Times of unexpected change can ultimately leave a positive impact on families and close friends, particularly as they learn how to truly stick together to conquer their new circumstances. That’s certainly the case for both the characters, and the cast and creative team, of the hit Disney Channel animated adventure comedy television series, ‘Big City Greens.’
The show was co-created by The Houghton Brothers, Shane and Chris, who also serve as executive producers and voice actors on the project. Not only are the Greens, the titular family the Houghton Brothers developed for the comedy, embracing the ever-changing situations in their lives, but the entire cast and creative team have also conquered working together over the past three seasons, especially during the height of the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.
The series’ current third season, which is composed of 20 episodes, premiered on October 9, 2021. New episodes of ‘Big City Greens’ third season premiere every Saturday. In addition to the show’s current third season, a fourth season has been greenlit. A feature film based on the show, which is being helmed by series director Anne O’Brian, is now in production, and is set to be released on both Disney Channel and Disney+.
‘Big City Greens’ follows the titular Green family, including Bill (Bob Joles) and his two children, Tilly and Cricket (Marieve Herington and Chris Houghton), as they move from their life in the country for one in Big City. When they arrive in the city, the trio move in with Bill’s mother, Gramma Alice (Artemis Pebdani). While there, Bill and the kids try their best to acclimate to their new environment and embark on various adventures, including with Cricket’s new best friend, Remy (Zeno Robinson). The Greens’ lives change once again when they decide to move back to the country during the current third season.
Herington, Robinson, Shane Houghton and Chris Houghton generously took the time last weekend to talk about co-creating, producing and starring on ‘Big City Greens,’ particularly its current third season, during a roundtable interview at New York Comic Con 2022. Among other things, the cast and creative team discussed how they continuously enjoy working with each other on developing the characters’ arcs and relationships. The performers and producers also shared their excitement over incorporating more musical segments into the comedy’s current third season, as the songs reflect the characters’ growth as they contend with all the changes in their lives.
Question (Q): What have your experiences been like of working with the rest of the cast throughout the series, particularly during this current third season, to build your characters’ dynamics?
Shane Houghton (SH): We’ve got an incredible cast. They’re all so good because they’ve been doing it for about seven years, since production on the first season began. So when we go into the recording booth to record the episodes, it’s easier than ever because everyone’s keyed in on what makes their character funny.
Chris and I have stepped back from voice directing, so we don’t go to the recordings as much anymore. Marieve, the voice of Tilly, has taken over as the voice director, which is great because she knows the show so well, since she’s on the show and knows the cast so well.
So it has become very family-like, as everyone knows each other and their strengths. The writers are writing to the characters and actors’ strengths. So I think we have really figured out what makes the core cast tick, and what makes them funny and interesting. We always try to build on their strengths.
Chris Houghton (CH): I agree; it’s been great. There was a natural progression that developed early on. As showrunners, we directed everyone in such a way that followed what we had in our head.
But even though that laid the groundwork and foundation for what the show is, it’s also a little restrictive to these creative minds that are contributing to the show. So it’s cool that as the show has progressed, we’ve been able to step back from some of that, as the foundation has already been built. People can now bring their own voice to it.
CH: Now everyone knows that tone, as it’s been established, and everyone can play in those parameters that we’ve set.
SH: So now it’s more like a baton passing. We’re like, “Here’s the joke and angle to it, as well as the voice that I’m thinking about.” Then the actor, board artist or whoever we’re working with it can elevate it or add their own interesting angle it.
Now everyone’s a pro and knows their character so well. It doesn’t take much directing from our part; instead, we just kind of nudge people and point them in the right direction. But our cast brings so much to their characters, and that’s so great to watch.
Zeno Robinson (ZR): Over the course of this season, building the characters’ dynamics with the rest of the cast has been great. You’ll be able to see over the course of this season how moving to the country affects each character and their relationships, specifically on one of the newer episodes, ‘The Move’ (which premiered on September 24).
