate to. And I worship her and I want to do the right thing for her.

AWN: What is the hardest part of this show for you individually?

JC: It’s a more practical thing that I think is difficult for all of us on this show – our episodes are long and I don’t know how to make them shorter. Animators should do additional storyboarding; it affects so many people when the script is long. And we try to keep it short, but we want to tell these stories with depth, and that’s very difficult.

GEORGIA: We want to give them all the time, and they’re all fun, and they all have something to say. Our actors are so good and it’s a giant cast. There’s just a lot to do for each of them.

CD: The challenge for me, when I write, is to think bigger and to think visually. The way you handle performance in live action is so different, and there are so many unsaid moments, that you don’t have as much of a storytelling tool in animation. You can’t dwell on a photo of someone just thinking about something. And it was really hard to understand that at first. I think I’ve gotten better over time, but I’m really looking forward to continuing to expand my mind this way.

GEORGIA: Left to my own devices, I would just have a scene with Honey and a talking bug for 20 minutes. Or it would be My dinner with André with Honey and another poodle. So I have the same challenges as Jen and Clea. I also find the timing difficult. It’s just go, go, go, go, go, go, work, keep it straight, have five episodes in different stages of production at once and jump from episode to episode. You don’t really have time to lounge and tinker. Sometimes you have to let go. And I think that’s a challenge for everyone. I mean, in live action too, there’s a point where you have to say, “Okay, it’s done.” But when you have such a crazy schedule, you really have to get things done, so I find that part very difficult.

AWN: Any other comments on the challenges?

JC: Don’t make too many poo jokes. It’s a challenge for me, personally.

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Dan Sarto is the publisher and editor of Animation World Network.

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