Family Tree

HBO familytree

I watched this comedy series on HBO recently after friends recommended it. I wanted to like it more than I did. Thankfully, it was only a 4 hour commitment of 8, 30min episodes.

Family Tree is one man’s journey to find himself. Chris O’Dowd plays Tom Chadwick, a 30-something year old sad sack. He’s still wallowing over a break-up that occurred months ago when we meet him. He is recently laid off from his job assessing insurance claims and reconstructing traffic accidents when his great aunt bequeaths him a box of trinkets/heirlooms. This sends him on a genealogical journey of self discovery. We meet his odd-ball family, close and extended, on both sides of the pond.

This show is billed as a comedy, but there were few laugh out loud moments for me. It was created by Christopher Guest, who made one of my favourite comedies of all time (This is Spinal Tap).

He practically reinvented the mockumentary genre with subsequent films (Waiting For Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration). I didn’t mind those subsequent films but did not find them nearly as funny as This is Spinal Tap. The style of this TV show, like the aforementioned films is improvisational and the usual cast of characters are seen in all of them.

The charm and humour of the films are proportional to one’s familiarity with the subject matter and how dear the subjects and themes are (community theatre, dog shows, folk music and independent film).  And herein lies the problem I had with Family Tree. I really have no interest in genealogy, mine or anyone else’s. Call it a flaw, if you will. Additionally, I had a hard time mustering sympathy for Tom’s wallowing and preocupation with his family tree. Genealogic exploration is as good a hobby as any and I respect those that are keen about it. However, Tom’s new found focus smacks of a distraction from the real task at hand rather than a true passion. To put a fine point on it, I cannot get past the feeling that as a grown man, his priority should be to put the bulk of his effort into finding a new job or figuring out his next career direction. And that may very well be the point of the show, and clearly this show was not made for me. This fact probably reveals more about myself than the producers of this program. That said, it was hard to care about this hero’s journey and all the quirky characters that each episode  brought forth. I found Tom’s damaged immediate family the most amusing, especially his sister, Bea (Nina Conti) whose id speaks via a monkey handpuppet named “Monk.” But Monk wasn’t enough to recommend Family Tree (unless you think everything Christopher Guest directs is hilarious) and I won’t watch anything beyond this first season. This, despite being a fan of both the lead actor (he was completely charming in Bridesmaids) and the creative genius in charge of production.


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