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Tom is Still 10, Grown-Ups Still Dysfunctional in ‘Ten Year Old Tom’ Season 2

Creator Steve Dildarian discusses the past, present, and future of his acclaimed animated sitcom about a kid trying to make sense of the world and the less than helpful adults in his life, whose new season premieres today, June 29, on Max.

If you’re not already a fan of Ten Year Old Tom, which has been described as “a comedic triumph,” and whose lead character is “a mix of the biblical Job and a bemused character out of a Beckett play” (John Anderson, Wall Street Journal), you’re clearly missing out on one of the funniest and most incisive animated series currently gracing the streaming-verse. Executive produced and written by Steve Dildarian (The Life & Times of Tim), who also plays the eponymous lead character, Ten Year Old Tom is a mordantly funny adult animation series about “a kid who’s trying to make sense of the world around him,” and isn’t exactly being helped by the adults in his life. It’s not that the putative authority figures aren’t trying their best to dispense useful wisdom, it’s just that, like most of us, they suck at it.

With a sterling cast that includes John Malkovich, Byron Bowers, Todd Glass, Gillian Jacobs, Edi Patterson, David Duchovny, Jennifer Coolidge, Natasha Lyonne, Mark Proksch, Tim Robinson, and George Wallace, Ten Year Old Tom begins a new season today, June 29, on Max. We spoke with creator Dildarian, who was as surprised as anyone that he got to do what he loves for another go-round, about his good fortune, what to expect in the new season, and, critically, the key role played by beer commercials in his creative development.

AWN: With everything that's been going on at Max and Warner Discovery, I was really glad when I heard you got a second season.

Steve Dildarian: Yeah, that was a rough year to get through, just waiting for the news to drop each day, with all the craziness going on. I feel very fortunate that we're here and still alive.

AWN: When we’ve spoken before, I always meant to ask how, or if, your background in advertising influences your current work. Is there anything you could point to that reflects that?

SD: So much. First of all, in the world of advertising, you meet all kinds of characters, and I'm still writing about half of the people I saw, or the things I witnessed there, because it's a somewhat weird, corrupt world. On that level, I'm always kind of tapping into that well. More importantly, so much of the creative work I did was raw, unpolished, handmade stuff. For years, I did a lot of Budweiser commercials, and they gave us freedom to just mess around and try things, shoot things kind of down and dirty and cheap, and then see if they liked them. At one point, we started doing animation in the basement of the ad agency, so I really developed a lot of skills there, hopping in the voice booth to do the voice, scribbling some animated stuff.

So working on Budweiser, in particular, I developed the skillset piece by piece to make animation. It really was kind of seamless – "All right, now I know how to draw," or my version of drawing, "now I know how to do a voice, or at least talk like myself." I just learned all these half-baked skills in advertising, because you wear so many hats in that world. By the time I was done, I was ready to make my version of a TV show.

AWN: And you still wear a lot of hats, since you’re involved in so many different aspects of your show. Are you ever tempted to delegate more?

SD: It's funny, because right from the time I started doing the first shorts on my old show, everyone always said how specific the tone was. And that's just my work, I go with my instincts. I'm not really trained in any of these disciplines. I was never in a writers’ room. I never went to art school. I just taught myself everything. So just going with my instincts is all I know, and I really trust it.

I always have an opinion, which half the time is telling people to do their job worse. "I know you're a great animator, but animate it a little more crudely. I know you can draw with more depth, but maybe pull it back." Since I'm trying to get people to work within whatever my specific tone is, since it worked right out of the gate, I'm really protective of it because that's all I've got. I've seen what can happen when a tone gets diluted or watered down. It actually happened in my work. When I was doing Tim back in the day, the original show was for Fox, and it just wasn't the same as the HBO version, when they let me do my own thing.

AWN: You are an inspiration to all of us who just kind of figure it out along the way. Also, I think sometimes folks tend to overthink the creation of shows like this. Some people who have moved from TV to features have told me that one of the best things that they brought with them is not overthinking things, and trusting their instincts.

