Thomas Lennon (left) and Sean Hayes in a scene on the new NBC sitcom “Sean Saves the World”
Oak Park native Thomas Lennon — perhaps best known for his Lt. Jim Dangle character on “Reno 911” — plays Sean Hayes’ “boss from hell” Max in the new “Sean Saves the World” sitcom, premiering at 8 p.m. Thursday on WMAQ-Channel 5. In the show, the openly-gay Hayes plays a gay, single father, who suddenly is given primary custody of his teenage daughter.
Lennon portrays the extremely eccentric and demanding new owner of the online retail firm fun by Hayes’ character.
In a recent chat, Lennon reflected on sharing Chicago-area roots with several co-stars, why he joined “Sean Saves the World,” and what his thoughts about his iconic character from “Reno 911.”
Q: Is it just a coincidence that you and Sean are both from the Chicago area?
A: Sean is from Glen Ellyn and Echo [Kellum, who portrays fellow office worker Tucker] is from Chicago’s South Side, and I’m from Oak Park. But they set the show in Evanston — just so no one’s nose would get out of joint. It’s neutral territory. Nobody feels slighted.
Q: What was it about the show that made you say yes? Don’t you usually work on your own material?
A: I certainly was not seeing out someone else’s TV show to do. As you’ve seen from my career, I tend to do shows in the category that nobody watches! I’m famous for doing shows that two out of a hundred people had heard of — but those two people are fanatical about it. That’s been my TV career up to now.
Q: But then why this?
A: It was an interesting turn of events. I got a note from Sean Hayes, whom I had never met. I wasn’t seeking out a sitcom to do. I do like to do my own stuff.
I hadn’t even seen ‘Will & Grace.’ I still have not seen ‘Will & Grace.’ But I read the script and it made me laugh out loud — especially the character I get to play.
Q: How is it to play this very different ‘boss from hell’?
A: If I was asked to play some buddy of Sean’s in this — some friend or sidekick who high-fives Sean, I wouldn’t have been interested. However — and I’m totally serious about this — my inspiration for playing this Max character in this silly sitcom is ‘Richard III.’
[After Lennon immediately launches into a bit of a ‘Richard III’ soliloquy]
Q: You’re really serious?
A: Think about it. It gives me that clipped way of delivering lines that I think makes Max even funnier. I just say Max’s lines as if I’m playing ‘Richard III’ at Stratford — just without his hunchback.
Q: Why do you think ‘Sean Saves the World’ will appeal to audiences?
A: The show certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel. It’s a good version of a show I would have liked in the ‘70s or ‘80s. While we’re not forging new territory, it’s an incredibly solid old-time sitcom. Sean is the master of this specific art form — the sitcom. … And I get to play the black cloud to his character who is like all sunshiny.
Q: Miss anything about playing Lt. Jim Dangle on “Reno 911”?
A: I don’t mind wearing big boy pants to work every day. That’s a change for me. I spent so many years in those hot pants.
But I have to say, Max will not necessarily be as popular as a Halloween costume as Lt. Jim Dangle!