Thursday, July 25, 2013

Thoughts on HBO's show Family Tree

I don't get HBO but my dad does, so whenever I've been going over there I've been checking out the Christopher Guest series Family Tree on HBO On Demand. If you haven't heard about it, it's a mockumentary format wry comedy about a man, played by Chris O'Dowd, who inherits a box of mementos from his late great-aunt and not knowing much about his family to begin with, finds a picture of someone he assumes is his great-grandfather. Investigating that mystery sets him off on finding out more and more about each of the crazy and colorful characters he learns about on his family tree.

I'm a genealogy buff - how could I not love it? But to be more specific:

  • Even if you're not a genealogy fan, if you are a Christopher Guest fan you should check this series out - it is classic Guest. It's a mockumentary in the vein of Guest films like Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman, with the usual wacky cast of characters and many of Guest's usual suspects, such as Bob Balaban and Fred Willard, popping up. It's funny in a wry, dry, deadpan sort of way.
  • Chris O'Dowd is great. You might know him as the police officer/love interest in the movie Bridesmaids, but I knew about him years before that from his role as an Irish IT nerd in the Britcom The IT Crowd. 
  • If you ARE into genealogy or if this show sparks even the slightest interest in genealogy for you, the specific genealogy bit that I love about this show is that yes, O'Dowd's character uses the Internet and yes, he takes a DNA test, but his genealogy journey is about photographs of unknown people and other family heirlooms and mementos that raise questions about who he is and where he came from. He goes to genealogy research centers but he also goes to cemeteries, he connects with cousins, he visits old homes of his relatives and talks to neighbors and old co-workers, anybody who might know the stories, anybody who might be a living resource. And I guess that's what I love the most about the genealogy aspect. He's not collecting ancestors. We all do that to an extent. I know I do. He wants to know the stories - he finds a picture of a great-grandfather he never knew but also wants to know what he did for a living and what others thought of him and funny stories about his days performing as the rearend of a two-person horse. And just as we all do, he's trying to connect himself to those stories - he's trying to find bits of himself and his personality and his journey in the ancestors he's discovering and learning about. And he finds cousins during his journey! I have found cousins, amazing cousins who are both great people and great resources - that's one of the best parts. Strangers won't care about your personal family tree finds. Friends and even some family members won't even care. But cousins, fellow researching cousins, will! There's really no point in finding the stories unless you also find people to share them with!
I haven't finished the season yet but I'm enjoying it so far. Have you watched Family Tree? What are your thoughts on the show? 

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