Family Tree Review: “Treading The Boards” (Season 1, Episode 2)


I see what Christopher Guest’s intentions are now. At first, I thought the whole show (or perhaps just the first season) would be based around Tom searching for clues and oddities about his late great-grandfather Harry Chadwick. Well, the mystery was rather quickly solved — the guy was an actor. I’m sad to say I was a little disappointed by this sudden reversal, as I expected more of a long story arc to take place, at least during three quarters of a season. I suppose it wasn’t meant to be though.

While Family Tree‘s series premiere The Box was laugh-out-loud funny and increasingly awkward, last night’s episode was slow-paced and featured visibly improvised, seldom funny dialogue. Tom’s best friend Pete was amusing at first, but then becomes annoying, stupid and clumsy, and it seems Tom Bennett struggles to keep up with Chris O’Dowd’s comedic abilities.

In Treading the Boards, the duo goes to Hove in order to find out more about Chadwick, and they end up at the Regent’s Theater, where two employees tell them the truth behind Harry’s story, who had apparently had a minor role in a play in which Sir Laurence Olivier had starred, which greatly impresses Tom, but his admiration for his late great-grandfather somewhat sinks when he’s told by theater staff that Harry used to do a costume horse routine with his partner Sid, who slept with his wife and farted on his face during a presentation.

Tom and Pete eventually decide to participate in a costume horse derby, which they shamefully lose. I wasn’t just disappointed with the significant lack of laughs, but also by the very brief appearance by Tom’s ventriloquist sister Bea — arguably the funniest character in the show. However, there were two scenes that made this episode worthwhile: Tom’s date and graveyard scene. The first one is probably one of the most awkwardly hilarious date scenes I’ve ever witnessed. I’ve seen all of Christopher Guest’s movies, and never have I felt more uncomfortable watching a scene he directed.

Pete sets Tom up with a beautiful girl named Tracey. However, the night quickly turns into a painfully unpleasant experience, as Tracey reveals she possesses an extreme fascination for bones. Yes, bones. What on earth could she possibly see in bones? I can only imagine how perplexing it must have been for poor Tom, who had to deal with a woman who believed dinosaurs still existed in The Box. The more he talks to Tracy, the more convinced he is that she’s just plain weird.

O’Dowd’s facial expressions and comedic timing during this scene are priceless, which also reflect on his natural talent for performance. Tracey was played by comedienne Ellie Taylor, who did a fantastic job at portraying the character, even though I know we’ll never see her again. She doesn’t shy away from doing a scene with O’Dowd, who’s vastly more experienced than her, though she’s just as amusing. The dreadful date ends with Tom pouring salt on Tracey’s clavicle. No, I’m not joking, that really happens, and we all get to sit down and watch it unfold. At least it’s funny, unlike anything else that went on during the episode. Tom ends almost in tears as he realizes single life is harder than it seems, specially if you’ve been recently dumped, and confronts Tracey about her obsession with bones, to which she replies she can talk about stones, as well.

The graveyard scene was not particularly funny, although I did spot something that caught my attention. Towards the end, when Tom stares at Harry’s grave, he turns to look at his great-great-grandfather and mother’s graves, he notices that they forgot to put a date of birth for both of them, and he says “I wonder what we’ll find out about them.” As I said in the beginning of my review, I now understand the format of the show — Tom will try to track his whole ancestry, which will take him to Los Angeles, as seen in the previews. I guess it was rather obvious from the very beginning, since the name of the show is Family Tree, though I suppose I thought the great mystery would be the origins of Harry Chadwick. I’m glad I was mistaken, this could be just as good if Guest plays his cards right, and if Tom continues to go on doomed dates with beautiful yet extremely unpleasant dames. And it wouldn’t hurt them to start featuring Bea more prominently.

What did you think of the new Family Tree episode? Does the new HBO series still show promise?