What Lies Ahead For “Big City Greens” With Creators Chris and Shane Houghton

The Mid-Season premiere of Big City Greensthird season is just hours away on Saturday, September 24th (9:00 a.m. EST/PST), on Disney Channel. When we last left the Greens, it was teased that they would be moving back to the rural country from which they came, a place called Smalton, and the series would follow.

The Houghton brothers — Chris and Shane — creators and executive producers of the animated comedy and Disney Channel’s #1 show, bring the series to life so well that after a fourth season (which has already been ordered) they will have over 100 episodes of the Daytime Emmy-winning and Annie Award-nominated comedy.

Originally influenced by the Houghton’s childhood in the small rural town of St. Johns, Michigan, the series features a rich universe filled with locations and characters inspired by their real-life family members and townsfolk and their experiences upon departing rural farmland for college in big cities, and now the brothers seem to be injecting a “you can’t go home again” kind of idea to the series in the upcoming story arc.

I recently had the great pleasure of sitting for a few minutes with the creative siblings, where we discussed their hit Disney Channel series and what awaits for viewers in the upcoming episodes as Cricket and the Greens head back to the country in the mid-season premiere episode, “The Move.”

Much to my dismay, the two weren’t wearing their “sibling shirt” (as depicted in one of my favorite episodes of the series, “Animation Abomination”) but the conversation was still a great time while we reflect on same favorite moments, the upcoming second half of the third season, and the future of the series, all while I fangirl maybe a little too much.

Chris:        

Sibling shirt has been ripped apart-

Shane:        

That's true.

Chris:        

-And mended so many times, it's a tattered shadow of a t-shirt, at this point.

Shane:

Yeah.

Tony:        

I'm surprised it's not hanging on the wall.

Chris:        

I know.

Shane:        

You get it framed, you know?

Tony:

Honestly, I'm going to be very upfront. When I first got assigned Big City Greens, I had a test of ego like, "How dare they? I'm an adult, why am I doing a YA show on Disney Channel?" And I absolutely fell in love with it.

Shane:

Tony, that's great to hear. Just thank you for that. That's a very nice compliment. Honestly, the best compliment we can receive is when an adult is like, "Eh, my kids started watching this show, but then I started watching it. I really like it." And I think that's a testament to what the show does really well. And obviously, we're trying to entertain ourselves first and foremost. We're adults and we like funny stuff and we're not trying to talk down to a kid audience. We're just trying to make really funny stuff that people of all ages can enjoy. And it is kind of that family sitcom; it's a classic family sitcom that adults and kids can enjoy, and there's maybe less and less of that out there these days. But I'm so pleased to hear you say that.

Tony:        

Then I've got my circle of friends in on it too. And they had the same thing like, "Why are we watching it? Oh my God, this is great." The last episode, the new episode, when they hint that we're heading back someplace else, I woke up to a text on that Saturday morning that just said, "OH MY GOD." All caps, bold letters.

Chris:

Oh, wow. Who was that? A friend of yours?

Tony:        

A friend of mine, yeah. We also joke because he's from Kentucky and moved to Orlando where I am. He ended up having to go back to Kentucky, but he's like, "This is my life story."

Shane:        

Oh, wow.

Chris:        

Yes!

Tony:        

I'm like, Orlando's not Big City. Orlando is “mid to large” city, I wouldn't call it Big City though.

Chris:        

How dare you squish Orlando?!

Shane:

What's coming up in the show, it's been a long time coming because the whole premise of Big City Greens and this country family moving to the big city. And now, as we alluded to at the end of “Dirt Jar,” this country family is moving back to the country and it's really exciting to kind of take it full circle.

Tony:        

I've watched interviews and behind-the-scenes stuff before, you also talk about that with you guys out of the rural area into the big city.

Shane:        

Yeah. So the episode coming up, which premieres on Saturday, is called “The Move,” and it is a little bit of a kind of wish fulfillment. We're born and raised in the country and farmlands, moved to big cities, and we've lived in Los Angeles for, I don't know, a long time now. Over a decade. And I think there's this… Chris, I think you'd feel the same way, but I kind of yearn for some of those hometown feelings. Just your childhood, where you grew up, and the stuff that you're familiar with. Although every time we go back to our parents' house, who still live in Michigan, it doesn't quite feel like the same place. Even though it's the same house, it's the same location, something about it feels different. And I think a big part of it is like, "Well, I'm not the same person I was when I was a kid and I was growing up there." And so those are some of the feelings that we wanted to explore with the Greens. And we're like, "What if we bring them back to where it all started? How would that go? How would they feel?" And there is a bit of, yeah, I think, wish fulfillment for me, at least, of like, "Oh, I kind of want to do that, but I'm still in LA making this show."

