The structure for this show is a little awkward. The characters are presumably in a documentary but that has never been addressed, and the documentary team film everything from interviews with Tom’s dad to Tom off on dates to Tom and his mate screwing around at home. It’s kind of lazy actually, to create an all encompassing framing device and just twist it however suits, realism be damned.
The second episode remedied that lack of realism a little, jettisoning the idea that Tom’s grandfather Harry was Chinese, revealing that he was actually an actor playing a Japanese man. Tom and his friend Pete visited the theatre where Harry used to perform, before honouring his memory by entering a costumed race. There were also some short interviews with Tom’s father and sister, and another terrible date for Tom.
The dates are probably going to be a recurring thing each week, and they are really enjoyable, and work well because they play to the strengths of the show’s improvised format. The actress (this week Ellie Taylor, last week Natalie Walter) playing the date can revel in their specifically weird character and Chris O’Dowd can bounce off that weirdness.
In other scenes in this episode – most in fact – the improvisation didn’t work because there wasn’t any particularly funny set-up for the actors to react to. Tom and Pete wander around a theatre discussing Harry’s past, or stand in Tom’s flat discussing Harry. I can’t quite tell if these scenes are just poorly scripted, without any attempt at humour, or if the improvisation didn’t work out as hoped but they left it in anyway. Either way, the show could have done with some tighter scripting and a more discerning director, willing to reshoot scenes.
There’s still a lot that is interesting about the show though. It has a character in it who communicates partly through a puppet monkey, and it has funny little ideas like the fake TV shows that gently mock British TV. And if the show has a major strength, it is its ability to introduce lots of fun characters each week, like the race organiser this episode.
I don’t find Family Tree to be that funny, and it’s not that captivating, but it has a subtle charm to it and is enjoyable enough, but it has to pick up in future episodes if it’s going to hold my interest for a full series.
[A quick note for regular readers: I might not review this show each week, because I don’t think there’s much worth in reviewing every episode if I really don’t like it – and there’s not a lot to dig into and critique in a flawed sitcom, unlike in a flawed drama. I’ll give it another episode or so]
- ‘This is a production of Hamlet.’ ‘I…don’t think so.’ ‘I don’t really think so either, I was joking.’
- ‘It’s overwhelming?’ ‘It’s fucking so much bone.’