Note: The following story discusses spoilers for “Not Dead Yet” Season 2 Episode 1.
“Not Dead Yet” Season 2 introduces Brad Garrett as infamous newspaper owner Duncan Rhodes, whose larger-than-life personality immediately shakes up existing dynamics between his daughter, Lexi (Lauren Ash), and Nell (Gina Rodriguez).
After myriad references are made to Lexi’s father in the first installment of the ABC sitcom, a curveball is thrown right at Lexi when Duncan arrives in the newsroom and immediately makes his presence known, giving Nell and viewers some insight into what Garrett calls a “fun narcissist.”
“He is a narcissist, there’s no question about that, but I also thought it was important that he once in a while a little vulnerability creeps in,” Garrett told TheWrap, noting that Duncan reminded him of Rip Torn’s role in “The Larry Sanders Show.” “I want to make sure that he’s a fun narcissist and hopefully not coming off as the bully. When he gets insecure, he could get a little aggressive, but I think we’ll eventually see different sides of him.”
Duncan greets Lexi coldly with a strange fake hug, and takes a sudden interest in Nell, given her expertise in obituaries, claiming an interest in knowing how people are remembered following their death. Despite taking Nell out to lunch and giving her a raise, Nell eventually realizes she was a pawn used by Duncan to frustrate Lexi, which he says has proved as a motivation tool for his daughter.
While Garrett notes the “incredibly manipulative and passive aggressive” behavior speaks to Duncan’s narcissism, he pointed out the “fine line” of exploring the relationship in the context of a sitcom.
“We got to remember it’s a comedy,” he said. “How do we keep them someone that you care about while he’s being himself and when you see him manipulate Nell like this?”
As the second season dives into the fraught father-daughter dynamic, Garrett hopes the insight into what Lexi’s had to deal with her entire life might shift Nell’s understanding of Lexi, who has been characteristically unwelcoming to her since the start of the show.
“People like Duncan and Lexi generally are scared people,” he said. “They’re people that try to live up to a standard that’s impossible, and they forget to let themselves breathe. So maybe someone like Nell can help with that down the line.”
When Nell gets past Duncan’s “bluster and bravado” and eventually calls out his twisted motivational tactic, she earns his “immediate respect,” according to Garrett, which prompts a “period of growth” for her.
“She’s at the point in her life where she’s looking for different things that we all yearn for and look for in our life, and she feels that she’s maybe at a crossroads,” Garrett said. “When you can kind of deal with a warrior like Duncan, I think everyone’s better for it. She’s stronger and she comes away going, ‘I got Duncan’s number.’ And Duncan knows that she’s got his number.”
Despite moving onto his next target once Nell sees through his act, viewers get a hint of a breakthrough between Lexi and Duncan when Duncan compliments his daughter’s shoes — one of his most valued possessions — a moment Garrett says resulted from being called out by Nell.
“His wall came down a little bit,” Garrett said. “He’s not going to change overnight — No one does — But I think Nell standing up to him made him have to look at some stuff [that] maybe privately he didn’t want to have to look at before.”
Though he expects to see further growth for his character, Garrett admitted he is learning about Duncan’s arc episode by episode.
“I love it because it’s like real life — I don’t know what’s gonna happen next week either,” Garrett said. “I’m just gonna wait it out and see what the comedy gods decide.”
Joining the “Not Dead Yet” cast was a “no-brainer” for Garrett, who added he has been a fan of Rodriguez since “Jane the Virgin,” and applauded the show’s collaborative set.
“They’re open to new ideas, they’re always trying different things, and that’s rare,” Garrett said. “So many writers, they really hold on very tight to their ideas, and I get that too. But sometimes when a character is new, you’re hoping that there’s a little latitude for discovering who he is and they were just great about that.”
New episodes of “Not Dead yet” premiere 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.