With The Guest Book, Greg Garcia Embraces Peak TV’s Latest Trend: The Passion Project

TV Features The Guest Book
With The Guest Book, Greg Garcia Embraces Peak TV’s Latest Trend: The Passion Project

Plenty will lament that the rush for projects during the so-called “Gilded Age” of television, as FX chief John Landgraf recently called it, means that there’s very little time to hone and culture new creators’ voices.

The upside is that it’s become easier—because we don’t need no stinking ratings—for established storytellers to speak directly to their audience. Established producers now get to make passion projects (for lack of a better term) that may not have been such an easy sell, or would have come with more creative handcuffs, before the Netflix takeover. This argument could be heard last year about David Lynch and Mark Frost’s revival of Twin Peaks, 18 hours of television that utilized every inflection possible to say the word “original.” And it can probably be made now as TBS debuts the second season of The Guest Book.

An extremely dark and sometimes bizarre comedy anthology from creator Greg Garcia—lest we forget, the original title for his they-went-there Fox dramedy about parenting and family, Raising Hope, was Keep Hope AliveThe Guest Book returns October 23, and it’s ready to get weird.

While last season was set at a tranquil vacation cabin in the woods, featuring a rotating cast of tenants who mingled with townies, Season Two dives into stories at a beachfront property and features a predominantly new cast—Carly Jibson, who plays Vivian, a scheming former stripper, and Eddie Steeples, who plays Eddie, a food delivery guy, are sticking around on the regular—as new antics are penciled into the guest book. Some of these stories are based on the fictitious events Garcia has a habit of documenting in rental properties’ ledgers when he’s on vacation, and some are new ones that he’s since placed at various vacation homes in the world (let him know if you find one!).

So just how personal is The Guest Book to Garcia? Well, Emmy Lou’s, the fish shack that serves as a central location this season, is named after his maternal grandmother. The walls of the beach house set include pictures of his kids. It also has one intricate piece of art that looks like a yin and yang made from driver’s licenses, which the artist only allowed Garcia to use if he could audition for the show. (Poor Aaron Foster: He didn’t book the gig.)

But probably the most important thing is that The Guest Book allows Garcia, who wrote all 10 of this season’s episodes and directed six, to tell stories that he couldn’t get off his chest in previous jobs, when he was developing plots for the same group of characters on shows like CBS’s The Millers or NBC’s My Name is Earl.

“I could kill people!” Garcia says, almost gleefully, eating a turkey sandwich during a quick camera change when I visit the set in June. “All the time, I’d have episodes where somebody would be dating and you’re like [they have to] break up by the end of the next episode [because] I don’t have them in the next episode… For me, it’s easier to do it every week.”

He says he loves the freedom of sitting down with the notion that “anything can happen.”: “That’s actually how I sometimes write the scripts: I have a general idea of what happens and I see what comes of it.”

And while there are some connecting storylines this year—including one involving Vivian and her infatuation with an area handyman, played by American Vandal’s Jimmy Tatro, and another involving the house’s rental managers, played by Fargo’s Dan Beirne and Orange is the New Black’s Kimiko Glenn—Garcia says he knows he’s made a show where “you could watch a single episode and just enjoy it.”

The format also offers an opportunity for more well-known talent to pop in as the beach house’s patrons of the week. Some, like Saturday Night Live’s Pete Davidson, You’re the Worst’s Kether Donohue, The Wire’s Michael K. Williams and Veep’s Matt Walsh, are new to the Garcia-verse. Others, like Will Arnett and Martha Plimpton (and, of course, Steeples, who worked with him on Earl), are familiar faces. Garcia also isn’t above asking favors from friends; Kellie Martin, who played a police officer patrolling for love in the first season, is his neighbor.

“There’s an interesting thing that takes place between an actor and a writer, especially when they really get to know your nuances and your bag of tricks,” Jibson tells me when I ask her why she was game to return to a part that, in the first season, has her walking around nearly naked and generally making others’ lives miserable. “I think he understands the actors that he’s writing for, but I also think he chooses actors that understand and appreciate the genius of his words and that they’re able to communicate them in a way that’s specific to his type of humor.”

Steeples added that Garcia’s writing has a special gift of having a “message without being too preachy with it.”

“You can ignore it and completely miss the message if you want, and still enjoy what you’re watching,” Steeples says of Garcia’s shows, which have a knack for showing working-class characters without belittling them. (Early in Season Two, Steeples’ character is homeless and sleeping on the beach, but he doesn’t mind because the sand exfoliates his skin).

Jibson also says that the show benefits from being on TBS—technically a mainstream cable network, but one that’s known for niche content and dark comedy (see also: Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, Search Party and The Last O.G.).

“Even as a society, we’re opening ourselves up to subject matters that were taboo even five or 10 years ago,” Jibson says. “We talk about uncomfortable subject matters and Greg has a really great way of shedding light into those subject matters in a really pedestrian way. It’s not over the top. It’s not preachy and shoving it down your throat. TBS is such a great network for that.”

But there’s at least one thing that fans of The Guest Book shouldn’t dig too deep into. Yes, one of last year’s episodes involved some foot-related sexy time, and yes, this year’s beach house is called Barefeet Retreat. But, no, Garcia does not have an interest in podophilia. He says he chose the latter simply by Googling names for beach houses.

“But I guess if you do some deep psychotherapy on me, maybe there’s a connection there,” he laughs. “I don’t think I have a foot fetish. I don’t really find feet that attractive; to be honest with you. I don’t think there’s something there.”

The Guest Book premieres Tuesday, Oct. 23 at 10 p.m. on TBS.

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