A diverse group of strangers crash-lands on a remote desert island. It could be the premise for a top-rated, dead-serious supernatural mystery drama, as Lost proved not too long ago, or it could spin in a totally different, much funnier direction, as TBS’ new half-hour Wrecked, premiering Tuesday at 9pm ET on TBS, emphatically proves.
The story begins with Owen (Zach Cregger), a flight attendant so leery of other people that he hides in the bathroom to sneak a cigarette rather than deal with the passengers. When the plane goes down, Owen soon finds himself in the unlikely position of leading this rough assembly of people as they create a small society.
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Cregger was a founding member of the sketch comedy group The Whitest Kids U’Know, whose show ran five seasons on IFC, and went on to co-write and co-direct the teen sex comedy Miss March before landing a leading role on NBC’s Guys With Kids and then a supporting role on NBC’s About a Boy. I spoke to Zach by phone to discuss his role on Wrecked, the difference between acting in a sketch comedy and a series, learning how to act 15 years into his career, and the future of the Whitest Kids.
First of all, congratulations on the show, it’s really funny.
Thanks! I’m happy with it.
Yeah, rightly so, it’s great. Do you know if you’re gonna get another season?
We don’t know yet. Fingers crossed. They greenlit The Detour and Angie Tribeca both before the first episode aired, but I don’t think that they’re doing that anymore. I think they’re gonna have to see because Wrecked is more — it’s just a bigger show, so I think they kinda have to make sure it’s getting a good reception. We’ll see — I know it’s tracking really well, so…
You mean it’s bigger in terms of the expense of shooting on location and everything?
Yeah, we shoot in Puerto Rico, and it looks like a big movie. I feel like you can tell, when you watch, this is not a cheap show to shoot. I think that’s important to the show, also — if it was shot on a soundstage, I think that would really undermine a lot of the comedy. That’s one thing I really appreciate about TBS: they really have supported the show as far as giving it what it needs. I mean, it’s gonna live and die by the writing, so if the show fails — which I don’t think it will — it’s because creative messed up, not because the network wouldn’t give us the resources we needed to make something good. It’s been a really good home for the show.
So lots of big effects sequences coming up? Big explosions and stuff?
Yeah, there’s definitely… There’s a lot going on. I don’t want to do any spoiler stuff, but there’s some stuff in there that I was like ‘Guys, unless you have Industrial Light and Magic in your pocket, you’re not gonna be able to shoot half of these sequences.’ And they did! They figured it out. It’s pretty amazing. I wonder how much I can even say. I can’t spoil.
I will say the show goes really really dark. I get a little frustrated that the press kits that reviewers get to see are just the first couple episodes, because it’s a serialized story that goes on throughout the whole season, and it really “goes there.” It’s not the kind of show where you can shuffle the episodes around and still follow. You need to watch it in order, and it gets darker and darker and darker: There’s revenge, and cannibalism — it’s about the collapse of a small society, and the chaos. It’s like “Lord of the Flies,” so, it really does go everywhere I want it to go, and I can’t tell whether that’s evident by watching the first couple of episodes. Maybe it is.
I saw the first five, and I think the last one I saw was the elections.
That becomes a turning point, and power becomes corrupting, and it gets good.
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So you shot in Puerto Rico? How long were you there?
Two and a half months.
That seems like the kind of situation where you’d get pretty close with everybody working on it, right, because you’re all there and there’s nowhere to go?
Yeah, exactly. If we were shooting it in L.A., we’d wrap and everyone would go back to their distracting lives. But we’re in Puerto Rico, so we wrap and everyone has to go back to the hotel together and hunker down and bond. It really does force a pretty instant bond with everybody. It was kind of just what the doctor ordered for the cast. I feel like this cast works really really well together, and I think part of that has to be credited to the fact that we were all trapped together and we had to find our dynamic.
For someone who hasn’t seen the show, how would you describe your character?
Owen has kind of become, by the end of the show, the reluctant leader. He’s a guy who’s never had any kind of healthy relationships with anybody, he’s kind of like a loner who’s really comfortable being an anonymous face in the crowd — his ultimate nightmare would be to be trapped with a random group of people with nowhere to go, because you’re kinda forced to let your wall down a little bit. So I think as much as being stuck on this island is the last thing he would ever want, it’s sort of in a weird way the thing he needs the most.
With your sketch background, where you would do five, six, seven different characters in an hour, did you find any challenge staying with one character for two and a half months?
Yeah! That’s a good question, and yeah. Because in sketch, all that matters is the joke. You don’t really need to know anything about your character in a sketch, because you’re not serving your character, you’re serving the bit. And with this, it’s like — it’s been an interesting thing for me, because since we last talked I’ve done a bunch of different shows where I’ve had to focus on one character, and I’ve never even realized until this year that I need to build a backstory. That’s an important responsibility that an actor has, to kind of understand the character, and coming from sketch I never thought I needed that. So I’m actually now, in my mid-30s, beginning to learn how to act, and understand like, ‘Oh, I need to know where Owen was born, and know about his relationship with his dad, even though his dad is never going to enter into this story.’ That’s something that I’ve just never had to do as a young comedian. It’s a totally — it’s a challenge that should have started a long time ago, but I’m happy I’m doing it now.
