Family Tree: Characters that aren't so everyday

Tuesday 23 July 2013, 10:02

Christopher Guest Christopher Guest Writer

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A lot of people have asked me what my role in Family Tree was. Actually, only one person has asked me and that was my wife.

Basically, I co-wrote, directed, and executive produced Family Tree. I also co-wrote the song at the end of the show.

I have always been interested in genealogy, and after my dad died I began looking into my family history. He left me many boxes filled with photographs, diaries, war medals, and his toy soldiers.

I met with Jim Piddock, my co-writer, and we began to lay out a story. We created a fictional family and their entire family tree going back many generations.

Jim Piddock and Chris O'Dowd Antiquarian Mr Pfister (Jim Piddock) isn't sure about Tom Chadwick's (Chris O'Dowd) fashion choices

It was a real joy working with Jim and it felt as though we had been writing partners for a very long time.

We spent many months coming up with the names of characters and trying to figure out their back stories, such as where they went to school, and what kind of music they liked.

There are many scenes in the show that stand out as favourites.

The dates Chris O'Dowd goes out on, Nina Conti performing her ventriloquist act at a Greek wedding, and Tom Bennett (Chris O'Dowd's best friend) working at a children's zoo.

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Tom's date shares her unconventional views on dinosaurs

The main character in the show is Tom Chadwick played by Chris O'Dowd. I first met Chris in London over a year ago and realised instantly that he would be perfect for the role.

I was searching for an actor who was funny, endearing, and who could improvise. Chris was able to do all those things brilliantly. A very rare thing.

The method I use as a filmmaker, shooting without a script but rather having a series of outlines, was used in the making of Family Tree.

I discuss the scenes in great detail with the actors but there is actually no rehearsal. I've often compared it to musicians improvising together.

The actors must listen to one another very closely and know when to solo, if at all.

Chris O'Dowd and Nina Conti with monkey puppet Tom with his sister Bea Chadwick (Nina Conti) and Monkey, her hand puppet and constant companion

I always knew Nina Conti would be involved. Or hoped she would. The part of Bea was created for her.

Nina appeared in For Your Consideration, a film I directed, and she was fantastic. It's amazing to behold her talents as a ventriloquist and as an actress as well.

Jim Piddock and I wanted to populate the show with eccentric characters. We read somewhere that creating dull characters wasn't as good an idea.

Characters come from years of observing everyday people. Apparently they aren't so everyday after all.

It's difficult to pick one character that I am most fond of. I think they all work well together.

Christopher Guest directed, co-created and co-wrote Family Tree. He is also is one of the executive producers for the series.

Family Tree continues on Tuesdays on BBC Two and BBC Two HD at 9pm and BBC Two NI at 11.20pm. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Investigated why such gentle, sly humour managed to
    provoke such uncontrollable laughter followed by well-being.
    Mystery solved - director/writer Christopher Guest.
    Best in Show still best unsung comedy of all time.

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    Comment number 2.

    I just LOVED this, and I'm hard to please. It's smart, gentle, gloriously cast. I've seen all Guests movies and he' s a genius.

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    Comment number 3.

    For shame Christopher Guest, my 16 year old daughter turned off Family Tree after the crass joke ref. hare lip, she was born with one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    This is so funny and gentle.. quite brilliant

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    Comment number 5.

    I too was very surprised by the hare lip 'joke'. Lazy comedy that just serves to reinforce outdated stereotypes. I wonder how this joke would have been received had the person been described as black? And why should there be any difference? A cleft Lip is something a person is born with, it's not a lifestyle choice.

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    Comment number 6.

    I love this type of comedy and Chris O'Dowd is perfect in the role. Pity about the harelip comment, I couldn't call it a joke!

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    Comment number 7.

    Last nights programme was spoiled at the very start by the foul language used by Nina Conti, I fail to see the relevance to programme. Was it really necessary?

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    Comment number 8.

    Unimaginative and banal. Possibly only made because it's from Christopher Guest, a comparatively big name and a ratings draw. I sometimes wonder if these new comedies ( Badults, Cuckoo etc..) are ever previewed by actual people or just humourless sycophants..

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    Comment number 9.

    Absolutely love this.It's classic and such funny and easy rapports between the characters. Hope there will be a second series!

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    Comment number 10.

    I'll have to watch them again. I must have missed the cleft-lip joke. Which episode was that in? Either that or I wasn't offended by it. I think Monk is funny when he just 'comes out' with inappropriate stuff, but agree I did find the absolute stream at the start of episode 3 was a bit more over the top than needed.

    But in general I think the show is witty and clever comedy that you have to think about rather than just sit there and get hit by obvious gags. Chris O'Dowd's piece about black holes was very poignant and Barbara Bolton as Mildred Budgens was fantastic. Great acting and it looked like Chris was having trouble keeping a straight face as she carried on regardless of Pete Stupples' (Tom Bennett) ranting on. And his sparring bout near the end of the show was hilarious. Really looking forward to seeing the rest of the series and hopefully more (although I agree with an earlier poster about Cuckoo - un-funniest thing I've ever seen).

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    Comment number 11.

    not an hilarious show, a bit too slow burning for me. Love Chris O'Dowd and Christopher Guest, but wonder what the Yanks will make of it??

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    Comment number 12.

    To me this wonderful sitcom is filed under the same genre as 'The Office' - Cringeworthy viewing that I just can't turn away from. Chris O'Dowd does 'awkward' brillantly and the disturbed sister truly disturbs me. Great stuff!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Wonderful comedy - brilliant actors! I hope there will be many episodes. (For goodness sake those of you fretting about the hare lip joke - the whole comedy of this is the cringe factor!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    The template is divided into different sections as follows: Individual, Parents, Spouses and Children, Siblings, Family Link, Extended Family, Notes, Sources, and Family Tree Preview.

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    Comment number 15.

    have to say have been very disappointed with some of our british comedy since probably "the office", we do comedy quiz shows well but seem to have lost the plot when it comes to real comedy but this made a very dull day make me smile and put my faith back in the wonderful british sense of humour oh yea and I have american relatives and have been to a few civil war re-enactments, they live near gettysburg so made it even more smile worthy

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    Comment number 16.

    have enjoyed this series very much, both the writing and the brilliant Chris O'Dowd and Nina Conti - and it's given extra piquancy for me as Christopher Guest and I sit on the same family tree (my great-grandmother is his grandmother's sister) and there are lots of intriguing stories there too.

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    Comment number 17.

    I so loved this show, don't recall the hare lip incident. Just flawlessly absurd and very very funny. The tall and short Abraham Lincoln's having a fight, brilliant. The Christopher Guest repertory company always magnificent and never more so than here. I have enjoyed everything Christopher Guest has done since Spinal Tap and Mighty Wind was a masterpiece. I guess as Danny Baker once said of "The Simpsons" "it is not for everybody" Which is a good thing really. Finally, Ron Sexsmith singing the song at the end....? What is not to love here..?
    Really hope there is a second series.

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    Comment number 18.

    This was definitely a 'grower' - more we watched it, the better it got. Love the excerpts from sitcoms etc and the episodes in USA, and the scene where Monkey Skypes Tom is beautifully done. I also really hope there is a 2nd series.


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