As Nigel Tufnel, the raddled English rocker who wants his amp to go “one louder”, Christopher Guest secured his place in Hollywood comedy lore. Now the writer of This Is Spinal Tap has been lured to BBC2 for a new “mockumentary” television series, starring the in-demand actor, Chris O’Dowd.
The BBC announced that Guest, who spent much of his childhood in London, will make his debut for the corporation with Family Tree, an eight-part comedy series, co-written and co-created by the California-based star.
Shot in the same, fake-documentary, single camera style as This Is Spinal Tap, Family Tree partners Guest with O’Dowd, the IT Crowd actor from Ireland, who has been elevated to the movie world’s A-list following his breakthrough role in the hit film Bridesmaids.
Family Tree follows the journey of 30-year-old Tom Chadwick (O’Dowd), who suffers a crisis of identity after losing his job and girlfriend.
When Chadwick inherits a mysterious box of belongings from a great aunt that he never met, he starts investigating his family lineage and uncovers a whole world of unusual stories and characters, allied to a growing sense of who he is and who his real family are.
The series, which will require the actors to improvise material, is a partnership with HBO, the US cable channel behind Game Of Thrones and The Wire.
Co-written by Jim Piddock, Guest’s collaborator on Best In Show, his 2000 comic film about dog competitions, Family Tree will also feature Nina Conti, the comedian daughter of Tom, as Chadwick’s sister Bea and Tom Bennett (The Hunt For Tony Blair, Phoneshop) playing his best friend Pete.
The trans-Atlantic production will also feature Guest’s regular big-screen comic collaborators including Fred Willard, Ed Begley Jr. and Michael McKean, who played guitarist Michael St. Hubbins in This Is Spinal Tap.
Janice Hadlow, Controller BBC2, said: “I am delighted to welcome Christopher Guest to BBC Television. It will be his first television series for British audiences and one I am proud to have here on the BBC. It has a stellar cast led by the fantastic Chris O’Dowd and is an exciting collaboration with NBCU International and HBO. Family Tree will form a key part of the channel’s comedy next year.”
Guest, who will write, direct and appear in the series, said: “I am also delighted to welcome myself to BBC Television. I am very lucky to be working with an incredibly talented cast. Chris O’Dowd has been on my radar ever since he was a child actor in Wales.”
The 64 year-old enjoys strong ties with Britain. The son of the 4th Baron Haden-Guest, a British diplomat attached to the United Nations, Christopher spent long periods of his childhood in the United Kingdom.
Inheriting his father’s title, Guest regularly attended the House of Lords, with his wife, the actress Jamie Lee Curtis, until the majority of hereditary peers lost their right to sit in 1999.
After the success of the 1984 heavy metal spoof, Guest turned his satirical eye to the folk boom of the early 60s with A Mighty Wind (2003) and Hollywood’s pretensions in For Your Consideration (2006).
Chris O’Dowd said: “I’m terribly excited and monumentally under-qualified to work on an improvised show with Chris Guest. I call him Chris ‘coz we are friends. He calls me George. I don’t know why.” Filming on Family Tree will continue until early next year, on location in the UK and Los Angeles, with the show due to air on BBC2 and HBO next Spring.
Family Tree is BBC2’s second comedy collaboration with a US studio. Episodes, the television industry satire, starring Matt LeBlanc and Stephen Mangan, produced with the Showtime cable network, has been commissioned for a third series.