The format / formula for “Family Tree” is now taking shape. In “Treading the Boards,” Tom collects a a few more genealogical nuggets about his family – one of them being that his great grandfather’s wife left him for his showbusiness partner Sid. We also learn a bit about Tom’s recent breakup – Since Tom calls himself and his great grandfather cuckolds, we learn that Sara must have had an affair.
Again, we get a look at one person’s pride in their personal projects, similar to last weeks’ ‘Landmarks in a Bottle’ and ‘Shoe heater/cooler.’ A neighbor has devised a mirror attached to her mother, that she uses to confirm that she is still breathing. The subtle description of this device makes this bit work hilariously, and part of the humor is that there are a few caregivers out there that wish they had such a device- ‘Funny because it’s true.’ Moments like these power along the series, since developments in the main story are revealed slowly.
The revelation that Harry Chadwick was a company player at the Regents Theatre led to the discovery that his main act was playing a horses’s ass. This humor seems a little too direct and literal, and the annual pantomime character race felt more like a deleted scene from Borat. As is often the case, elaborate sight gags can require too much setup and then overstay their welcome. I doubt this race was intended to be the big comedic moment, but because of the screen time and absurdity of it, it had a high profile. This is unfortunate since it really didn’t work very well. So far the comedic gems in this series lie in moments of subtle, downplayed dialogue, which is typical in Guest’s mockumentaries.
Tom’s current ‘life state’ – unemployed and still trying to recover from his breakup, helps to explain why he’s interested in this only moderately productive pursuit of learning about his family history. This is important since it helps keep Tom’s character’s actions realistic. Since he is researching a distant relative, and also possibly due to where he is in his life right now, he approaches this quest with a certain indifference and sense of humor. Which makes the journey a lot less heavy and more fun for the viewer.
Back to the format / formula: With each bit of information gathered, and with ‘answers just leading to more questions,’ creators Guest / Piddock can set up any kind of situational gag they want each episode, not unlike the event of the week one can see in another HBO comedy, “Veep.” And we can be certain that the writers & creators will use the flexibility this format provides, keeping this series fresh and fun.
*Final thought: I was glad to see that Tom’s sister Bea and her monkey puppet had a minor presence in this episode. I love the acting by Nina Conti but was a little worried that we would be seeing too much of the monkey puppet each week.