From the pen of writer, actor and comedian Christopher Guest comes HBO’s Family Tree, a mockumentary series that centre on one man’s mission to find himself – one relative at a time. Fresh from his big screen success in Bridesmaids (2011) and The Sapphires (2012), Chris O’Dowd takes the lead as Tom Chadwick, a thirtysomething who finds purpose in a mysterious box of belongings inherited from a great aunt he had never met. The box sparks the beginning of a journey of self-discovery as Tom begins investigating his family lineage and uncovers a plethora of wild and wonderful characters along the way.
Beginning in London, Tom travels to his father’s home with his sister Bea (Nina Conti) and her truth speaking, hand-puppet Monkey. When their father, Keith (Michael McKean) breaks the news of their aunties death, both siblings are thrilled to discover that they will receive some inheritance. What immediately appears to Tom as a box of junk, soon turns into an informative treasure trove. As Tom investigates further into the photographs he uncovers some unusual stories and intriguing ancestors, including the back end of a pantomime horse, war heroes, cowboys, actors and Native Americans. Perfectly cast, this is a heart-warming pleasure that wholly captures the idiosyncrasies of every family, dysfunctional or not.
The premise of Family Tree has great scope taking the characters from rural London to Los Angeles and the introduction of a variety of characters in each of the episodes works fantastically. O’Dowd is a charismatic lead with superb comedic timing and the ability to bounce off all who surround him. Conti is perfect as Bea, Tom’s ventriloquist sister and the trio (including her puppet, ‘Monkey’) have perfect sibling chemistry. Conti, famous for her ventriloquism, is also able to draw on her remarkable talents and display them organically, with a subtle and believable back-story. The series does occasionally struggles with its overall identity as the camera forgets its place, but this doesn’t deter from the overall magnificence of the series.
As the season progresses, the production and cast become more impressive, particularly with the Los Angeles location and the array of comedy talents that are given free reign with their dialogue. Ed Begley Jr. and Lisa Palfry as Al and Luba Chadwick, Tom’s third aunt and uncle bring a hilarious culture clash to the mix and Fred Willard is comedy gold as Al’s crude neighbour. The only disappointing thing about this series is that it ends at eight episodes. Family Tree is brilliantly improvised, unpredictable, and has the power to branch out and showcase the cream of international comedic talent along the way. A second season can’t come quickly enough.