TV Review: ‘Family Tree’

"Family Tree"

Given his history, it’s a wonder Christopher Guest and HBO haven’t hooked up sooner, what with the cultish devotion to his understated satires “Best in Show” and “A Mighty Wind.” Yet the actual wedding, “Family Tree,” bears rather disappointing fruit, so droll and dry as to be nearly taste-free, with only the occasional hint of bite. Hamstrung in part by a slim premise, the show possesses star power with Chris O’Dowd as its searching protagonist, but with apologies to Guest’s beloved “This Is Spinal Tap,” on a scale of 1 to 10, this British-U.S. collaboration is about a 5.

O’Dowd plays Tom Chadwick, a Londoner recently dumped by both his girlfriend and employer, whose father (longtime Guest collaborator Michael McKean) presents him with a box from Tom’s deceased great aunt. In it, he finds a picture of his great-grandfather Harry, which sets him upon a journey to learn all he can about this mysterious ancestor. That includes meeting long-lost relatives (the eight-episode run eventually shifts to the U.S.), augmenting Tom’s quirky stable of existing kin.

If only there were any consistency in the writing (by Guest and Jim Piddock, with the former directing), which includes mockumentary-style direct-to-camera interviews, a device that in this context doesn’t make much sense.

Guest’s approach is as much about creating atmosphere and fostering discomfort as it is about belly laughs, but there’s a difference between being droll and positively arid.

Granted, just adding Guest to HBO’s arsenal of auteurs is something of a coup, given his audience, and this latest BBC partnership doubtless comes with certain financial benefits. But while this foray into series territory possesses the same look and feel as Guest’s proven mocu film formula, the result merely demonstrates that it’s possible for the “Tree” to fall pretty far from the apple.

“Family Tree”

Series; HBO, Sun. May 12, 10:30 p.m.

Credits: Filmed in London and L.A. by Lucky Giant and HBO in association with NBCUniversal and the BBC. Executive producers, Christopher Guest, Jim Piddock, Karen Murphy, Deborah Oppenheimer, Mario Stylianides. running time: 30 MIN.

Cast: Chris O’Dowd, Nina Conti, Tom Bennett, Michael McKean, Lisa Palfrey, Jim Piddock.

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  1. stroonza says:

    I understand abusive language isn;t acceptable on this comments thread, so I will just strongly disagree with the reviewer, and question his ability to review shows without laugh tracks.

  2. Chris B. says:

    I disagree with the review as well…3 episodes in and I think it’s already had some brilliant scenes (the date with the girl who had a bone fetish comes to mind). The format doesn’t bother me either…it is his signature style and I think it allows for jokes like the hot air balloon bit.

    I do think overall it’s got room for improvement but I like what I’ve seen so far and am excited about it going forward…I’d say 7.5 to 8.

  3. gfatmat says:

    “Drollery” works when your family includes a talking monkey descended from a “horse’s ass”…if it were an USA production…instead of droll, there would be special effects
    The only real cartoon character is Pete, eminently worthy of being on the business end of some knockdown punches…

  4. P. Barrett says:

    Another fan here… least an 8 or 8.5. Pete is the weak link who provides the awkward moments, but the rest of the casting is spot on and provide more than a few LOL moments.

  5. Bill Catedit says:

    I would give it an 8.5 but I am not a critic. So much better than any stupid network comedy for sure!

  6. bob says:

    Hilarious show! Clearly, you should stick to substandard US TV sitcoms and remakes of Brit shows only, Mr reviewer.

  7. jim says:

    Seriously, are you sure you watched the same show? Or maybe you just don`t get British humor? I liked this within the first few minutes, and laughed all the way through. Can`t wait for the rest. HBO does it again. 10/10

  8. Jonathan says:

    Clearly you are not getting the true “fruit” of this show. I just watched it with my father, and we both were gasping with laughter…repeatedly. If you don’t get it, that’s fine, but just be clear about that. I give this a solid 10.

  9. CJ Austin says:

    Are you nuts or have you recently suffered an injury to your sense of humor? Family Tree is hilarious! I give it a 10.

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