Family Tree (TV series)

Last updated
Family Tree
Family Tree intertitle.png
Genre Comedy
Created by Christopher Guest
Jim Piddock
Written byChristopher Guest
Jim Piddock
Directed byChristopher Guest
Starring Chris O'Dowd
Country of originUnited Kingdom
United States
Original languageEnglish
No. of series1
No. of episodes8 (list of episodes)
Executive producers
  • Christopher Guest
  • Jim Piddock
  • Karen Murphy
  • Deborah Oppenheimer
  • Mario Stylianides
Camera setup Single
Running time30 minutes
Production companies
  • HBO
  • Crystal Palace Entertainment
  • Lucky Giant
  • NBCU International TV
  • BBC
Original network
Original releaseMay 12 
July 8, 2013 (2013-07-08)
External links
Official website

Family Tree is a documentary-style television comedy created by Christopher Guest and Jim Piddock. The series premiered on 12 May 2013, on the American pay television network HBO, and appeared on the British channel BBC Two in July 2013. [1] Guest, Piddock, Karen Murphy, Deborah Oppenheimer, and Mario Stylianides serve as the show's executive producers. [2]


On 23 January 2014, it was announced that HBO had cancelled the series. [3]


Chadwick Family
Other Characters


The series is written by Guest and Piddock and directed by Guest. [4] The dialogue is improvised by the actors. [4] The show's first series consisted of 8 episodes. [1] Filming took place in London and Los Angeles. [2]


The closing credits song "I'm Alone But That's OK" is performed by Ron Sexsmith and was written for the series by Christopher Guest and Harlan Collins.

Running jokes

Oddball inventions: Tom's father has invented a shoe tree that can cool or heat up a shoe; a woman whom Tom and Pete meet has invented a glass, attached around her aged mother's neck, that allows her to see if she's still breathing. Kitty Chadwick has invented flavoured enemas.

Awkward dates: Pete sets up Tom on bad first dates. One woman declares that dinosaurs still exist; another is obsessed with bones.

Eccentric hobbies, quirks and obsessions: Tom's sister Bea uses a hand puppet that tends to blurt out sentiments best left unspoken. Tom often talks to neighbour Mr. Pfister, an antique-store owner trying to make "landmarks in a bottle" when he's not checking the website "Is It Fatal?" to see if he suffers from a life-threatening disease. In the first episode, Pfister sends Tom on to Neville St Aubrey, a manic-looking antique photo expert whom Pfister calls "as mad as a box of frogs". In California, Julie, Tom's cousin Rick's girlfriend, is obsessed with owls — she collects owl figurines and owl pillows and draws owls in a notebook. Rick is preoccupied with Civil War re-enactments.

British TV: Tom's father loves to watch DVDs of (fictional) British sitcom, full of broad stereotypes and Carry On -like humour. One, There Goes The Neighbourhood, features an Alf Garnett-like Anglo-Indian. Another, set in a police station, is called Move Along, Please! Tom sees a bit of The Plantagenets, a Tudors -like historical drama, while Pete likes to watch "the new Sherlock Holmes," which parodies Star Trek and is called Sherlock Holmes: The New Frontier.