Is there any character on the show other than Owen that you’d like to play if you could?
Well, there’s a character named Todd, who’s played by Will Greenberg, who’s kind of the asshole on the island, he’s the guy who — I mean, who doesn’t love a good villain? I would be thrilled to be just the scumbag. So yeah: Todd. Todd would be great.
Yeah, he’s awesome.
He is so good, man. In the episodes I saw, it was just like ‘Oh. Will just steals this show.” He’s fantastic.
I know it’s in vogue now to do it like it’s written, and then do like 20 variations and then keep whatever works best — are you guys doing any improv on the set?
You know, there’s a small amount, but honestly, I love these scripts so much — usually when I get scripts for a show I gotta kind of wrack my brain, and be like “Ugh, how am I gonna make this funny? What can I do to elevate this?” And, with the Wrecked scripts, these two guys, Justin and Jordan Shipley, are so good, and when I get the pages my main concern is like “How do I keep this as funny as it reads?” It’s more about, “I gotta preserve this. I gotta do justice to this.” So I’m pretty much, my main job when I get on set is to like police the material and make sure the material is getting its justice. And there are definitely scenes here and there that we do riff on and improvise, and the Shipleys are so awesome about letting that happen. But no, we’re pretty much all just disciples of the script.
Do you know about these dudes, the Shipley brothers?
Dude! They’re brothers, I think they’re now like 25 and 26. When they wrote this, they were I think 23 and 22. Jordan was a bagboy at Trader Joe’s, Justin was a PA, and they wrote Wrecked on spec just as a writing sample because their manager was like, ‘You should have a sample.” Their manager handed it to Tom Hinkle, an exec at TBS, and he was like ‘Why don’t we make THIS show?’ Now it’s like the biggest show TBS has ever made, Jordan went over the course of a year and a half from being a bag boy at Trader Joe’s to running a major show on a network. And what’s crazy about it is, these guys are so good at their job, they seem like destined to do this. They’re like really calm, really levelheaded, really smart about comedy, they know how to interact with every member of the crew, they’re good at delegating responsibility, they don’t act like they know everything… it’s awesome. It’s crazy. It’s like working with two little Farrelly brothers, before they launched into their prime. It’s great, man, it’s crazy.
Are they writing all the scripts?
Yeah, they have a room that they run, but I definitely think that their print is on everything. And when we’re down in Puerto Rico shooting, they’re constantly staying up till 3 in the morning at the hotel, reworking things… it’s their show, for sure.
So obviously you’ve done some writing and some directing… do you have any plans to get involved with that with this show?
I would love to, but I’m also terrified of being that actor, you know? I don’t wanna be the actor that is constantly overstepping his bounds, because I know — I’ve had the responsibility of running a show, and it’s annoying when people try and step into your lane. So, I have made it clear that I would love to, but I feel like I can’t push any harder. It would make me a happy man if they called me and asked me to step into the room, but I gotta leave it alone.
It’ll be like season 3 or 4 of Breaking Bad or Mad Men, where Bryan Cranston or Jon Hamm is directing the season premiere.
Yeah, exactly. And I’m sure that was a wonderful transition, and they never stepped on anybody’s toes. But at this point, me asking to write episodes would be like Dave Grohl telling Kurt Cobain he wanted to do his songs. Dude, you’re the drummer, shut the f–k up!
And yet, he had some songs!
For sure! Dave Grohl is a very talented dude, but he should not be calling the shots in Nirvana.
No, definitely not. What are you watching right now?
Hmm… Love Rick and Morty, I think that’s great.
Oh yeah! I love Rick and Morty. I saw Dan Harmon on the street in New York the night before the Turner Upfront.
Did you see him at the Upfront? It was so funny — I was stressing out about whether or not I should wear a tie, and then I get there and Dan Harmon is wearing a dirty sweatshirt and sweatpants. He doesn’t care. (laughs) I love it. I’m a Big Brother freak, so I’m very excited for Big Brother to start up…
I know, everybody has that reaction, but I swear to you man: it’s a great show. I love it.
I’ve never seen it, but I do watch The Bachelor, and I get that reaction from people when I tell them that.
My girlfriend watches The Bachelor so I watch The Bachelor, and it is the most infuriating and simultaneously addictive show in the world. I hate that show, and I look forward to it.
There’s nothing more fun to make fun of on the couch with your girlfriend. Are you guys planning to do anything with the Whitest Kids?
Well, this is the first year that we’re gonna own all five seasons of the show. We’ve been kind of waiting for this year, so that we can release it on some platform like Netflix or Hulu — what we’re trying to do is we’re gonna shop it around and then we would love to do, we’re writing right now a four-episode mini show, like a movie. Kind of like The Civil War on Drugs that we did, but I think much better. So hopefully wherever the past series lands, they would help us to make a new little chapter in the Whitest Kids thing, you know it’s been too long since we’ve released anything, so hopefully that’ll be in the works.
Wrecked airs Tuesday nights at 10pm ET, and all episodes will be available on-demand.