Preview: Family Tree
You haven't seen Best In Show, This is Spinal Tap, or A Mighty Wind? Fix that first, then come back and read this. Now you're familiar with Christopher Guest and Michael McKean.
You haven't seen Bridesmaids or Girls? Um fix that second, then come back and read this. Now you'll recognize Chris O'Dowd. You might also know him from The IT Crowd, in which case good on you.
This combination of producer, director, and actor is magical and it's called Family Tree, airing Sunday nights on HBO. Fans of Christopher Guest won't be surprised by the mockumentary style of TV. He was actually one of the first to employ this device, influencing a slew of creators after him (Greg Daniels, Ricky Gervais etc), and now the style is ubiquitous on your screen.
Guest and Co breathe new life into the concept even while keeping the story simple. O'Dowd plays Tom Chadwick, your typical mumbly underachieving, manchild in his 30's. After inheriting a box full of family "treasures" from his newly deceased aunt, Tom's identity crisis takes shape into a quest to find out about his ancestors. If you can watch O'Dowd react to his bevy of wacky characters, including some incredibly awkward and crazy blind dates, and find his reaction shots hysterical, this is the show for you.
Rounding out the cast is Michael McKean as Tom's dad and Nina Conti, complete with Monkey on hand, as his sister. The show quickly establishes an amazing world of characters, which expands every week much to my delight. The cast also improvises their dialogue and Guest has made sure the ensemble can carry the stories. The show flirts with the line between enduring and twee, but errs on the Rushmore side of Wes Anderson instead of Moonlight Kingdom. Much like Gene Wilder, Guest invites you to step into his world of pure imagination, and oh, what a lovely world it is.
Favorite recurring gag: The fake TV shows Tom's dad watches. So far, we've seen a terrible Big Bang-esque show about an Anglo-Indian couple, a rowdy cop show, and The Plantangenets. I know missed several so keep a keen eye out.
Second favorite recurring gag: Tom's Awkward Blind Date of the Week. So far, a woman who believes in the Loch Ness Monster (paging Marshall Erikson) and a woman super into bones. This part was particularly useful while "studying" for an anatomy test.
Verdict: Watch. Only 8 episodes. You've already watched Arrested Development. Twice. You've got the time.