Tony:        

Based on the ad Disney Channel released – it looks like (The Greens) are not alone. Looks like Remy's going too, is that right?

Chris:        

He is. If the Greens are going back to the country, Remy is joining them for his first time in the country, which is really exciting. In the show, we constantly play with themes of what is home, the changes that come with different chapters in life, and as well as community and the group of friends you build along the way. And so, yeah, Remy's going to the country. It's reframed to his parents as a study abroad trip, so Remy is going international in his mind and soaking up some rural lifestyle.

Shane:        

He's got a lot to learn. And I think the big thing for us, just from a storytelling standpoint, is this is interesting because all of the characters are familiar with the country life. But the audience is not, because the audience never spent any time there. The show picks up when the Greens move to Big City.

Tony:        

Aside from a flashback or two.

Shane:

Exactly. There's a couple of hints here and there, but it's helpful to have Remy, who's kind of a surrogate audience member, who can be arriving in the country for the first time, ask all the questions that maybe people watching the show want to ask. And it's just really funny to see Remy, who is completely out of his element. The show is very much a fish out of water show and we continue that feeling by having Remy be a little bit more of the fish out of water when the Greens kind of return to their original pond.

Tony:        

If Remy's going, does that mean Vasquez is going too?

Shane:        

Oh, man. You may have to watch.

Chris:        

Vasquez is always watching.

Tony:        

Which makes me wonder if there's a return of Moose Fang anywhere.

Shane:

Oh, man. I will say there is more Order of the Fang coming up, but in season four. But that's a little ways down the line…When we were writing those stories and it's like, we needed something fun and we came up with the Order of the Fang in “Spaghetti Theory,” and then Tiger Fang comes back in “Takened,” and Bill becomes aware of this whole past life of Vasquez. We didn't really realize what that unlocked for us, but it's like, we lifted up a rock and found a whole ecosystem under there. And we're like, "Oh, man. That's really fun, we should explore it."

Tony:        

But those are the best ones to do too, sometimes.

Chris:        

Yes. And the lore of Vasquez goes deeper than anyone needs to be.

Tony:        

Now, Remy's going. I asked about Vasquez. Is anybody else that we're familiar with heading back that we can talk about now?

Shane:        

Yeah, I think so.

Tony:        

I mostly go to the adopted Green, Gloria. She's got her cafe, so I wouldn't be surprised if she stayed, but…

Shane:

It'll all be clear in “The Move”

Chris:        

That's not really a spoiler. I think, with Gloria, we've seen a lot of growth with Gloria… She now has her own cafe and she's busy running said cafe and also the Greens' house needs to be watched over. So Gloria, for the meantime, is staying in Big City, but don't worry. Everyone will see plenty of Gloria, lots of fun check-ins. But she's got her own thing going. She can't abandon everything to follow these yahoos.

Shane:

And, similarly, Gramma has partnered with Gloria in this new cafe venture. And as we saw in “Family Legacy” back in season one, Gramma has a hard time leaving her… So the move actually opens, the episode from this Saturday, opens with the Greens saying goodbye to Gramma and saying goodbye to Gloria.

Tony:        

I noticed that in the little tease that came out (on Disney Channel)  but I wasn't sure. I was like, "It could just be edited funky," but…

Shane:

Yeah, "Is that a trick?" But it is, we are fracturing the Green family just slightly and…we're kind of going back to that, where it's like, "Yeah, Gramma wasn't always with them." So we really are kind of returning to pre-season one kind of feeling, at least. All of this is obviously taking place after, but we're kind of going back to the status quo before the show started.

Tony:        

But now Bill, Tilly, and Cricket have all grown, in some way.

Shane:

Exactly.

“Change Often Visits Us Before We’re Ready” – Chris Houghton

Chris:        

Things are different and the audience might feel that too. I've already seen some fan reactions like, "Wait a second! What?" But that's kind of what the Greens have been experiencing. These changes, these different chapters, and change often visits us before we're ready. And so, that's what the Greens are going through, and if the audience feels similar, I think that's not a bad thing. Hold on to those feelings and come along for the ride. We promise we'll do you right.

Shane:

For anybody concerned about their favorite characters; what about Nancy? What about Gloria? What about Remy and Vasquez and Benny and Kiki and Weezy and the neighbors? And we totally felt the same way. All of the reactions I've been seeing on Twitter is… I want to tell everybody, "Don't worry. We feel you." And I think that's good drama. And it shows to me that people really care about the community that the Greens have created in the city and we feel the same way. We love those characters and we want to see those characters. We want to make sure everybody feels like they're being taken care of. So, we do address a lot of that in the series.

