‘Family Tree’ (BBC2) Review

From Jim Piddock and This is Spinal Tap creator, Christopher Guest, comes Anglo-American comedy Family Tree, starring Chris O’Dowd, Nina Conti, Michael McKean and the writers themselves.

The series focuses on Tom Chadwick. Jobless, single and at a loose end, he is bequeathed a chest of family treasures from an aunt who he has no recollection of ever meeting. The items inside the chest spur him on to investigate his lineage, with the help of family, friends and complete strangers.

 

I was looking forward to Family Tree: the cast list was impressive and its plot seemed original. Granted, the trailers hadn’t appeared particularly funny but I just told myself that they were saving the gems for the actual programme.

As the credits rolled on the first episode, however, I realised that they hadn’t. What had been in the trailers had been ‘the gems’.

Now first episodes tend to either pack in loads of laughs, leaving plot and characters ignored, or develop the story really well, but all but abandon the jokes. Family Tree falls into the latter camp as by the end of the episode, although I was now familiar with the storyline and characters, I simply didn’t feel like I’d been watching a comedy – it was like Chris O’Dowd had been in a very slow episode of Who Do You Think You Are?. It did manage to make me smile – or rather the brilliant Nina Conti did – but it was generally unimpressive and laugh-free.

Perhaps Guest and Piddock fell into the trap of thinking that the naturalism of a mockumentary would take care of the comedy side of things, meaning they didn’t really need to write any jokes? At first glance it may indeed seem that the gags in shows such as The Office and The Royle Family (although not a mockumentary) stemmed from their naturalism but that’s wrong: it was the everyday, mundane things which Brent and the Royles said and did which made those sitcoms so funny, and it’s just that the everyday, mundane situations that they were in enhanced how funny their lines were. The writers of Family Tree seem to have got confused somewhere along the line: they created the banal situation okay, but they forgot to weave in the dialogue and actions to create the comedy .

 

All Family Tree seemed to show was that Chris O’Dowd and Nina Conti are great performers even with an average script – because, even if they did seem somewhat shoe-horned in, it was Nina and her trusty Monk who provided the best moments in this episode.

Let’s hope it will grow into a funnier, more memorable series.

Images courtesy of BBC and Ray Burmiston.  ©NBCUniversal

Family Tree is on Tuesdays at 10:00pm on BBC2

What did you think of Family Tree? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Please comment below or tweet me – @UKTVReviewer.

You can also see my recommendations for the coming week’s TV on this blog, published every Saturday at midnight.

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