Family Tree’s writer Christopher Guest has an interesting history which probably informed this show quite a bit. Born in New York to a British Lord, he has dual British and American citizenship. His grandparents where Jewish immigrants from Russia, and he spent his early life crossing the Atlantic. The main character in this show, delving into his family history and soon to be seen visiting America as part of his search, must be heavily influence by Guest’s own experiences.
And that’s a good thing, because it gives the show some weight, and stops it from being a random collection of improvised scenes. Tom is motivated in his search by his struggles in his own life – unemployed and having just broken up with his girlfriend he hilariously compared this episode to an all consuming black hole. Too many British comedies make no attempt to add any depth to the characters or make any attempt at theme. It’s enjoyable to see a comedy that has hints of something more than just gags and pratfalls.
Despite this, I still think the show is a little aimless, consisting mainly of a collection of interesting but not particularly funny scenes. This episode was better than the first two though, as Tom discovered that his grandfather was a boxer in the 1948 Olympics, and that his family line can be traced back to the United States. I could really do without Tom’s friend tagging along though because his character is incredibly annoying. There was one funny moment where he spoke for a full minute over the top of a woman he and Tom visited, but for every decent scene with him there is an annoying one – his cartoonish scene boxing a child for instance.
The funniest parts of this episode featured Tom’s sister Bea, and her attempts to start a career performing with her monkey. In the episode’s opening scene, she pitched an obscenity strewn performance to the horrified, deadpan parents of a child having a birthday party, and the episode closed with an equally awful act at a wedding. ‘Suicide rates are declining,’ is a bold opening for a stand-up, but the guests here found it inappropriate for a wedding and Bea left the stage trying to pretend to herself that it wasn’t a complete car-crash of an evening. I’m interested in seeing more of Bea and her weird mechanism for coping with her insecurities.
I get the impression that Family Tree is a slow burn, and that it will start to kick in after a few episodes. I hope so, because right now it is moving at a really gentle pace, to put it kindly. The performances though, and the shading to Bea and Tom, give me hope that it will be worth continuing to watch.
- ‘Fucking fuck you, you fucking whore.’
- ‘Winner of the bronze medal…’ Why did I say bronze? If I’m making it up just say gold.’
- ‘What? Why you laughing? What are you doing with your life?’
- Women – with their ‘hair and their thoughts.’