Tony:

Gloria went from antagonistic neighbor to adopted family member and business partner. And we see her get her own stories in some episodes, and then the city, itself, has become this thriving universe. I think of it as an open world video game. You could just plop any character here or there and there's a whole other mission and that's an episode. And it's just this rich universe you guys have built, and I think it's phenomenal. So then I was even a little taken back, "Why are they leaving?" But then I just thought, "Well, in an open world video game, you might get the DLC island add-on, and now the universe has expanded that much further." Now you are renewed for a fourth season with Disney Plus content coming in the future. Did you guys ever see that when you set out on your venture?

Chris:        

It's a good question and it makes sense because we're in a really unique position. The show has really taken off at an uncertain time in the state of TV right now. But I think early on… Someone asked me recently, they're like, "Did you ever think Big City Greens would be this successful?" And I remember I was like, "Well, yeah! We had to." You got to believe in yourself and even if it seems insane. So, I have two answers. Yes, I always believed this thing would be popular and that's what drove us to work as hard as we could. And we had to believe in it. Did we actually think it would work? It's so outside of your control, so really, we just focus on making the best show we can. That's the only thing we can control. The crew does the same; the crew is so passionate about this show. Same with the studio; the studio supports it, but all of it comes down to the fans and the audience members. We can't control what y'all like and so we are completely honored and humbled by the fan reaction to the show, the support that our fans show the show, and it allows us to keep going. So, we're in this together by God!

Shane:

That is true. The show would not be what it is without the audience. And the audience just absolutely loving it, and then the studio and the network, seeing that hunger and drive from the audience and then rerunning Big City Greens a ton and putting it on Disney Plus and making it available, so that audience can continue to grow. Back when we were developing TV shows and we had pitched…the big thing was, studios would always say, "Yeah, but can this idea go for a hundred episodes?" and "Does it have legs? Can it continue on and on and on?" So we studied a lot of shows to be like those long running sitcoms and what were the relationships like to keep those shows going? And what did they do to switch up things after something started to get maybe a little stale? Did they try to stay ahead of the audience in any way? I think that's kind of always been my big, wide, zoomed out view of Big City Greens as a series, looking at the big swings and where do we want to go and where do we want to take our left turns and pivots? By the end of season four, if all goes according to plan, there's going to be 110 half-hour episodes of Big City Greens. Which, in this day and age, when you look at the landscape, Netflix shows might run for maybe 20 episodes, and that's the series, maybe 30 episodes, and the kind of demands of what it takes to sell a show right now is different. Nobody's asking, "But does it have legs? Can it go a hundred episodes?" That model's kind of gone, but somehow we're still doing it. And that, I think, alluding to what Chris said earlier, is that is what's really surprising to us. We had to believe it. We had to hope for it, but it's still surprising that it's actually happening.

Tony:        

I mean this in the greatest way, to take that first episode where it's about launching a chicken into space and then to where it is now. I think you guys have come so far. And I'm deeply attached to this show, and not as attached as you guys are, but every time it's a new episode on Saturday morning… I watch them at least three times, each episode. So, you have that from me. And then I've introduced my friends to it; we've got this circle of adults who are in love with this. And, as you've said before, it is a sitcom. I would say it's the most sitcomy thing on Disney Channel.

Shane:        

Tony, if you watched the episodes three times, that's amazing. Do you know we hide an Easter egg in every episode?

Tony:        

Elaborate on that, please.

Shane:

Okay, so we hide an Easter egg in every episode. And if you watch it three times, I feel like you may want to start looking out for them, but it's a literal Easter egg. That's our joke. So, it's just a purple, decorated egg and it's in every episode… we do make it difficult. Sometimes the egg is only on screen for half a second. It's somewhere in the background and it's a fun game that we play to entertain ourselves.

Tony:        

I thought you were going to say the A-114 (license plate) and I'm like, "I like that. It's fun, but it's pretty obvious."

Chris:        

Yeah, it's an actual Easter egg. And we have a fan, a viewer of the show, who finds every Easter egg in every episode, no matter how difficult and I don't know how he does it. And sometimes he'll post about how he spent hours and hours searching for a specific Easter egg. He has much more patience than I do.

Tony:        

Now, Chris, you do the voice of Cricket?

Chris:        

Yes, I do. That's true.

Tony:

But other vocal talent on the show, you have Danny Trejo as Vazquez. Bob Joles,  who… we were on the Disneyland Railroad and (my Fiance) goes, "Is this Bill?" And yes it is.

