Over the summer, Saturday Night Live alum Ana Gasteyer turned heads with her outstanding work as Karen Grisham (Agent), one of several outlandish characters who populate Maria Bamford’s manic phase in Lady Dynamite. Thanks to critical claim and subscriber eyeballs, Netflix decided to renew the series for a second season. Yet this doesn’t mean Gasteyer’s fans will have to wait until her larger-than-life Hollywood agent performs an encore of “Cradle the Balls and Work the Shaft” to see her on screen again. All you have to do is watch People of Earth every Monday on TBS.
Along with Wyatt Cenac (The Daily Show), Oscar Nuñez (The Office) and a fantastic ensemble of comic greats and television newcomers, Gasteyer stars stars as Gina Morrison, a disgraced therapist whose own experience with alien abduction inspires her to form a support group called “StarCrossed.” Though as Gasteyer explains, Gina’s (mostly) good will for her fellow experiencers isn’t enough to mask he otherwise botched career as a therapist — resulting in the group’s often manic, though hilarious, meetings in every episode. And she never would have been a part of it if it weren’t for executive producer Greg Daniels (The Office, Parks and Recreation).
Greg Daniels seems to be the reason everyone decided to join People of Earth.
Oh sure. I come from Saturday Night Live. It’s a mafia and he’s one of the early shareholders, as far as I’m concerned. He and Conan [O’Brien] both, actually. I knew of their SNL legacies, so I was excited to be a part of that extended family. Of course Amy Poehler’s a great friend, and I knew of her experience [with Daniels on Parks and Recreation]. So I called her right up and asked, “Is this somebody you’d recommend working with?” And of course she wholeheartedly endorsed him. He’s a master at what he does.
Aside from working with Daniels, what drew you to People of Earth?
I loved the script. I mean, obviously you don’t ever sign on to do a project without liking the script. The premise is fantastic. I don’t mean to sound arrogant in any way, but I’ve been a screen actor for 25 years — I read a lot of half-hour scripts every year, and it’s a lot of the same old, same old. I don’t profess to knowing what necessarily makes a successful show and what doesn’t, but you do look for a few things. You’re about to sign a seven-year contract when you agree to do a pilot, so you want to make sure there is an opportunity for many, many stories to be told in a world that’s interesting. With People of Earth, it’s one of those premises that you’re like, “I can’t believe nobody wrote this before!” It taps into something deeply communal and familiar, but at the same time offers a new approach, which is always exciting.
I happen to be married to a massive alien nerd, so I’ve become familiar with the premise of extra-terrestrial life. We have a lot of books around the house about it. I remember, at the turn of the century, The X-Files mania and the kind of alien fascination it fostered. I’m still kind of fascinated with the whole idea of life somewhere else. Plus it feels like a little bit of a genre-bender, which makes it different from other things I’ve done. That was really appealing, too.
It definitely is, but it also make you wonder about how far a premise like this can go.
I guess that’s where Greg comes in handy. What he did with on the American version of The Office and Parks and Rec was to take very familiar terrain, continue to make really good shows, and grow them exponentially from season to season. Those are challenging shows if you’re a TV nerd. They started one with a huge comparison to a massive international hit. That’s not an easy thing to do, even with that gifted cast. I think people don’t remember this, but they walked into The Office mildly skeptical and Greg turned that on its ear. Same goes for Parks and Rec, which was this sort of spin-off of The Office. People were skeptical, and it turned into a fantastic piece of television.