When “Family Tree” premiered on HBO on May 12, it marked the first time Christopher Guest has worked on a television series in over two decades. After initially coming up with the idea for the series, Guest came out of semi-retirement so he could develop the show for HBO and BBC Two with frequent collaborator Jim Piddock and expand his mockumentary style to the small screen.
Zap2it had the chance to speak to Piddock following the series premiere of “Family Tree.” He co-created, wrote and starred in the first season’s eight episodes, and revealed some key teasers about what viewers have in store of they tune in. It sounds like there are some crazy storylines on the way that definitely pay off.
1. A Christopher Guest regular will appear on the series
“The biggest tease of all is one of Christopher’s regular ensemble troupe members bares his naked rear end. It’s actually a body double, that’s the secret, but I’m not going to tell you which one [of Guest’s regulars appears],” Piddock reveals. “Let me just say there was an audition for the body double — for the butt double — and thank god we did use the butt double.” An HBO image reveals that Fred Willard will be on the show in episode 5, but it’s unclear if he’s the one who’s behind will be seen.
2. Episode 2’s pantomime horse relatives are inspired by Piddock’s family
In episode 2, Tom will learn about a relative who was an actor, and it turns out that family member was inspired by someone in Piddock’s life. “My grandfather was called Harry and he was in regional theater,” he says. “He wasn’t the back end of a pantomime horse, but he actually had an act with Charlie Chaplin, a kind of musical act. He actually was, in the end, relatively successful, but it was still on that regional touring circuit in England and that kind of nomadic life.”
3. Similarly, episode 4’s family members are inspired by Piddock
“There was also a family split where two brothers of that generation didn’t talk to each other for various reasons, and so that kind of plays into what we do in episode 4,” Piddock explains. “One of my uncles who didn’t speak to another was called Brian, and we actually called that character Brian. Probably someone in my family is going to be offended.”
4. Episodes 5 through 8 take place in California
While the first four episodes of “Family Tree” take place in the United Kingdom, the final four will take place in California. We won’t reveal why Tom ends up there, but Piddock promises that we will “find out various other unusual and surprising things about his family.”
5. There will be a Civil War reenactment
“We have a wonderful episode where one of his cousins is into Civil War reenactments, so as a tribute to his great-grandfather he takes part in a Civil War reenactment,” Piddock explains of episode 6, “Civil War.” “[Tom] tries to keep the secret from everybody that he’s found out that his great-great-grandfather fought on both sides — actually in the same battle, he was listed for both sides.” He adds, “There’s some spectacular epic scenes with five hundred to a thousand extras in them.”
6. Tom will meet a love interest
Tom doesn’t have the best of luck in the love department, and he still is having a difficult time getting over his ex. Fortunately things will take a turn for the better when Tom meets a woman who catches his eye. “He falls in love — well, not falls in love. He meets someone that is clearly a romantic interest, which is set up in the first four as being an area of his life that is not working,” Piddock says.
7. Someone in Tom’s history might be a Native American
“Without giving too much away, [Tom] starts to believe at one point that he has — and with very good reason — Native American heritage, and so he goes off to a reservation with Graham Greene playing the chief and this old guy playing the shaman, and just getting into the whole Indian culture and discovering what part of him is that — or not that,” Piddock teases of episode 7, “Indians.” “There is also some interesting stuff with both cowboys and Indians.”
8. Season 1 has a cliffhanger ending
Expect to want to immediately know what happens in Season 2 when episode 8 of “Family Tree” ends. “There is a bit of a cliffhanger at the end of Season 1,” Piddock teases.
9. Piddock and Guest have plans that will keep future seasons interesting
Though Tom seems to be going through a different member of his lineage an episode, Piddock says fans shouldn’t expect “Family Tree” to burn out of Chadwick past family members quickly in future seasons. “The good news is you can go backwards or sideways, and the sideways keeps you in the contemporary and the backwards sends you into other worlds in the past,” he says. “[Guest and I] do have some ideas, absolutely. We do have some big ideas that will be arcs throughout the show, and some specific ideas for each particular episode.”
10. The series will end with a surprise twist
Piddock and Guest don’t know how long “Family Tree” will run, but when it does end they already have the perfect finale in mind. “I think, between he and I — we haven’t told anyone else, I don’t think — we do know how the final episode will end, and it’s just kind of a nice twist ending,” Piddock says. “It’s a perfect ending, and we know that, whether it be at the end of — well, let’s hope we get one more season at least because it will be either the end of Season 2 or the end of Season 53, I don’t know.”
“Family Tree” airs on HBO on Sundays at 10:30 p.m.