Jack McBrayer evokes Mister Rogers with Apple TV show ‘Hello Jack!’

Jack McBrayer is host of a new AppleTV+ show "Hello Jack!" targeting pre-schoolers in the mold of "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood." APPLE TV+

Credit: APPLT

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Jack McBrayer is host of a new AppleTV+ show "Hello Jack!" targeting pre-schoolers in the mold of "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood." APPLE TV+

Credit: APPLT

The former Conyers resident brings out child-like wonder as host.

There was only one Fred Rogers, known to the world for decades as Mister Rogers. He gave pre-schoolers a warm, safe place to learn about positive and negative emotions, right and wrong, fantasy and reality.

Jack McBrayer, who grew up in Conyers and graduated Heritage High School in 1991, has his own distinctly sweet, nonthreatening persona captured in a new Apple TV+ show called “Hello Jack! The Kindness Show.” The show for young kids incorporates elements of both “Sesame Street” and “Mister Rogers Neighborhood.”

The first seven episodes debuted in November with 11 more to come at a future date.

“We want to just remind kids about how easy it is to say and do kind things,” McBrayer said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Any time you greet someone sincerely and warmly, that is the most basic and common way to express kindness. I wanted that right up top with the name ‘Hello Jack!’”

McBrayer did years of improv in Chicago and New York in his 20s, before Tina Fey gave him his big break at age 33 on her NBC hit show “30 Rock” casting him as lovably naïve Kenneth the Page. It’s a role he embraced over seven seasons and 138 episodes.

He has since done plenty of voice-over work in the “Wreck-it Ralph” films and animated shows such as “Puppy Dog Pals,” “Bob’s Burgers” and “Big Mouth.” He has also worked regularly with Atlanta-based Adult Swim, appearing on various shows including a short-lived series paired with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. More recently, he spent six months performing in London in the musical version of “Waitress.”

But this particular kids show idea has been percolating in his mind for several years.

“I started noticing how grownups were behaving towards each other and I couldn’t help but sense a lack of compassion and a lack of civility and a lack of kindness in these day-to-day interactions,” McBrayer said. “I started thinking about when we as human beings start learning these lessons. I started thinking of the TV shows we grew up with like ‘Sesame Street’ and ‘Electric Company.’”

But “Mister Rogers” was the beacon: “He was a grown man speaking directly to me, the home viewer, in a very gentle way about these wonderful things, about feelings, empathy, fears and questions. It was a very unique show and he was a very unique individual.”

McBrayer had naturally seen the lauded documentary about Rogers “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” and the Tom Hanks-led biopic “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”

“I make no claims to be any Fred Rogers,” he said. “I’m Jack McBrayer but I wanted to honor that message, emulate what Mister Rogers was able to do with his show and put a McBrayer spin on it. And it’s 2021. Life is different. How can we address these universal concepts in a modern way?”

One homage to Mister Rogers, who would create make-believe scenes using puppets, was his show’s animated sequences, which he called “shared imagination moments” where he foresees what could possibly happen later in the episode.

McBrayer needed help to make his vision a reality. He collaborated with Angela Santomero, who helped create classic kid shows such as “Blue’s Clues” and “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” She fell in love with McBrayer’s idea immediately. “It was the way he looked at me through the camera,” she said. “It was his infectious smile and his passion.”

“Hello Jack!” is based in a brightly colored town called Clover Grove, where residents all practice kindness and sing frequently. McBrayer runs the Hummingbird Café where he interacts with musician Bebe (Markita Prescott) and chef Theo (Albert Kong). A coterie of elementary school kids propel the plotlines as well.

Each episode features a dilemma and Jack guides the viewers and the residents using the tools of kindness to overcome whatever obstacles they face. After a short intro, McBrayer sings “Try A Little Act of Kindness” written by pop band OK Go, most famous for its 2009 music video featuring the band members doing elaborate choreography using treadmills. (OK Go, in fact, created all the original music.)

In one episode, the café holds a weekly Friday Feast but chef Theo injured his arm, requiring everyone to pitch in to ensure the feast still happens. And even when Jack accidentally drops the pizza into a vegetable tray, they figure out the combo works anyway. In another episode, Jack and his friends surprise homesick new resident Mr. Prickles with a new garden. In a third, Jack gives a disappointed Sonia a chance to sing at his café when her concert was cancelled.

The show is also infused with clovers, as noted by the name of the town. Why? It’s truly a good-luck charm for McBrayer, who had a knack for finding four-leaf clovers in the wild while growing up.

“The trick is to be patient and to pay attention,” he said. “Over the years, I’ve collected well over 300 of them. I always keep one in my wallet, and I love giving them as gifts. People kind of can’t believe they’re real!”

