This week’s “Family Tree” takes us to the country. In many series, the ‘country episode’ (or ‘cowboy,’ ‘hunting,’ or ‘camping’) is a device intended to break the rhythm of a series, usually a comedy, and show the characters in a refreshing new setting.
In the case of “Family Tree” this is just one more backdrop for Tom’s quest for ancestral knowledge, since each week’s adventure offers up a new setting.
This does help to keep the series fresh, and although the inclusion of ‘pranks on the city guy’ is often a crutch in these country episodes, the jokes here were new and quite funny, especially the veal castration scene.
Though not taking place on the farm, the similarly themed breeding scene at the zoo with Tom’s friend Pete was not as funny. Such scenes, when set up so deliberately, leave the viewer with high expectations, so seeing Pete struggling with manuals and artificial Alpaca vaginas was only somewhat effective.
This week, though in his immature style, Pete got to mention his desire to be a Dad, and though he may not be ready for it, I think his point got across. With Tom’s need for family answers, last week’s scene where Tom’s sister Bea expressed her admiration of a strong family, and now in this scene with Pete, we see that all these characters are showing a need for family. Tom’s dad has not yet come around, as he seems content with his TV shows and his quirky girlfriend, whose behavior has passed the threshold of absurdity.
The family theme is what will keep us rooting for these characters; they are all likable and funny, but seeing their need for stronger relationships is what makes us really care about them, even Pete.
Despite the new settings each week, and probably due to the series’ focus on dialogue, there are still many scenes in living rooms and at mealtime. This along with the small core of main characters contributes a certain amount of blandness and similarity across episodes, and puts a lot of pressure on the dialogue, which is entertaining but often is not enough to carry the episode.
There’s still so much here that we’ve seen before from Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries. Right now, “Family Tree” remains a solid entry in the category of ‘amusing.’ I hope that the series can manage to rise above this level as the characters grow, and ideally we’ll also see some stylistic differences emerge from the writers.