Shane:        

That is so great. I love on the Disneyland Railroad, there's a bit where it's just normal train stuff, but at a certain point, it's like, "Kids, be sure to keep your hands inside the vehicle." And every time it's Bill, just talking to Cricket being like, "Cricket, what are you doing? Stop."

Tony:        

I think back in April, I tweeted that… it was just spot on. But can we look for any more guest stars coming up? Because I know Big City Greens has a long list of guest stars that have come, including a Muppet.

Shane:        

True. We do have some folks coming up, but because of the kind of twists and turns that the series is taking, there's actually a little bit less opportunities for guest stars. But we do have, in the season three finale, there is a really big name that we were thrilled to get. But I don't know, that is coming up much later.

Chris:        

Very big name. We were surprised he said yes.

Shane:        

Yes, but there are quite a few new folks coming in, starting with these new episodes. I don't know if they're giant names, but I will say; super funny and extremely talented folks have kind of rounded out the cast for the second half of season three. So if people are excited about new voices, we have a lot of great new voices coming up and I think people will be very charmed by some of the new characters they meet.

Chris:        

Now fans will meet a whole host of new characters that are really fun. And I think our casting choices follow the same pattern they have always followed, which is a mixture of fun, big names, a lot of strange, alt comedy folks. A lot of people who may not be household names at all, but are just so funny and charming. If you look at the cast of Greens, the main cast, people may not recognize their names right away. But all of a sudden, you want to look up, "Who voices Bill? Okay, Bob Joles" and "Oh my gosh. Marieve Herington is hilarious, and Zeno Robinson and Artemis"

“If that happens, I will, I think, forever be blown away.” – Shane Houghton

Tony:        

For my generation, there's those where you bring up a certain show from our youth like DuckTales, the original one, or sorry, other studio, Animaniacs or Nickelodeon shows, and you talk to somebody and they say, "Oh my God, I watched that all the time." Big City Greens, I think, will have that kind of staying power for kids in the future. But if there's one episode you think that they'll latch onto and talk about 30 years in the future, what do you think it would be?

Shane:        

If that happens, I will, I think, forever be blown away. I was just talking to Dan Povenmire yesterday. He swung by my office and we were chit-chatting and he was telling me about how he went to this Disney Channel thing and there were a bunch of kids who are now in their early twenties, and he was like a rock star there because they all grew up on Phineas and Ferb. And I was like, "That's so wild," but it makes sense. It's if that's kind of what kids are consuming, it will influence them. And yeah, they'll probably be reminiscing in 20 to 30 years. If I had to pick an episode, I would maybe say “Animation Abomination.”

Tony:

Oh my God. I love that one.

Shane:        

Because it kind of breaks things and I think people come to watch the show for the characters and the relationships. But I think the one that might stand out the most that would get people talking, especially in the future, is the one that makes them think about how is the sausage made. It's kind of a really goofy, weird, behind-the-scenes look, but it's really exaggerated and goofy. And it feels like something that kids make might take as truth. And then later, as they grow up, they were like, "Hey, how much of that you think is true? And are the executives really robots? And when you write a script does an egg hatch and out pops a hot script?"

Tony:        

My personal favorite is the Catapult to Korea.

Shane:

Exactly.

Tony:        

And the whole cult scene.

Shane:        

Yeah, I think the chanting, "Make it move!"

Chris:        

This sounds really corny, but I think some of the episodes people will remember are these upcoming season three episodes. This season, which was produced mostly during quarantine, we're just now wrapping things up. But the majority of it was done during the hardest times our production saw. And there's an episode coming up, “Penpals,” that people are going to just, I think, remember for a long time. There's another episode airing around Halloween called “Pizza Deliverance.” It's insane.

Tony:        

Is it a Halloween episode?

Chris:        

It is. It's an 11 minute, but it's so funny and so weird. Everyone's got different favorite episodes and I love that, but I'm really excited for people to see these new episodes.

Those new episodes of Big City Greens start this Saturday, September 24th at 9:00 AM with “The Move.” The future of Big City Greens is a bright one, and I’ll point to this news from earlier this year – when not only did Big City Greens get renewed for a fourth season, but also a Disney+ movie musical.

If you haven’t taken a chance on this show yet, or would just like to catch up before the Mid-Season Premiere on Saturday, head over to Disney+ where all the episodes of this fantastic hit series are streaming.

Sign up for Disney+ or the Disney Streaming Bundle (Disney+, ESPN+, and ad-supported Hulu) now