Family Tree: HBO brings Christopher Guest mockumentary style to TV

Family Tree
Sundays beginning May 12
HBO, 10:30pm ET

The Christopher Guest troupe of actors from films like Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show and For Your Consideration seem like a little family all their own. So it’s only appropriate that they finally got around to making a show about a family.

With Family Tree, Guest brings his celebrated improv mockumentary style to HBO, along with actors such as Michael McKean, Fred Willard, Bob Balaban and Ed Begley Jr., in a story about 30-year-old Tom Chadwick (Chris O’Dowd), a British man who has recently lost his job and his girlfriend. But when a great aunt he never knew leaves him a box of belongings, it leads Tom on a quest to track down various members of his family — many of whom possess that earnest cluelessness that is a signature of Guest’s characters.

While O’Dowd, who has made a splash with recent roles in Bridesmaids and Girls, says he was thrilled to work with Guest, the opportunity didn’t come without a bit of intimidation.

“It’s tricky, because everybody else is so good and I am new to it,” O’Dowd says. “But it’s intimidating also in that you do start every day afresh. … You don’t know what’s going to happen in the moment in a specific scene and you are meeting these characters for the first time. You don’t know what the characters are like and where they are going to bring it. That’s tricky but very, very fun. You go to work every day not knowing how it’s going to end, which is really nice.”

Guest, who based the idea for the show on his real life, says some people have a misconception about his style of writing and directing, that it’s completely script-free. But he gives his characters extensive backgrounds and histories that the actors must then use to generate the dialogue.

“Those are sacrosanct,” Guest says. “Those can’t be changed. This isn’t just people showing up and messing around. This is quite strict in the way you have to do [it]. Every scene has a point. It just doesn’t meander.”

Chris O'Dowd Family Tree HBO

Photo: Credit: Ray Burmiston/HBO

1 Comment

  1. O’Dowd did a great job in Family Tree and I can’t wait to see what his character discovers on his trip through family history.

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