No.TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air dateU.S. viewers
1"The Box" Christopher Guest Christopher Guest & Jim Piddock 12 May 2013 (2013-05-12)0.79 [5]
Tom Chadwick and his sister Bea find out from their father that a great-aunt, Victoria, has died. An old picture in the box of things that she's left for Tom sends him on a search, accompanied by his pal Pete, to discover the identity of the man in the photograph.
2"Treading the Boards"Christopher GuestChristopher Guest & Jim Piddock19 May 2013 (2013-05-19)0.47 [6]
Tom learns that his great-grandfather, Harry Chadwick, was an actor and visits Hove, where he performed. He and Pete decide to run a kind of race in honour of Harry's famous comic act.
3"The Austerity Games"Christopher GuestChristopher Guest & Jim Piddock2 June 2013 (2013-06-02)0.50 [7]
After discovering grandfather William was on the GB team in the cash-poor 1948 Olympics, Tom hears about his and Victoria's athletic feats from a close friend she bequeathed her flat to; he learns that William and Victoria had a brother, Brian. Bea and Monkey try performing. His great-great-grandfather Charles, Tom finds, was born in the USA.
4"Country Life"Christopher GuestChristopher Guest & Jim Piddock9 June 2013 (2013-06-09)0.47 [8]
Along with Bea, his father, and Luba, Tom visits his cousins in rural Derbyshire and learns why they have red hair. His American cousins in California invite him to visit.
5"Welcome to America"Christopher GuestChristopher Guest & Jim Piddock16 June 2013 (2013-06-16)0.54 [9]
Tom stays in Glendale with his American cousins Al and Kitty Chadwick, who host an extended-family BBQ. Dave Chadwick, visiting from North Carolina, reveals a record of Charles Chadwick's departure for England on April 16, 1865.
6"Civil War"Christopher GuestChristopher Guest & Jim Piddock23 June 2013 (2013-06-23)0.41 [10]
After learning that Charles had both Union and Confederate uniforms, Tom gets into some petty skirmishes during a Civil War re-enactment.
7"Indians"Christopher GuestChristopher Guest & Jim Piddock30 June 2013 (2013-06-30)0.55 [11]
Tom, Bea, and Pete drive to Barstow, where they find that great-great-grandmother Rebecca was not Native American, as Tom had thought.
8"Cowboys"Christopher GuestChristopher Guest & Jim Piddock7 July 2013 (2013-07-07)0.56 [12]
Tom learns more about his Jewish ancestor, Bea has a breakdown on the beach when she loses Monkey, and Tom has to say goodbye to Ally as his departure from Los Angeles approaches.


The British press were more critical of the series than the American.

Sam Wollaston in The Guardian writes that "More seriously for Family Tree, it simply isn't very good. It's not bad, it's just kind of all right...I watched the second episode too. Same same, still no surprises, or lols, or any sort of laughs really.." [13]

Gerard O'Donovan in The Daily Telegraph feels that it "was fine, if not very funny, except when Guest’s trademark style came into play and we were expected to believe a TV crew was following Tom around, interviewing him and his pals. Uh, why? Guest’s previous films focused on subjects about which documentaries actually do get made – rock groups, dog shows, folk festivals. But a sad, under-motivated nobody pointlessly – and not very credibly – indulging his random curiosity? It just didn’t work." [14]

Tom Gliatto, television critic for People Magazine , gives Family Tree 3 1/2 stars and says "It is still a distinctly Guest production: often poky, always charmingly whimsical and, from time to time, so astoundingly funny you seem to have shot into a distant stratosphere of pure comedy."

Tim Goodman of The Hollywood Reporter writes "the half-hour show works its magic the patented Guest way: by slowly, with pinpoint accuracy, drilling down into the absurdist ways of ordinary people. The series works on multiple levels, but clearly one is O'Dowd's charm... Here's hoping HBO lets Family Tree grow for many seasons." [15]

Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone writes that "Family Tree is the kind of brilliant achievement only Christopher Guest could attempt, in his signature style of documentary footage and improvised dialogue, loaded with eccentric clods bumbling into moments of sublimely awkward truth."

Robert Lloyd, television critic for the Los Angeles Times , writes "Christopher Guest's poignantly comical HBO series bears the director's distinctively eccentric marks." He also mentions, "Guest gives the world a quarter-twist toward the ridiculous, without losing sight of the human dreams and strivings, obsessions and accommodations that are his main and constant subject." [16]

Mike Hale of the New York Times writes "As in Mr. Guest's films, its story is less important than the presentation of a gallery of eccentrics, ranging from mildly odd to completely loony." He goes on to say "The so far quiet and modest vibe of the show may shift as well. In any case, more members of the Guest ensemble, including Ed Begley Jr. and Fred Willard, will appear, which can only be a good thing." [17]

Alan Sepinwall, who reviewed the show for HitFix , says "And that’s perhaps the most impressive thing about Family Tree: it invites you to laugh at all these kooks in a way that doesn’t feel mean-spirited, and it takes parts of its hero’s journey quite seriously." [18]

Metacritic gives the series a rating of 74% based on reviews from 28 critics. [19]

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