This weekend Squidbillies wraps up what has to be the unlikeliest 16-year run of any show in TV history. Dave Willis and Jim Fortier’s cartoon about a family of redneck squids living in North Georgia seems to have been created specifically for residents of the Peach State. It’s full of references and in-jokes that presumably fly over the head of anybody who’s not at least familiar with Georgia, its people and their culture, but also still broadly hilarious enough to appeal to Adult Swim’s wider audience. During an era where the homogenization of culture continued to speed up, Squidbillies somehow cranked out 13 nationally broadcast seasons of intensely local comedy.
When asked about that regional focus during an interview full of absurd answers (an example: “We originally pitched the network a saga spanning 131 episodes and we ended up making 132, so you could say we officially exceeded our expectations”), Fortier and Willis get slightly serious. “We grew up here and channeled our experiences from growing up in Conyers into the North Georgia setting,” they tell Paste via email. “We cast Daniel McDevitt, our friend from high school, as the voice of Rusty. We recruited friends from high school David Powell and Brad Burch to help with the music. Jim and Daniel went to UGA together, so a lot of Early’s Bulldog fandom came from that—we all grew up rooting for the Dawgs and Herschel Walker (right up until he announced his bid to run for senate—and that’s when we stopped).”
It’s that local connection that made Squidbillies’ grotesque depiction of North Georgia hill country feel perversely loving. Yes, Dougal County is truly bleak, with Early Cuyler and his clan coming off like Tobacco Road as filtered through the provocative sensibility of ‘70s underground comic books. If this show was made by anybody who wasn’t from Georgia, it would just piss a lot of people off. Instead you can tell the show’s ridiculous and exaggerated take on redneck stereotypes isn’t necessarily meant to disrespect anybody or any part of Georgia; if anything, it’s so over-the-top in its embrace of the silliest southern stereotypes that it’s actually commenting on how inherently ridiculous those stereotypes are.
Still, as far as Squidbillies has been willing to go to both lampoon the most obvious hillbilly clichés and wear its Georgia-ness on its sleeve, there are some lines Fortier and Willis wouldn’t cross. And of course one of them involved college football. As they told us, “We had an episode idea where Early captures all the mascots of the SEC and forces them into a human centipede, but we worried it would make his character ‘too unlikable’.”
This final season of Squidbillies has been one of its weirdest. It’s still as funny as ever, but the main role of Early Cuyler was recast after the actor Unknown Hinson wrote some unhinged tweets that made him look like both a racist and a Dolly Parton hater. Instead of finding another Southern comedian to take over and try to replicate Early’s long-established voice, Fortier and Willis went in the exact opposite direction, casting Tracy Morgan as their lead squidbilly for its final episodes. “We’ve been fans of Tracy’s work on SNL and 30 Rock—he generally steals everything he’s in,” they tell Paste. “So when we had a position to fill, we thought of him. Everything he says is funny, which makes it easy for us as writers.” Morgan’s unmistakable voice does not make any sense whatsoever for the character, which is what makes it so hilarious to hear him on the show.
With the show’s two-episode finale airing this Sunday night, we asked Fortier and Willis to get nostalgic and share their favorite memories from its 16-year run. Unsurprisingly, many of them have to do with music; one of the defining traits of Squidbillies was how a different musician did a version of its theme song for almost every episode. Here’s what they listed.
1. Watching “The Possum” George Jones apply his velvet voice to the theme song with a studio full of legendary Nashville killers.
2. Working with the legendary Billy Joe Shaver every time his van pulled through town.
3. Whenever we directed Jason Isbell, we would pinch ourselves.
4. The live table read on the Outlaw Country Cruise with Elizabeth Cook.
5. Watching Alan Steadman direct Elizabeth’s music video “Thick Georgia Woman” with Kevn Kinney and the world-famous Blondie (The Clairmont Lounge stripper, not the ‘80s new wave band) in Dave’s parents’ barn.
6. Shooting the pre-session shit with Shawn Coleman and Mary Kraft.
7. Listening to Bad Bobby Ellerbee unspool stories about hanging out with Lynyrd Skynyrd, Blackfoot and countless other Southern Rock luminaires when he was a DJ in the ‘80s. (If you see him, ask him about the time he saved Gary Rossington’s life).
8. Directing Larry Munson as the voice of God.
9. Unveiling the Squidbillies Monument at Cartecay River Pizza Company in Ellijay, GA – a tribute that will stand forever, or until a fraternity big enough and drunk enough can move it.
10. And of course, who can forget the flood of Emmy nominations? Each one, a thrill.
Despite this being the end of Squidbillies’ original run on Adult Swim, Willis and Fortier are leaving the door open for a return to Dougal County. “Cartoons never die,” they tell us. “Look at Scooby Doo. We’ll be back. Watch your back.” That’s something Willis has some personal experience with; one of his other Adult Swim shows, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, ended in 2015, but will return with an original film for HBO Max next year. This might be goodbye for now to Early, Rusty, and Granny, but who knows what the future holds. (Hopefully a national title for the Georgia Bulldogs, of course.)
Before you go, though, here’s a short preview of one of the two episodes premiering on Adult Swim this Sunday night. This is from the second-to-last episode, which airs at 12 a.m. on Sunday night (Monday morning), Dec. 12. The final episode follows immediately at 12:15 a.m.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.