Emily Spivey is homesick.
She misses popping in for dinner at 1618 Seafood Grille or at Hops. Her son loves going to Pastabilities. She misses taking day drives to Chapel Hill or Winston-Salem. She misses the sound of cicadas in the summer.
“I’m the most homesick person in the world,” Spivey says in a phone interview.
The High Point native, who now lives in LA, has had a lucrative career as a TV and movie writer, producer and actor. She’s famous for her time as a staff writer at “Saturday Night Live” from 2001 to 2010 and won an Emmy for her work on the show in 2002. Most recently, she’s been recognized for her role as one of the writers for the popular Netflix film Wine Country, which stars Amy Poehler, who directed the movie, as well as Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, Tina Fey and others from “SNL” fame.
This fall, Spivey combines her talents to create what she calls is her favorite project yet.
“I’ve been wanting to do a show about North Carolina forever because I love writing about the South,” Spivey says.
And so she created “Bless the Harts,” an animated comedy that premieres on Sunday, Sept. 29 on Fox. The show follows the Harts, a poor, white family who lives in Greenpoint, NC — a thinly-veiled mash-up of Greensboro and High Point — as they struggle to make ends meet. The show mostly centers around Jenny Hart, the matriarch of the family voiced by Kristen Wiig, but also includes Jenny’s mother Betty Hart, voiced by Maya Rudolph, her daughter Violet Hart, played by Jillian Bell, and her boyfriend Wayne, voiced by Ike Barinholtz. Prior to “Bless the Harts,” Spivey also worked on another animated show, “King of the Hill” and used that experience to create a similar feel with the new show.
“Since working at ‘King of the Hill,’ I knew I wanted to create a show set in North Carolina but with female protagonists,” she says.
Spivey was born in Statesville but was raised in the Triad — she attended Northeast Middle School, Andrews High School and eventually got her bachelors from UNCG. She says she wanted to infuse the show with the nuances of the area to make it feel grounded, with a sense of place.
In the trailer for the show, the Harts go through the drive-thru of a biscuit restaurant called Biscuit Town, a callout to places like Greensboro-based Biscuitville or the Biscuit Factory in High Point. In the Halloween episode, Spivey uses local lore which some Triadites might find familiar.
“In Jamestown, there’s a ghost story about Lydia’s ghost where she hitchhikes under a bridge,” Spivey says. “In the episode, Jenny gets mistaken for the hitchhiking ghost.”
Other Easter eggs include mentions of local grocery store chains, a trip to Myrtle Beach (“That is so part of everyone’s summer,” Spivey exclaims), an episode about beach music, and of course, one that centers around a barbecue competition.
“I hope [viewers] get a good sense of North Carolina,” Spivey says. “If they’re from here, I hope they say, ‘Oh, I recognize that,’ and if they’re not, I hope they learn about a new place.”
To make it even more personal, Spivey says she crafted the characters around people in her own life.
“They’re all amalgams of friends and family,” she says. “One of the characters, Violet’s boyfriend named David, he’s completely based on my childhood and current best friend, David Alexander. The rest of them are amalgams of my husband’s family, my family and people from our church.”
Growing up in the South, Spivey says church and religion had a profound effect on her. And it makes an appearance in the show, in a way that might surprise some viewers.
“I grew up in the church my entire life,” she says. “Growing up in the South, you know that Jesus is just everywhere. Even if you aren’t religious, you are just through osmosis. I felt that he should be represented.”
And so he is.
Jenny, who works at a seafood restaurant called the Last Supper, often talks to a mural of the famous painting by Leonardo Da Vinci that graces a wall in the shop. And Jesus answers by stepping out of the wall to talk to Jenny. But rather than being written as preachy and almighty, this Jesus is down to earth, like a friendly cousin, or Chef from “South Park.”
“My sister is a Methodist minister in Statesville and my husband teaches theology,” Spivey says. “They helped me write Jesus. Like how Jesus’ personality would come to life.”
Focusing on a poor, white family, the show tackles issues of class and wealth from the very beginning. In the first episode, the family’s water gets shut off and Jenny scrambles to find a get-rich-quick scheme to pay off their bills.
And while at times the family’s bizarre situations elicit laughs from the audience, Spivey says that the point isn’t to make fun of the family but to relate to them.
“I wanted to pay tribute to the people that I knew growing up,” she says. “Blue collar people are more interesting to me. Maybe it’s because my background is blue collar all the way back. The struggle for the American dream is an interesting story to tell. I don’t want [the show] to be mocking. I try to make it as authentic as possible. I really wanted to make a point that these people love each other and support each other.
“I wanted to tell soulful and funny stories about this place,” Spivey continues. “I hope people like it. It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever done.”
‘Bless the Harts’ premieres on Sunday, Sept. 29 on Fox at 8:30 p.m. ET
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Is that NE Guilford Middle?
Spivey claims everyone will love & relate to these characters. Sure, because everyone relates to hicks who ride around in beat-up pick up trucks & drink wine out of boxes. (Especially in LA!) She wants everyone to love these folks as much as they did the rustic caricatures on the Andy Griffith Show. What young kid of that era DIDN’T want to grow up to be Goober Pyle? Same old crap of the last half century: Hollywood using its power to punch down at the lowest socioeconomic stereotypes of the South.
Welborn Middle that feeds into Andrews was formerly Northeast Middle.
Could NOT agree more! So sick of every Southerner being portrayed as a low-life, ignorant hillbilly redneck who has never read a book, listens to the same 20 songs from high school their entire life, and can’t be bothered to learn anything. Cannot wait to hear the possum recipe episode of this show!
I’m from central NC. I laughed though the whole first episode because it’s pretty dang accurate. Of course there’s charactatures but it’s just supposed to be in good fun. Calm down, relax and have a sweet tea.
Right, follow with a Xanax… lol I am from Asheboro NC lol AKA Trashboro, this show is freaking awesome. She told her story. And yes she showed all classes of people in the show. She centered it on what she grew up doing. That’s what she knew best. Don’t hate good art!! I love this show, when is the next season??