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To kick off the 2019 Fall TV season, Fox is giving The Simpsons, Bob's Burgers and Family Guy a new Sunday night neighbor in the form of Bless the Harts. Created by comedy writer and producer Emily Spivey, of SNL and The Last Man on Earth fame, Bless the Harts stars Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Jillian Bell as three generations of Southern women who don't let financial troubles get in the way of them being rich in laughs.
Primetime TV doesn't often embrace Southern characters as much more than punchlines or oddities, but some exceptions do exist. It's precisely those exceptions that Emily Spivey wanted to honor with Bless the Harts. The Emmy-winning Spivey spoke with CinemaBlend at this year's Television Critics Association summer press tour, and when I asked her about tackling Southern storytelling without dipping into politics or negative stereotypes, here's what she told me:
That’s sort of what I wanted to do, because Bless the Harts is really in the tradition of The Andy Griffith Show and King of the Hill, where I really just wanted to put authentic, funny, soulful characters out there; the kind of people that I grew up with. So that it’s not Hee Haw and it’s not a super-politicized thing. It’s just about people that I grew up with, and friends and family, and hopefully a lot of heart and a lot of laughs. I’ve been wanting to do a show about the South forever, literally forever, so this is a dream come true.
Now, no one is going to go out there saying that Maya Rudolph's word-farting Betty Hart is the smartest and most grounded character in the history of television, but Emily Spivey's point remains a salient one. There are definitely ways for a TV show to strike deeper into the fabric of life in the Southern states, which is something more in tune with HBO's The Righteous Gemstones, but Bless the Harts falls in line with classic TV sitcoms that viewers can truly relate to.
With Ike Barinholtz rounding out the main cast as Jenny's boyfriend Wayne, Bless the Harts definitely has similar vibes with King of the Hill, which Emily Spivey was a writer on. But it's also akin to many '70s and '80s TV staples that centered on loving families barely scraping by. Speaking to how prevalent that way of life is in many areas of the country, Emily Spivey told me the idea for Bless the Harts spawned out of a previous collaboration she had with Kristen Wiig. In her words:
Honestly, it came out of that story that we actually wrote for one of the versions of the movie Masterminds, which was also a Kristen Wiig movie. I really wanted to tell a gentler version of that story, meaning like a group of Southerners who are the have-nots. They’re struggling for the American dream, but they can never quite get there. They can never make ends meet, money-wise. Because it’s really interesting in North Carolina, especially in the towns outside of Charlotte. There’s so much money in Charlotte, and Chanel boutiques and banking money and all that kind of stuff. Then you just drive five minutes over, and it’s people that are working in mills, and it’s very blue-collar, you know? So I wanted to sort of represent those blue-collar people that are just trying to get by, and the American Dream may never happen for them.
As a card-carrying resident of the South, I can definitely speak to how life falls into completely different rotations than how things go elsewhere. Hell, it's not even uniformly the same from one Southern small town to the next, so there's always something interesting going on, to put it lightly. Especially when boxed wine is involved.
Beyond the jokes and the heartwarming moments, part of the fun in watching Bless the Harts is hearing the awesome cast nailing those Southern accents. Here's what Emily Spivey, who co-wrote the Netflix feature Wine Country, had to say about those:
Oh my God, it’s hilarious. You know, Maya is kind of doing my mom’s accent a little bit. Ike is doing this teamster that he met in Wilmington, North Carolina. And then Kristin is like the master of voices, so it’s a true delight to get to work with these people, and they really do bring the characters to life. I mean, they made these characters three-dimensional.
And it only gets bigger and better after the premiere. After all, it's always a party when someone starts raising ostriches, right? Exactly.
Bless the Harts premieres on Fox on Sunday, September 29, at 8:30 p.m. ET.