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Cast members from the "Hello Jack!" show on Apple TV+. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: Sami Drasin

Cast members from the "Hello Jack!" show on Apple TV+. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: Sami Drasin

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Cast members from the "Hello Jack!" show on Apple TV+. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: Sami Drasin

Credit: Sami Drasin

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Ashley Ward, a good friend of Jack McBrayer from Heritage High School, plays Delivery Dolores (left) in the series "Hello Jack! The Kindness Show" on Apple TV+ The girl in the middle is Remington Hunt, who plays Sonia. APPLE TV+

Credit: APPLE TV+

Ashley Ward, a good friend of Jack McBrayer from Heritage High School, plays Delivery Dolores (left) in the series "Hello Jack! The Kindness Show" on Apple TV+ The girl in the middle is Remington Hunt, who plays Sonia. APPLE TV+

Credit: APPLE TV+

caption arrowCaption
Ashley Ward, a good friend of Jack McBrayer from Heritage High School, plays Delivery Dolores (left) in the series "Hello Jack! The Kindness Show" on Apple TV+ The girl in the middle is Remington Hunt, who plays Sonia. APPLE TV+

Credit: APPLE TV+

Credit: APPLE TV+

And what makes McBrayer especially happy is he managed to get several Heritage High graduates involved in the project.

Ashley Ward was one of his best friends at Heritage after he moved to Conyers in 10th grade. They went together to junior prom and senior homecoming as friends. She has been a stage actor for many years and nabbed the recurring role of Delivery Dolores in a purple jumpsuit on “Hello Jack!”

Ward remembers meeting McBrayer his first day at Heritage. “I didn’t understand his name because he talked so softly,” she recalled. “I had to ask him four times. He graduated as the most popular kid in school. "

They stayed in touch over the years and she recalled being in awe visiting the “30 Rock” set and meeting the cast.

McBrayer also commissioned his high school friend Claudia Childs Wilson, who does pottery as a business out of Shady Dale, Georgia, to create pottery items for his fictional café. And Heritage High grad Brooke Posch was part of the production team.

McBrayer said having familiar faces around was a comfort for him since this was the most responsibility he has ever had on a set as lead actor, creative force and executive producer.

“That’s why he was so excited to have me,” Ward said. “I was someone who spoke the same comedic language as him. We could riff and goof around.”

Apple TV+ has not yet renewed the show for a second season but feedback has been positive.

“The show may feel a bit slow and repetitive to adults,” writes Ashley Moulton of Common Sense Media, “but this allows the main social-emotional message to be repeated for maximum kid comprehension... grown-ups shouldn’t be surprised if they get roped into their kids’ kindness missions after they watch the episode. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing; couldn’t we all use a little more kindness in our lives?”

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Jack McBrayer was voted "most congenial" among the Heritage High School Class of 1991 yearbook "senior superlatives." HERITAGE HIGH SCHOOL 1991 YEAROOK

Credit: CLASS OF 1991 HERI

Jack McBrayer was voted "most congenial" among the Heritage High School Class of 1991 yearbook "senior superlatives." HERITAGE HIGH SCHOOL 1991 YEAROOK

Credit: CLASS OF 1991 HERI

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Jack McBrayer was voted "most congenial" among the Heritage High School Class of 1991 yearbook "senior superlatives." HERITAGE HIGH SCHOOL 1991 YEAROOK

Credit: CLASS OF 1991 HERI

Credit: CLASS OF 1991 HERI

caption arrowCaption
Jack McBrayer was a popular kid at Heritage High School and won the "most original" senior superlative with his friend Ashley Ward. Ward said the editors made a mistake. They had actually won "wittiest." HERITAGE HIGH SCHOOL 1991 YEARBOOK

Credit: HERITAGE HIGH SCHOOL 1991 YEAROO

Jack McBrayer was a popular kid at Heritage High School and won the "most original" senior superlative with his friend Ashley Ward. Ward said the editors made a mistake. They had actually won "wittiest."  HERITAGE HIGH SCHOOL 1991 YEARBOOK

Credit: HERITAGE HIGH SCHOOL 1991 YEAROO

caption arrowCaption
Jack McBrayer was a popular kid at Heritage High School and won the "most original" senior superlative with his friend Ashley Ward. Ward said the editors made a mistake. They had actually won "wittiest." HERITAGE HIGH SCHOOL 1991 YEARBOOK

Credit: HERITAGE HIGH SCHOOL 1991 YEAROO

Credit: HERITAGE HIGH SCHOOL 1991 YEAROO


WHERE TO WATCH

“Hello Jack! The Kindness Show,” available for Apple TV+ subscribers

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