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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Review: Family Tree by HBO

I have been anxiously waiting for the release of the new HBO series Family Tree.  Well, it was, interesting.  First, if you don’t like British comedy in the vein of Spinal Tap you will not like this show.  It was quirky, full of dry humor, and plenty of awkward situations that make you cock your head sideways.  Below is my honest review of the first episode.  

If you have not heard about its release Family Tree is a 30 minute comedy that premiered last Sunday evening on HBO.  Created by Christopher Guest (director of A Mighty Wind, Best in Show, and For Your Consideration) and  Jim Piddock this eight part series follows the main character Tom Chadwick (played by Chris O'Dowd) through his first foray into genealogy.  

The show starts with Tom and his sister Bea (played by Nina Conti) on their way to their father's house (Keith Chadwick, played by Micheal McKean) for dinner.  It is there that he informs them of a distant relatives passing and that they each have been left with something.  Tom receives an old steamer trunk and is initially less than thrilled with it.  However, it is what he finds in the trunk after he gets home that had me smiling and will have the fellow genealogists out there nodding along too.  With one item he is bit by the bug and he starts off on his first family tree adventure.

It is described a a mockumentary, but I didn't think it lived up to that description.  As a mockumentary I expected to see more of the documentary filming style interspersed with interviews and clips.  This, however, was a regular show with the occasional interview thrown in making it seemed disjointed and no flow.  At one point I was thinking what in the world was going on.  One second they are having a nice family conversation and without warning they have cut away and are getting background information from Tom   Who is there interviewing him and why?  It just cut back and forth between the 2 genres and I wanted to yell at the screen to stick with one of the other already.  Of course it has been compared to The Office... neither version of which I could stand. So maybe it is just me.

Overall, I am curious to see where it goes.  With only 8 episodes I will probably last the whole season, but the next season will be iffy unless it gets a lot better.  Now, it just may be that I prefer British comedy in the vein of Black AdderCoupling, or Four Weddings and a Funeral and that I just don't "get" this type.  I am sure they can say the same thing about some of our shows too.

Want another opinion, and not from a genealogy perspective?  Check out a few of these:

'Family Tree' series premiere: HBO's newest mockumentary charms in spite of its meandering nature from Zap2it


  1. I just thought it was about the personalities of those doing the family tree searching. They are likeable but foolish, like all of us, and like all the characters in Christopher Guest's movies -- like the one about dog shows or the small town crowd "Waiting for Guffman." It's all done with a straight face. He's making gentle fun of a group of characters with an obsession, and here genealogy is the obsession we're dealing with. We make fun of ourselves in much the same way!

    1. Yep, I can see your point. You have to admit that it is an acquired taste for those shows and of course not all people like them. My husband for instance has no interest in viewing another because he doesn't enjoy the others.

      I guess my major confusion was the interview segments. If you are going to do a mockumentary great, but start off as one and carry the theme better. The cuts were choppy and confusing to me.

      Next episode is on tonight, so I am interested to see how it goes since they are now done "setting it up."