Listen: Bob Odenkirk on How Modern Comedies Like ‘Pen15’ Rival the Quality of Classic British Sitcoms

Bob OdenkirkVariety Portrait Studio, AFI Fest, Los Angeles, USA - 12 Nov 2017
Chelsea Lauren/Variety/Shutterstock

Better Call Saul” star Bob Odenkirk’s favorite TV series have mostly come from the other side of the pond, including “Monty Python,” “The Goodies,” “The Royle Family,” and the UK version of “The Office.”

“I think about it as my humor, I don’t think about it as ‘British humor,'” Odenkirk told Variety‘s “My Favorite Episode” podcast. “You can’t beat the level of intelligence and care [from British comedies]. We churn so much TV out in America, so for many years in England it was 12 episodes and you’re done I think the time they took making all those shows probably lent itself to a higher quality.”

But that’s changing, as U.S. programmers adapt a similar style of auteur-driven, short-order series. “The marketplace has gone to a place that’s encouraging quality now,” he said.

Among recent shows that Odenkirk has loved: Hulu’s “Pen15.”

“That show, in thinking about all these classic shows that I love from so long ago, there’s just no way to beat what’s going on now in TV,” he said. “The layers of comedy and humanity in ‘Pen15’ rival everything else.”

On this edition of “My Favorite Episode,” we talk to Odenkirk about the comedies that influenced him over the years and his favorite episode of “Pen15,” as well as his mixed feelings about being a producer, where he thinks “Better Call Saul” is going, and why he’s working on his memoirs now. Listen below:

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Courtesy of Hulu

Odenkirk’s pick for favorite episode is “Anna Ishii-Peters,” the ninth episode from season 1 of “Pen15.”

Written by Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle and directed by Sam Zvibleman, “Pen15” stars Erskine and Konkle as 13-year-old versions of themselves, coping with the onset of adolescence.

In the episode, while her parents are away on a couple’s retreat, Anna sleeps over at the house of her best friend, Maya. While the two start out excited at getting a chance to act like sisters, soon Maya grows jealous of Anna, who bonds with Maya’s mother in a way that Maya can’t.

“It’s one great moment after another, and cringy and sad as can be,” Odenkirk says. “I hope someone notices how great the both of them are. It’s just so well-put together, and they hit every chord, they hit every feeling. There’s broad humor, silly humor, and there’s heartache, all played so well… I’m going to watch the whole thing again, for sure.”

Full disclosure: Odenkirk’s wife Naomi is involved with “Pen15,” through her management company Odenkirk-Provissiero, which is among the shingles behind the show’s production. But Odenkirk said he first watched “Pen15” not knowing that his wife was involved.

“She said, ‘watch this show,’ and I didn’t even know that her company produced it,” he said. “So I was just watching a show and like everybody heard the conceit, that the two adult actresses who wrote it were going to play 13-year-olds surrounded by actual 13-year-olds. Of course, that sounded like a sketch taken to show length, and that automatically made me exhausted and dread what I was about to see. But you soon stop thinking about their ages. You lose yourself as they lose themselves in those characters.”

As for Odenkirk, although he’s a producer on “Better Call Saul,” he prefers to focus on playing Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman, which has easily been the role of his career. “For me acting has been a wonderful vacation from who I am when I’m not acting — writing, overseeing all these projects,” he said. “When you’re acting you need to Zen out and focus and let it become your whole universe. That’s kind of wonderful.”

Odenkirk said he himself doesn’t know where the show is going (well, except for how it eventually will collide with “Breaking Bad”), including what ultimately happens between Jimmy and Kim (Rhea Seehorn). Fans continue to debate what might eventually happen to Kim, who’s never referenced on “Breaking Bad.”

“Everybody can’t die,” Odenkirk said. “The writers seem to relish complication and challenge. It’s less challenging to have her die. And it’s more challenging to have her live and be right there. I don’t know what’s going to happen. She might die. But the writers seem to pursue the hardest choice. And then trying to justify that and make it all flow.”

The actor, meanwhile, is curious to see where the show eventually goes with Gene — the next evolution of Jimmy/Saul, stuck working at a Cinnabon in Omaha. “I’m excited about Gene, about what can happen with Gene’s life,” he said. “He needs to straighten up his look but if he could approach life from a different vantage point he could find a fifth wind.”

Odenkirk, meanwhile, revealed that he’s currently working on his memoirs, tentatively titled “Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama.”

“It’s no fun to write your memoir,” he said. “You gotta think about the person you like the least in the world, yourself. But I’m glad I’m doing it. Pop culture moves so fast and I want to write about ‘Mr. Show,’ the ‘Saturday Night Live’ days, ‘Get a Life,’ ‘Ben Stiller Show,’ before those things are totally submerged under billions of pounds of new TV. I want to get it over with. David Cross is going to be writing his memoir at 65 and I’m going to be laughing at him!”

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Variety‘s “My Favorite Episode with Michael Schneider” is where stars and producers gather to discuss their favorite TV episodes ever — from classic sitcoms to modern-day dramas — as well as pick a favorite episode from their own series. On “My Favorite Episode,” some of the biggest names in TV share their creative inspirations — and how those episodes influenced them.

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