You see how not just moving back to the country affects the Greens and how they feel about the people and environment, but also Remy’s relationships with Cricket and the Greens. They’re kind of picking Remy up, and it’s kind of Remy picking Tilly and Cricket up. He’s kind of returning the favor for all of the times they’ve helped him.
Marieve Herington (MH): As we get more episodes this season, we’re all discovering more together. We have so many different storylines that push and pull these characters to discover different things about them. This season, we discovered that Tilly speaks Japanese. If you asked, “Did you known that on day one?,” I would have been like, “Nope, I sure didn’t!” So we’re still discovering new aspects of our characters together.
In the beginning, I wouldn’t have known that Remy and Cricket would have connected that way emotionally. We would have always thought that it was Cricket supporting Remy.
So we’re really getting to know these characters on a totally different level. The totally new environment just creates more conflict and opportunity to do that.
ZR: It’s definitely a testament to the growth of not just the series, but also the characters themselves. It’s been great.
Q: ‘Big City Green’s music element has become even bigger throughout this current third season. What’s the experience been like of creating the songs for the show?
SH: A big part of Season 3 is that we wanted to do more songs. We can’t talk about the music without talking about our composer, Joachim Horsley.
CH: He’s a genius!
SH: He’s so good at what he does.
Often times when we write a song, we’ll write the lyrics and then send them to Joachim…and ask him, “Can you make them sound good?” He then creates the most amazing music that’s set to those lyrics.
Sometimes we’ll record a little demo and say, “Joachim, maybe something like this.” He’ll take that nugget of nothingness and turns it into absolute gold.
We have a variety of different genres in Season 3. Joachim can do it all; we have yet to stump him, except for one time; it was a short musical cue and we told him, “Joachim, you make everything sound so good. You have to make this sound crappy, though.”
So we were trying to find a stupid sound, and I finally found it. I said, “Joachim, go out and buy a kazoo.”
CH: This was in the final mix, and we were calling him, saying, “Go to a toy store and buy a kazoo,” and he did. He came back and did it, and it was so funny.
We also write music, too. In the episode, ‘The Move,’ there’s a song that one of our writers and I wrote together, and I actually played the guitar for it. Joachim produced the final song, and I was like, “My guitar track’s in there, which is really cool.”
Whether the crew members are musicians or not, we’re all still music fans. So when we did the big Christmas special for Season 2, we included a bunch of songs in that half-hour, which made Disney take notice.
They were like, “We never knew you liked songs. Your composer’s so good, so do you want to do more songs?” We said, “Absolutely.”
So into Season 3, we were able to produce more songs than what we were able to do prior to that. So it’s been great to be able to create more songs for the rest of Season 3 and Season 4.
ZR: The music’s been great! I didn’t think I was much of a singer until this show. I don’t think I’ve ever sung professionally more in my life. (Robinson laughs.)
This is the most I’ve sung as Remy, and the more I do it, the more comfortable I become with it. I think the musical aspect touches a little bit more on the heart of the show, and adds a little bit of flavor to the emotional moments. So it’s been fun.
MH: You make a great point about the emotional moments because I think there are some very poignant episodes. The move is very emotional.
Of course the show’s a comedy, but I like that they’re also not afraid to have those dramatic, emotionally heartfelt scenes, and the music helps to convey and communicate that.
I’m excited about all the music because I came to this country (from Canada) as a jazz musician. So I’ve always sang vintage tunes, and Tilly’s go this old soul.
So fans should know that characters will start in one place, and then the (writers) start to write to the actors’ strengths. So we’re seeing more aspects of Zeno in Remy and me in Tilly. I think a lot of actors who do voice-overs have an ear for musicality and comedy of all kinds.
Q: Are there any ways in which you’d like to see your characters evolve?
MH: I would be really interested to see how Tilly would navigate the teen years.
ZR: I was just thinking the same thing!
MH: We don’t age on the show, so the kids stay the same age.
The thing that I love about Tilly is that she’s unapologetically herself, and she’s not angling to fit in in any way; she’s like, “I’m good as I am.”
