To me, Christopher Guest is a Comedy God. This is Spinal Tap, Waiting For Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, For Your Consideration – Guest’s brand of improvisational comedy, the “mockumentary” – well, I’ve loved his work ever since he was one of the writers and cast of National Lampoon’s Lemmings (which I saw live) in the early 70s.
If you haven’t already heard, he’s now directing and co-writing a new TV series called Family Tree. The first episode aired on HBO over the weekend. The basic premise is that Tom Chadwick is an out-of-work just-dumped-by-his-girlfriend 30 year old who inherits a chest full of crap from his recently deceased great aunt. He realizes that the items in the chest provide clues to his family history and, with nothing better to do, starts investigating them. This being a Christopher Guest comedy, you’ve probably already guessed (sorry) that Chadwick will encounter a motley collection of oddball characters along his journey. There’s his father, a failed inventor – rather an old premise but nicely played here by Michael McKean – and his sister, who does a ventriloquism thing with a stuffed monkey that’s funnier than it probably sounds.
The lead in the series is played by Chris O’Dowd, who you’ll recognize from This is 40, Bridesmaids and others. The writing is a collaboration between Guest and British actor Jim Piddock, who has a nice small role in the first episode. I see that Fred Willard is going to be in two episodes and I can’t wait for those.
It’s hard to judge a sitcom from just a single episode, but for the most part this seems promising. My only problem? Guest’s work has been so influential, especially when you think about Larry David and Ricky Gervais. Maybe it’s because of all of the British accents here (the show is set in London – btw Guest, though born in the U.S., was a member of the House of Lords until the system changed in 1999) but I kept thinking about The Office and Extras as I was watching this. This happens – you influence others and they in turn influence you. And some of the humor seems a bit easy – the ventriloquism jokes, the failed inventions.
But I’ve always liked O’Dowd, I’ve always loved Guest, and I’m willing to continue watching this show to see where it goes.