TV Review: Family Tree 101 – The Box

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The new HBO show from Christopher Guest and his gang gets off to a great start that shows a lot of promise for the future.

Following a thirty something Irish/Englishman, Tom Chadwick, and his family as an inherited gift from a deceased aunt leads them to discover there is more to their family than they ever knew. A picture in a box of an old military type leads Tom to investigate further and the journey allows us to meet the main players on the show and some odd ducks along the way.

Some will surely claim that the program is entirely too quirky, but that is part of its charm. Everyone has something ridiculous about them in a Guest production and Family Tree is no different. From Tom’s sister’s, Bea, monkey puppet ventriloquist act to their father’s invention aspirations, most of the main characters have something like that to latch on to and they are all quite funny. Plus, all these quirks give each of the characters a distinct trait to latch on to that helps them become memorable along with askew this world just enough from reality to heighten the comedy. Who doesn’t like a guy who likes bits and bobs?

Nina Conti plays Bea and she is already an early front runner for favorite character. Her little monkey is already delivering a number of laughs and her back story too how she started this is both believable (in a weird way) and hilarious. IMDB shows she is in all eight episodes, so hopefully she goes states side with Tom. Chris O’Dowd is an excellent straight man as Tom and while he is always hilarious he already seems like he is going to be the perfect rock for all of this craziness to bounce off of. Tom’s best friend Pete, played by Tom Bennett, is also funny in a brief appearance, but I think we will be getting to know him a little further on down the line. As is, he seems like an excellent player for O’Dowd to play off of, especially because he is just a bit more dim than Tom seems to be.

A couple of Guest regulars show up this week as well, with Michael McKean throws on a British accent to play Tom and Bea’s father. Besides being married to a seemingly mentally disabled woman, McKean is that familiar rock in a Guest work that makes you feel right at home. Jim Piddock also pops up as or bits and bobs expert, he also created and co-wrote the series with Guest, and he manages to also get the funniest line of the night as O’Dowd tries to play an unfortunately misinterpreted flute.

Guest’s direction is as solid as you would expect, familiar yet with a seemingly fresh coat of paint as the production seems to be filmed on digital. His real craft comes in the episodes comedic timing and writing though and that is as sharp here as his best films.

Christopher Guest fans should rejoice as it seem like he and his team have a winner on their hands with Family Tree. His last work, For Your Consideration, I think the consensus has shown to be his least enjoyed work and Family Tree certainly feels like a return to form. I greatly look forward to the coming season and have high hopes that the show will only get stronger. I look forward to having Guest in my living room every week.

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