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'Family Tree' review: Christopher Guest's HBO mockumentary smart despite genre's staleness

Tom Chadwick is an affable British-Irish chap stuck in a bad patch. He’s reeling from a breakup, and he’s just been made redundant at his job. His longtime best friend keeps setting him up on disastrous dates with dim-witted women. Tom needs to Move Along, Please!, to borrow the title from his father’s favorite sitcom. Into Tom’s stultifying life drops a box of heirlooms bequeathed by a dead great-aunt. He begins investigating the knotty roots of his screwy family history, which takes this hangdog Homer on an absurdly funny odyssey into oddball quarters and pastimes (pantomime horse racing, anyone?). Tom, a product of his reality TV/self-documenting generation, allows a film crew to record his journey of discovery. Look, everybody! I’m interesting!

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Christopher Guest's 'Family Tree': Round up the usual (hilarious) suspects! -- VIDEO

The king of improv feature films, Christopher Guest, is coming to HBO this May with Family Tree. The new comedy series stars Chris O’Dowd, who you might know from Bridesmaids or Girls, as a man who “gets a box of treasures” and becomes obsessed with his family’s history.

In our spring preview issue, Guest told EW that each episode has an eight-page outline and the rest is improv. “But we’ve written a huge back history for every character, which took us six or eight months to come up with,” Guest explained. “We’ve done an entire family tree going back to the 1700s.”

Watch the fun teaser below: READ FULL STORY

HBO picks up Christopher Guest comedy starring Chris O'Dowd

Filmmaker Christopher Guest is bringing his quirky sense of humor to the small-screen. HBO has placed a straight-to-series order for a new single-camera, documentary-style comedy from Guest, the director behind For Your Consideration and Best in Show, a rep for the network confirms.

The half-hour series, Family Tree, will star Bridesmaids actor Chris O’Dowd, as a recently jobless (and single!) 30-year-old who begins investigating his family lineage after receiving a mysterious box from a great aunt he never met. His research leads him to uncover a slew of unusual stories and characters, which in turn help him to establish a better sense of identity.

Both Guest and co-exec producer Jim Piddock are set to appear on the series, which will also air on BBC2. Karen Murphy, who worked with Guest on Best in Show and other projects, will also co-produce.

No word yet on when the show is set to premiere, but we’re already looking forward to the very special dog episode.

Read More:
Michael J. Fox returning to series TV
NBC developing drama about Cleopatra
Larry David doing HBO movie (but not more ‘Curb’ anytime soon)

Fred Willard holds court in 'Trust Us With Your Life'

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Fred Willard is the comedic acting equivalent of sprinkles. He simply makes things that are already good even better. His bloviating, bench-pressing dog-show TV commentator in Christopher Guest’s Best in Show might be his most indelible character, but the four-time Emmy nominee has injected his unique brand of humor into episodes of some of the greatest sitcoms of the last 40 years, from Get Smart to Roseanne to Modern Family. (Of course he was Phil Dunphy’s dad.)

Tonight, the man who once supervised Ron Burgundy’s Channel 4 News team will preside over another three-ring circus as the host of ABC’s Trust Us With Your Life. Part talk-show and part Who’s Line is it Anyway?, Trust invites celebrities like David Hasselhoff, Ricky Gervais, and Serena Williams to reveal memorable or potentially embarrassing moments of their lives. As host, Willard waits for a juicy anecdote, and then tasks Wayne Brady, Colin Mochrie, and a team of improv experts to re-enact it. “These guys jump up, take just one thing from the actor’s life and in one minute — bang, bang, bang — just do impressions, do voices,” says Willard. “Improv has just evolved into such a sharp point now. It was just phenomenal.”

Willard doesn’t himself join the improv fun; he’s too invested in playing Merv Griffin. “I’m the one who seems to be very smart,” jokes Willard, who admits that he got so fascinated by his guests’ responses that he sometimes forget to pivot to the improv games. But just because he stayed seated doesn’t mean his guests had to. “Ricky Gervais was the one performer you almost had to restrain from getting up on to the stage,” says Willard. “In fact, I think he did jump on to the stage at one point. He kept saying, ‘I can’t believe this. I’ve never done a show like this. Everything I do has to be planned.’ So they actually brought him up and put him into one of the improvs. He was like a dog on a leash who sees a piece of meat.”

Trust Us With Your Life premieres tonight with two back-to-back episodes beginning at 9 p.m. ET on ABC. Serena Williams and Jack & Kelly Osbourne are the first night’s guests. Check out a surreal sketch where the improv actors are comically handicapped in their performances by lying on the floor opposite a camera that makes them seem upright. (It makes sense when you see it.) READ FULL STORY

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