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Adam Pally, Time Traveler

The star of ‘Making History’ explains why time travel is inherently funny

(Fox)
(Fox)

Network television moves in unpredictable waves. A few years ago, rom-coms like A to Z and Selfie were all the rage; this year, for no apparent reason except freakish coincidence, it’s time travel. Unlike NBC’s Timeless or ABC’s Time After Time, Making History has a twist: It’s funny.

Created by Julius “Goldy” Sharpe (The Grinder, Cristela) and executive produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie, Last Man on Earth), the sitcom further expands Lord and Miller’s partnership with Fox on a slew of considerably weird shows with weirder setups. On Making History, Happy Endings alum and occasional late-night host Adam Pally stars as Dan, a slacker who figures out his dad invented a time machine and who then uses it not to correct humanity’s mistakes, but to make easy money and meet a girlfriend who also happens to be Paul Revere’s daughter. Gossip Girl’s Leighton Meester and stand-up comedian Yassir Lester costar as Pally’s partners in breaking the laws of space and time.

The show, a silly take on a genre that’s often bogged down by self-seriousness and convolution, still manages to be clear-eyed about what was left in the past for a reason. We spoke with Pally on the phone about time traveling as a Jew, the advantages of being on network TV, and, of course, Happy Endings.

You’re joining this mini-wave of time-travel shows — Timeless, Time After Time, Frequency. Were you guys aware of the trend at all, either while you were making the show or in the run-up to its release?

Yeah, we knew that other networks were doing time-travel shows, but we really didn’t care. To me, time travel is a genre. Especially now with the amount of television that there is—there’s four shows about paramedics in Chicago! We were like, if it’s funny, what’s the difference?

Have you seen any of the other shows?

[Laughs] No, no, no.

I just thought it was funny that you guys were premiering the same week as—

Another bad one?

—sexy H.G. Wells.

In my opinion, time travel is not something to be done with any sort of melodrama. I don’t mean to be disparaging of the other shows, because I just haven’t seen them, but to my taste, it’s a comedic tool. I think we use it to varying degrees.

In addition to being melodramatic, most time-travel shows or movies have this brain-bending quality to them. I don’t know if you’ve seen Primer …

Yeah, or Doctor Who, or even Doctor Strange.

It feels more like a logic problem than a piece of entertainment. Was it refreshing to just abandon that for, “These guys can time travel, there’s no real reason why”?

When I read the script, it reminded me of two of my favorite movies by Mel Brooks. I just kept seeing Blazing Saddles and History of the World: Part I, which are silly movies, but their subject matters are serious. I love the way that Mel Brooks handles history through genre. I thought the actual physics of time travel seem to be just boring compared to the relationships, or how people were treated at the time.

Something the show handles really well — and that I assume that’s a reference to — is that it almost feels like a riff on that Louis C.K. bit about how time travel is for white people.

[Laughs] I’ve never heard that bit, but if it’s Louis, I’m sure it’s genius.

The whole idea of traveling into the past isn’t appealing to anyone who’s not a white man, which your character is.

Well, my character’s a Jew. That hasn’t gotten exactly fleshed out yet, but you’re right. Time travel is for white men.

Is the Judaism going to get fleshed out in future episodes?

You find out that the past is difficult for anybody other than, as Louis would say, a white man. And even then, people were so dumb and filled with so much fear that you had to be a specific type of white man not to just be thrown in a river.

How does the show balance that social element with silly comedy?

(Fox)
(Fox)

I think you have to look at the place that it is [airing], and the kind of comedy it’s trying to be. We’re not premium cable. The point of the show is not to push boundaries and to titillate. The point of the show was to make a show that an entire family could watch together, while still feeling different from other shows in the past. Tonally, I think that we’re able to do that, and a lot of times that means going right up to the point where things could get really dark, but not stepping over that line. I have children, and this is the first show that I’m excited to show them that I’m in. It was a challenge, and one that I think we all rose to, to forget about pushing an envelope or being outrageous. That lets you center on just, “Is this funny?” And sometimes that’s even harder. It was kind of nice to be in that network television box.

Even though it’s on network, it’s zany and high concept. It fits into what Phil Lord and Chris Miller are doing with Last Man on Earth.

I think the networks are wising up on that, and I think that they want to compete. If you look at the slate of the stuff they picked up this year as well, it doesn’t fall into that standard sitcom model. But we were trying to stay faithful to the Sunday night audience. [With] this show, we want everyone to sit down and watch together before the kids go to bed, without losing its edge.

Are there any bucket-list time-travel scenarios you want the show to take on?

I would never. I love that each episode is so finely combed through and detailed — I’d never ask the writers to do anything like that. I enjoy walking into work and getting a script for an episode and being like, “Oh, we’re going to 1940s Germany? Awesome.” There’s nowhere that I need to travel to be fulfilled in the work. The writing and the other actors especially are so good that that’s all that matters to me.

Speaking of 1940s Germany, I was wondering if you guys were going to tackle “Would you kill baby Hitler?” at some point.

Oh, yeah. We go right for it.

So if I can ask some Happy Endings questions …

[Laughs] Go for it.

Speaking of the cult comedy, Happy Endings came just before Netflix and the like made cancellation a little less final. Is it weird to look back on that and think, “If this came out in 2015, it would probably find a home on Hulu”?

It’s something Damon [Wayans Jr.] and I have definitely discussed in our darker hours, when we’re like, “God, we could have been rich.” But the way I look back on the show now, with a little distance from it, is completely personal and has nothing to do with the product that we put out, but with the relationships that I’ve made. Those are the people that I came up with in this workplace. I just talked with the Libman brothers on the phone yesterday; they were writers on the show. I text with Prentice Penny once a week and I talk to Damon almost every day. Same with Casey [Wilson] and Zach [Knighton]. I eat dinner with [Elisha] Cuthbert every time I’m in Canada. I see Eliza [Coupe] all the time. That, to me, is how I look back on the show, as almost a family element. I never think of it in a way of what could have been because I owe my career to that show anyway. I got what could have been.

That makes sense. I don’t mean to suggest anything should come back from that. Some things should stay dead and beloved.

Oh no, I would love it to come back. If it came back, it would be amazing. I’d pay to do it. But I feel like if that was a reality, that would have happened already. I think for some reason, there’s a disconnect between the networks that have money and the actual fans that like that show. But I know that I can speak for the entire cast: If anybody wanted us, we would be there.

I think if you wait five more years, you could be in the nostalgia sweet spot.

Yeah, but I’ll be dead. You’ll have Jake Johnson reading my lines or something.

You could do worse.

It’d probably be an upgrade for the show.

I know you guys just did the lost episode reading with EW, but are there any other reunion plans that aren’t a full-scale revival?

Well, we reunite quite a bit in Sherman Oaks for wine and Italian food, but no one films that, thank God.