From writer/executive producer Lon Zimmet (LA to Vegas), the new Fox series Outmatched is a multi-camera family comedy about a blue-collar couple – handyman Mike (Jason Biggs) and casino pit boss Kay (Maggie Lawson) – raising their four kids, while three of them are certified geniuses. As parents who barely got through high school, navigating the demands of three ultra high-IQ children is a challenge, but they’re committed to ensuring a sense of normalcy that also allows them to exploring the trials and tribulations that come with just being kids.
While at the Fox portion of the Television Critics Association Press Tour, co-stars Jason Biggs and Maggie Lawson talked about why Outmatched appealed to them, what made this project feel special, finding the family dynamic, why it’s important for these parents to still relate to their kids, and how the younger cast is professional but still act their age.
Collider: How was this show presented to you guys?
MAGGIE LAWSON: It was one of the first scripts I read, going into the last pilot season, and I remember just putting a little heart in my head around this one ‘cause I thought it was so funny and I thought it worked so well. It went away, and then it came back, a little later. And then, for me, when I read with [Jason Biggs], and we read together, it was like, “Oh, okay, this could be a thing.” It felt very special. And then, when the kids were all hired, and Tisha [Campbell-Martin] and Finesse [Mitchell], and we got to set, the first day we were all working together, something very special was happening. Everybody settled in very quickly. Obviously, it starts with the script. That’s how it was presented to me. I just got a script and was like, “This is funny. This is really, really, really good.” But then, when we all came together, it was like, “Okay, this is the thing. I want to do this for a long time.”
JASON BIGGS: It was presented to me by my representatives, who said that it was the funniest thing they had read in awhile, and that I would play a dad, which is cool because I feel like, for a few years there, I was either still playing roles or auditioning for roles that hadn’t quite caught up to where I was, personally, in my life, if that makes sense. And so, I was excited, and have been excited for a little while, about the prospect of playing a day. And Maggie was already cast, so I was presented with this package of what I was told was a really funny script and Maggie Lawson was in it, who I was a fan of. When I read the script, I was like, “Okay, let me see if this is funny,” and it was really funny. I went back and said, “The issue is that I have teenagers in this. I don’t think anyone’s going to believe that I could be a dad to teenagers.” My reps were like, “Okay, we’ll talk about it.” And they came back and were like, “No, we believe it.” I was like, “Okay, not quite what I was hoping you would say, but also I’m happy to hear that, I guess.” So, I immediately went to my dermatologist and had the guy inject so much shit into my face. I’m actually laughing right now, hysterically. No. The idea that Mike and Kay, or Maggie and myself, were high school sweethearts and we had kids really young is a nice touch to the story and obviously makes it a little bit more believable. It’s certainly mathematically possible that I could be this guy. And then, when I flew out to LA and read with Maggie, we immediately had chemistry. (Show creator) Lon [Zimmet] was the perfect weird little writer guy that is very likable and funny. I was like, “Yeah, this is a little package here. This could really work.” And here we are.
Pilots are really tricky because they’re typically written before anyone is cast, so they’re not written to anyone’s strengths.
LAWSON: And it’s a husband and wife who were high school sweethearts and they have four kids. Naturally, there’s a shorthand, when you spend that much time with somebody. But we’re basically thrown together in a day, to have whatever rhythm that is, that two people like that have in a family dynamic. That’s hard. It’s rare, actually, for it to click like that, and that fast.
BIGGS: Sometimes you have to force it and hope that it takes off, down the road, but then it just never takes off and the rhythm never really settles, and it’s a round hole in a square peg kind of thing. This was just boom, right away. It was like, “Okay, you’re Kay, and I’m Mike. This is great. We’ve been married, we’re a team, and we have these crazy kids.” The casting, on that front, was amazing. So far, it’s all good.
Does it get even scarier, as actors, when you’ve had previous success in ensemble, like you’ve had with Psych and American Pie?
LAWSON: I think it actually just highlights it, when you do find it again. With Psych, when you spend eight years with an entire cast, in another country together, we are naturally family, at this point. We really are. I know everybody always says that, but we still are. That’s what happened. Because we have that thing here already, it’s less about it being scary and it just highlights when you do. You know when that little magical lightning strike thing is there again, and this has that. That’s why we’re both so protective of it and love it so much, and want to promote it and talk about it. You don’t get this that often, and we have that, so please watch it.
BIGGS: It doesn’t come around often, that’s for sure. I’ve had it, and it’s amazing. You’re always looking for it, and it does make you appreciate it ‘cause you realize just how difficult it is to find. We’re also at the whims of people’s taste. There’s only so much you can do. We’re putting our best stuff out there. I’ve done shows where you feel like you’re forcing it and maybe it’s not as organic as you would like it to be. If this show doesn’t work, for whatever reason – and knock on wood that it will – it’s not because we didn’t put out something that we really believe in and actually ticks off all the boxes that we believe could make a good show. I’m proud of that, no matter what.
Is it challenging to find that balance with the kids, so that they are annoying to their parents, but you can also see the love that they have for them, and so that they’re likable to an audience?
LAWSON: That’s a really good point.
BIGGS: All kids are equally annoying and really cute and likable. Honestly, I go from wanting to just smother my kid with kisses ‘cause he’s just so brilliant and cute, but then I want to throw him against the wall. I believe that it’s in kids’ nature to be a little Jekyll and Hyde-ish. But to cast kid actors is a whole other thing. What I think is happening is that you’ve got these kids who are technically competent and some of them have already been on shows before, but all of them have a natural thing which is that they get the timing of the show. They have comedic timing, which is the most important element here. But they’re also normal kids. They bring that o their characters. They’re not just little actor robots that come on set. When Oakley [Bull] says these lines, she really is this cute little kid, but yet, she knows exactly how to hit it and when to hit it ‘cause that’s the professional side of her.
LAWSON: These kids can be professional, and sometimes they’re more professional than we are, but they’re also normal kids. They don’t have that polished actor robot thing. Honestly, all four kids’ parents are so fantastic, and you can tell they’re very careful about keeping them real. That’s also been a huge blessing ‘cause you never know. We’re working not only with these kids but we’re working with their parents, as well, and they’re all so wonderful.
Are Mike and Kay at a point where they’ve come to the understanding that they just aren’t going to relate to these really genius smart kids that they have?
LAWSON: I’m hoping that people will get to see that we’re finding these connective things. It might come up and not be related to something genius, but when our kids are getting into dating and that sort of normal stuff, that will be always be the thing that can connect us. Every parent has been a child, so with that stuff, I’m hoping they can relate. I don’t think they’re going to surrender to never being able to relate to them. I think they’re always going to keep trying. That’s why it’s tough.
BIGGS: I don’t think they give up. No matter how smart these kids are, they’re still kids. They’re still going to have their first kiss. They might create math problems around the probability of who the kiss is going to be with, but they still don’t know what a kiss is, and that’s where we come in.
LAWSON: They don’t know how to drive. That episode is going to be fun.
BIGGS: These kids are crazy geniuses, and that’s what makes it even funnier. You’ve got a kid that’s a crazy genius, but has no idea how to talk to a boy, or make a friend.
Outmatched airs on Thursday nights on Fox.