I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. HBO’s new show Family Tree, on the surface, is very ODD. The same could be said of most of the works of show creator Christopher Guest. However, Guest always makes sure that underneath the surface of the strange is really funny, warm, and ODDLY relatable themes. The man behind This Is Spinal Tap, Best In Show, and A Mighty Wind brings his considerable talents to television in this ODDLY off beat mockumentary. Those talents could be said to be Guest’s mastery of manipulating and showcasing the ODDITIES of the world while still making the ODD people he puts in this world feel genuine. Anyone can be the over the top cooky relative who says funny things through a goofy puppet. However, Guest’s famous use of subtlety makes a character like Bea Chadwick be funny and yet still totally believable. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Family Tree is about a brother and sister searching through their family history after receiving a mysterious box from a deceased great aunt. As the show’s sizzle reel displays, it will become more about a man finding himself and really getting to the root of what truly is family. Now, you’re probably wondering how on earth can such an unremarkable and somewhat overdone storyline be fresh and funny. It is the characters makes this show bloom. Every interaction between any character is like a brand knew treat for the viewer. You never know where a conversation is going to go. This is accomplished through the use of improv for certain. However, the way the characters are so fleshed personality-wise makes you anticipate the hilarity eagerly before it unfolds.
I first saw Chris O’Dowd in Bridesmaids. He stood out as a surprisingly funny and charming performer. His small but hilarious role in This Is 40 had me hoping that the guy would get a starring vehicle in the future. I’m thankful and fortunate that Family Tree is it. His comedic timing and unflappable reactions as the shows straight man/lead are terrific. The character that most will probably be talking about is Bea, played by comedian/ventriloquist Nina Conti. Mel Gibson may have done the whole, use a puppet to express your feelings thing first. However, Nina makes it more of a realistic quirk her character has than a slapsticky gimmick her character is using for comedic effect. Don’t get me wrong. Monkey is funny and is used for comedy. Just not to the point where it gets annoyingly in your face about it. He is explained in literally three sentences and then you just find yourself accepting it as apart of Bea. That, again, is comedy through subtlety.
With a strong lead, a funny concept, and a litany of Christopher Guest all-stars like Michael McKean and Fred Willard, Family Tree is poised to be another winner for HBO. Sharp, clever, and yes…ODD.
Pay close attention to the six fingered man…watch it….then tell me I’m wrong.