Something peculiar happened to the die-hard, old-school Christopher Guest fans around the release of For Your Consideration: suddenly, they didn’t seem to enjoy the trailblazing comedic filmmaker’s style. As the characters got weirder, from Waiting For Guffman to Best in Show, the tone became more deadpan, until FYC dropped the “mockumentary” conceit completely. In other words, he’d crossed over to straight fiction.
Family Tree, Guest’s half-hour HBO comedy, which premiered with quiet British charm last night, brings back the semblance of interviews with its characters but retains that uncomfortably lived-in feel. It’s not explained right away why, for example, one woman needs a monkey puppet to interact with others, or why Michael McKean is fixated on 1970s BBC sitcoms—this is just how weird our world is.
Holding together the entire mosaic of oddities is The IT Crowd’s Chris O’Dowd, who stars as Tom Chadwick, a can’t-get-over-the-last-girl moper whose budding interest in his genealogy is the MacGuffin for the series: as he explores his roots he is sure to encounter stranger and stranger relatives (especially in the U.S., where it seems he’ll meet a lot more Guest regulars, including the unstoppable Fred Willard). A low-key antidote to the strain and stress of Sunday evening appointment television—what’s not to like, really?