So I think exploring storylines as you get older and closer to the tween and teen years is amazing. So to see Tilly navigate those years would be great, as many teens wonder, should I try to fit in? I’d love to see those episodes, if they allow us to age.
ZR: What’s interesting about that is that a lot of the teen years are a testament to who you are, and those things (that make you who you are) get challenged.
As a kid, you don’t care what other people think. But when you’re a teenager and around other teens, social status starts to play a bigger factor.
I think Remy’s evolved so much as a character already. So I think we’ll get more growth, and see him come out of his shell. Tilly’s very comfortable, so we can see Remy also become more comfortable in who he is following the example of Cricket and Tilly.
MH: I think it would be so interesting to see if these characters stay true to themselves when the tides are pushing them to become something else.
ZR: I would love to see Remy continue grow into, and challenge, himself. I think coming out of that box and having an open heart is part of his charm. It’s something that he’s been teaching me, and I continue learning from him.
MH: Remy’s getting away from who his parents want him to be, and becoming who he wants to be.
Q: Do you offer ‘Big City Green’ writers any input on how you would like your characters to evolve, or do you just stick to the storylines the writing team creates?
MH: The production pipeline is so long. Animation is incredibly collaborative, but also separated; so the writers do their thing, and their work is then passed on to the board artists and then on to the actors. So we’re not involved in creating those storylines.
Although, that being said, we both had the opportunity to write an episode! But other than when we were in the driver’s seat in creating the story…
ZR: …We don’t get much of an input. We take what’s given and work with that. As two people who have sat in the writer’s room, we know how focused they are on how each episode makes the characters grow, and what direction the episodes and seasons take the characters in. So it’s no problem trusting them in seeing how the characters grow.
Q: Where do you see the show going now?
SH: We’re right in the middle of Season 3, which is airing right now. The Greens just moved from the city back to the country, which is a huge shake-up for the show, as it’s called ‘Big City Greens.’
It’s always taken place in Big City, so to take them out of their familiar location and put them back where they used to be and see what has changed, is really exciting. Characters have changed, but they’re trying to go back in time and recapture the feeling of how things used to be before they moved to Big City.
What they’re finding, and what we’re exploring, throughout the rest of Season 3 is that you can’t really go back. Places may stay the same, but people change. There’s always been this change that has been circulating. So it’s been really exciting.
We have been greenlit for a Season 4, so we are continuing on, but I don’t want to give anything away for where we’re going. The big finale for Season 3 will amp up things further.
CH: I like where it leads us, and I think the fans will, too.
Q: Do you always write like you’re going to have another season?
CH: Well, not always, which is tricky. Season 3 was greenlit at the top of COVID, in April of 2020. So we didn’t even know if we’d make it through Season 3. It was so tough to produce, as we were all at home and dealing with the craziness of the pandemic. Also having to creatively relaunch the show made it all the more difficult for everyone involved.
But there’s fun to be had when you write yourself into a corner, and try to find interesting ways out. But we’re deep into Season 4 now, and it’s really fun.
SH: We wrote a specific ending on Season 3 that could have been the series finale. We then got greenlit for Season 4, and we thought, what do we do now?
That’s always an interesting place to be as a writer, as you’re trying to figure out the next step. The show has grown so much, especially with the Greens moving back to the country, which really shook things up. But what that did was open a world of possibilities.
Now, I feel like the entire crew has been reenergized to a Season 1 feeling. There’s a buzz, everyone’s feeling great and there are ideas being thrown out everywhere, which is super exciting and energizing for the continuation of the show. So we’ve got a great angle on Season 4.
We just finished writing our 12th half hour of 30, and I’m just loving it. Those first 10 half-hours are just so strange, funny and goofy.
CH: Season 4 feels fresh from a different angle, too. We’ve now been in production for about seven years now, and we’re the old ones on the crew. We have new folks joining the crew, and they’re like, “We were big fans of ‘Big City Greens’ when we were in college! We used to watch it with our friends!” So they’re bringing this fresh energy, which is really fun. So Season 4 has a really great feel to it.