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‘Ten Year Old Tom’ interview: Steve Dildarian talks the good creative fun energy of season 2 and more

Ten Year Old Tom creator Steve Dildarian talks process and the new season.

Ten Year Old Tom is an adult animated comedy that follows the life of its titular character. He’s an ordinary kid trying to make sense of the world. It doesn’t help that all the adults in his life have no clue either and Tom is constantly receiving poor advice regardless of the good intentions.

Those who have seen the show may find similar themes to the cult hit The Life & Times of Tim. That’s because they are both from the same creator, Steve Dildarian. Ahead of the season two release of Ten Year Old Tom later this week, we spoke with Dildarian about his process and what fans can expect in the latest season.

AIPT: What I enjoy about Ten Year Old Tom is that it can be childish and absurd, but also have sharp and insightful social commentary. How do you go about keeping this balance?

Steve Dildarian: That balance is the whole show. At the core of it under the surface, is some serious stuff about all the bad influences in the world that kids are exposed to. All the awful people in politics, religion, sports, business. They are exposed to so many bad influences. That’s where the storylines come from.

Then it’s all processed through just an innocent kid going through his day. The balance is built into every storyline. How does a kid who’s doing whatever, playing in little league encounter the world of sports doping. How does a kid doing the most innocent thing, somehow get corrupted by all the grown-ups around him. As you start writing these stories, that push-pull is the starting point. Here’s an innocent kid thing. Here’s the corrupt grown-up thing. It’s kind of baked into the premise.

AIPT: Speaking of bad influences, you’ve stated in previous interviews that you drew upon the headlines at the time such as the Trump administration and the college admissions scandal while developing Ten Year Old Tom. Are there any current events that helped guide storylines for season two?

Dildarian: It’s not quite a direct connection where there’s a storyline, and here’s the episode. I don’t want to go looking through headlines for it. It almost works the other way where we’re working on an episode, and as we’re writing it, producing it, one of the producers will email me a link to the actual story happening. It happens so frequently.

We’re making it. Is this crazy? Is this behavior too insane? Low and behold, here’s a link. Oh no, it’s happening right now with like him going to his doctor to get a fake doctor’s note. That’s happening every day with kids. It’s crazy the amount of things that are actually happening when I write it as a joke and then, oh no. People are doing that. It’s in every story, but I don’t read the headlines and then go write.

AIPT: It’s crazy to think that you’re predictive of what’s going on in society and it’s based on what’s funny out there.

Dildarian: Yeah. Totally, but on the good side of that, there’s endless fodder for stories because people keep on doing so many messed up perverse things. And we can just shine a light on it.

ten year old tom creator steve dildarian

AIPT: Ten Year Old Tom feels like an ensemble with a cast of recurring colorful characters surrounding its main lead. After the first season, I imagine you had a better grasp on who each person was. Did this influence where you wanted to take them in season two?

Dildarian: Definitely. Once you see how the dynamics work and where the characters go, you definitely start writing to things and writing to characters. It’s like, there’s more here than just a joke that they serviced in season one. Rick the neighbor was this weird jerk of a guy. All of a sudden, we’re learning about his divorce, his sadness, and his overcompensation for things. We’re going into his home. You can go down the list. When something works, the plumber, Tim Robinson, I think he’s hysterical. Him reading that plumber character. Oh, we’ve got to keep going there and learning more about him and his youth. Why certain people say certain things.

That’s what I love about the season. Whenever you get to know characters better, the jokes resonate more. You just know them. As we were making it, what I love about the season is that I don’t have to setup every joke. We know the person. We know the backstory and now we can just go to that second layer.

AIPT: You’ve also mentioned in interviews how Ten Year Old Tom is dialog-driven and that in the recording studio, you do a lot of riffing to create this organically conversational feel. Can you go a little bit more into the process and how important is it to have cast members that can improv so well?

Dildarian: Yeah, it’s a huge part of the tone of the show. That’s really why I do it. I write these scripts pretty tightly and have pretty strong opinions on the rhythm of the writing. But then when we record it, I throw it away and like, let’s just have fun. And in that process, you just get a certain unpolished feel that I like. My work has always been a little unpolished. A little bit raw. By improving, you just get a quality you can’t get by having people read their lines.

That said, we do a bunch of riffing and a bunch of improv and then in the editing, we kind of pull it back. I don’t let it be so unstructured and going off on tangents. We throw a ton of stuff away even if it’s funny. If it’s not relevant and it doesn’t hit that rhythm that I mentioned, it’s kind of unusable no matter how funny it is. Start with a tight script, go crazy in the sessions, and then pull it back in the edit. In the end, it’s some hybrid version. It has an improvy feel although we’re not all that far from the script.

AIPT: Does that mean the cast actually records together talking to each other as opposed to just recording their lines and send them in?

Dildarian: Yeah. As much as possible. It’s not realistic to get every person in the room every time. It’s always the goal. This season, we got to record in person which was great and we would be in the room looking at each other. When we can’t do that, we’re live and reading wherever the people are. I’ve done sessions where I’m here and Gillian Jacobs lives in Marseille in France. With technology, it’s a no brainer these days. Jennifer Coolidge was in Sicily for a good chunk of our season.

We would all read pretty seamlessly. Even though we’re not looking each other in the eye, you get used to the rhythm of just being on a call. Whenever we can, we just try to read in real time. It makes a huge difference, I think. I could spot it a million miles away when a show is read line by line or if it’s read this way. It’s just a personal taste. For me, I like the spontaneity of reading together.  

ten year old tom with dogs
Photo: Max

AIPT: I find it funny on Ten Year Old Tom that a lot of the adult characters are just referenced to as what their relationship is to the kid characters. Principal. Bus Driver. Dakota’s Mom. Is it more to emphasize that you’re looking at this world from the perspective of a child or is there more meaning behind it?

Dildarian: I wouldn’t say there’s meaning. I think the way you phrased it is pretty true. As kids, you don’t know your friend’s parents’ names. You might know it, but you don’t say it. There is a kind of a everyone serves a purpose. This person is that parent, this principal, the nurse, the bus driver. That’s just what they represent in your world.

You’re not calling everyone by their first name. Even without overly thinking about it, that was just my extinct as a writer. These are the grown-ups, in a way Charlie Brown – you’re not seeing them and their voices are garbled. This is maybe some version of that where we don’t really acknowledge their names.

AIPT: I guess I’ll leave you on this. What was your favorite part about working on season two of Ten Year Old Tom that you hope viewers catch onto?

Dildarian: To our earlier point, the fact that we got to read together was definitely the most fun part of making the show because I’ve been starved of it for so long. Season one was all Zoom. I never saw anybody. Half of the actors I’ve never met in person. After performing together for a good chunk of time, we did many sessions over season one and the early part of season two.

Once COVID rules lifted and we were allowed to do it again, I can’t even tell you how much fun it was getting to meet everyone. We almost had to pad the days because we’d end up talking and catching up so much before we even started to record. That energy, I do think it shows on the screen. When you go into those sessions, there’s just a good creative fun energy in the air, and hopefully you see it on the screen.   

Season two of Ten Year Old Tom premieres Thursday, June 29, on Max.

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