SD: That's what you've got. That's all anyone has. Sometimes you have to get out of your own way. It shouldn't be any different, whether you're hanging out with your friends talking or making a TV show. A lot of times people put it on a pedestal – "This is a production. This is going to go on TV," as if that means anything. So I'm very protective about my first instinct, sometimes to a fault. I'm like, "If that was my first instinct, I don't care what anyone says. It was probably right."

AWN: So what's in store for Season 2? What can you share about what’s coming our way?

SD: In general, we just wanted to go deeper. We had so many characters in Season 1 that sometimes just served the purpose of the joke and the specific story. Now we're learning more about everyone. We're going into people's homes. We're learning more about Dakota's mom, who isn't just the enemy. She's fulfilling a passion, she's helping sometimes, for better or worse. So there's a lot of just, who are these people, making sure they're real human beings who can carry their own story once in a while and not just characters floating around Tom.

One of the threads to the season is Uncle Bill moving in. In the pilot, Tom's dad is gone, so there's the absence of that male role model. So Uncle Bill moving into the attic is a big through line for the season, where suddenly there is a male role model, and he's an absolute maniac, he's the worst guy you'd want around – drinking, gambling, cheating. So Tom’s got a very terrible male role model in his attic. Otherwise, we're just going through a year in this kid's life – he's still 10, and it's still the beginning of the school year.

AWN: And he's still surrounded by people whose best advice is the worst that anyone can offer, which is such a funny premise.

SD: And whatever they offer, I always try to write it where, as wrong and misguided as it is, they actually think they're right. There's a reason that they're not terrible people. They believe it's in the best interest of themselves or the kids. So that's the balancing act – finding those jokes where they think they're right, and we clearly see they're wrong.

AWN: Those characters could so easily be really sinister. I think that’s also part of what makes this show so great. It's because you recognize that people mess up and it doesn't mean that they're evil. They're just messed up.

SD: That's a great point. I would even go a step further and say not only are they not sinister, I don't even know that they're messed up. When we get the jokes right, the things that they're doing are actually relatable. Hopefully, whether or not a viewer has kids, they should see something in that behavior, or that line of thinking, that they actually relate to, even though it's so wrong. It's really just everyday people that just happen to be terrible because most grownups are terrible.

AWN: The first season was made during the pandemic, with all that implies. It must have been very different being able to work without being isolated.

SD: The biggest difference was in the recording sessions, because we finally got to read together in person again. Getting in the booth with the actors, some of whom I've worked with quite a bit but had never met in person – to actually get to meet and read and look each other in the eye provided such incredible creative energy. I almost couldn't wait to get back in there each time. During the pandemic, it was still kind of fun, but there was also a bit of drudgery going into my little booth at home and sitting there for six hours. Going into a studio and meeting everyone was just such a positive, upbeat experience. I hope it shows onscreen because I felt it so much when we were recording. It was some of the most fun I've had in this business in years.

AWN: Everyone I've talked to, even on shows that are in their 10th year, will say, "You know what? Every year, we assume it's our last." No one ever says, "Oh, well, sure we’re getting picked up." What's your feeling with regard to the potential longevity of the show?

SD: I hope it keeps going. I love it so much. But all I can do is make the show. I put everything I have into it. It's got a lot of heart and a lot of substance, and hopefully that shows. It's not something I take lightly. It's something that I really personally care about. As far as trying to predict if they're going to keep it going, I don't even go down that road because these days it’s so unpredictable. Everyone could love it, and then there could be some bizarre reason they can't do it. For the moment, everyone at the network is a huge supporter. So I do my job, and hope for the best.

AWN: Do you already have ideas about where you would go if you get a Season 3, a Season 4?

SD: Definitely. I have almost too many ideas that pile up over time. But we leave this season with a lot of new information about Tom’s background and his family, and what he's learning about his brothers he didn't know he had, and what his dad has done. And we've teased his dad being gone for so long, at some point I love the idea of this guy coming back from Myrtle Beach. That, to me, is endless fodder for comedy, with his dad coming back and trying to co-parent with Edi Patterson as the mom.

Jon Hofferman's picture
Jon Hofferman is a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles. He is also the creator of the Classical Composers Poster, an educational and decorative music timeline chart that makes a wonderful gift.