Last week, “Family Tree” proved that it’s very possibly reached the end of its funniness with “The Austerity Games.” Bea & Monkey auditioned to perform at a five-year-old’s birthday party and did perform at a Greek wedding, both of which were disasters and somewhat painful to watch (to me, at least, although several readers did comment that they enjoyed Bea & Monk. And, to all my commenters and readers, thank you!). We didn’t really learn anything new about the Chadwicks except where the family plots are for their grandparents William and Lydia and great-aunt Victoria. Mildred, the late Victoria’s best friend/companion/possible girlfriend, provided Tom more clues about the family by way of a previously unknown great-uncle named Brian. Also, we learn that granddad William and great-aunt Victoria were in the 1948 Summer Olympics. Lastly, Mr. Pfister’s daughter Lucy is introduced and will likely become a love interest for Tom at point. The episode focused so very much on Bea & Monk that Tom’s search was next to nothing and provided little fruit except for the discovery of Brian and the 1948 Olympics.
With this week’s episode, “Country Life,” I wish I could say that the humor has returned and all is well and funny again. I really, really wish I could say that. Instead, everything just felt awkward. For the first time ever, I need to issue a warning: DUE TO MATERIAL IN THIS EPISODE, DO NOT WATCH IT WITH A MEMBER OF THE OPPOSITE SEX. IT IS VERY AWKWARD AND WILL LIKELY MAKE YOU EMBARRASSED, AS IT DID ME AND MY FRIEND MAX. That being said, here’s the recap: Pete needs to impregnate a female alpaca at the zoo and we get far too many details about how he has to do that. Tom uses the Internet to track down some relatives in Derbyshire and California. In a private interview, Tom reveals he is not a button expert. While trying on a new outfit at Mr. Pfister’s, Tom says that he ran into Sarah and, well, there are still feelings on his part for her but they are not reciprocated. This part made me feel quite sad for Tom, as he is a genuinely nice guy and deserves a wonderful girl. Tom goes on a job interview and basically begs to be hired. Pete tells us he wants children. Next, Bea & Monkey, Tom, Luba (Did I tell you Keith’s wife finally has a name? I can’t tell you how excited this makes me.), and Keith travel to Derbyshire to meet up with Brian’s offspring and that side of the Chadwick family. According to Keith, nature is a form of anarchy, and Tom attempts to quote Joyce Killner’s poem “Trees,” only to have this nice and somewhat quaint moment destroyed by Luba. The Derbyshire Chadwicks are, to put it nicely, very rural and very red-headed. Tom is asked to castrate a sheep, Luba shares a traditional ceremony with some of the family, and Keith and his cousin enjoy some British comedy. Lastly, we learn all about the Derbyshire Chadwicks before the London Chadwicks head back home.
Due to the complete awkward nature of this episode – have I mentioned it’s awkward and uncomfortable to watch with a person of the opposite sex? – I can’t give it a high rating. On our 1 to 5 scale, this is barely a 1.3. If Chris O’Dowd didn’t play Tom so well, it might be 1.1. That said, he’s pretty awesome. There were a few funny moments and a couple profound ones, but, overall, this episode is even worse than last week’s. Without those profound moments, this show would have no redeeming qualities; thankfully, we do get one or two every week. If this is the ongoing direction for “Family Tree,” I am very worried and don’t see HBO renewing it. Maybe it’s just a miniseries?
Now, with the detailed recap… I won’t go in the order in which things went in the episode this time, so here are the larger chunks of the story all together.
As I said, Tom tells us he’s not a button expert. If you’re wondering where this out of left field comment came from, allow me to explain. In Great-Aunt Victoria’s box, apparently, are some old buttons. Tom can tell they’re old, but not much else. One has an eagle on the front, which must mean it’s from America. Also, the word “‘quality’ [is] on the back so it can’t be from England,” he says.
Why is this important? 1) Funny joke about England (no offense, my British friends!). 2) It’s basically the funniest point in this entire episode. Also, we learn that great-great grandparents Charles and Rebecca Chadwick emigrated from America to England. I see a trip to America in the future!
Far too many details about how Pete plans to get the female alpaca (apparently called a hembra) pregnant are given. If you’re that curious, please just look up how that happens on Google. I beg you, don’t make me recap it; I don’t think I can and not be embarrassed for the rest of eternity. Special thanks to my good friend Max for bearing those parts with me, although after this episode and all its uncomfortableness, we couldn’t look at each other for a good 15 minutes. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. Also, there are several scenes of this, which is why I’m not doing the episode in order.
While visiting Mr. Pfister and trying on a new outfit, Tom tells us he ran into Sarah and her new boyfriend Clint. Aside from a head tilt when she said “Hey Tom” – which he was not having at all – Tom tells Mr. Pfister about her wearing red lipstick: “I used to love when she would wear red lipstick. She would never wear it for me because she thought it looked too slutty. She would wear this pale pink shit. But no, Clint likes red lipstick so she’s all over it. She looks like a big sexy clown mouth.” Poor Tom. I always feel so sorry for him whenever he mentions Sarah. If Lucy Pfister is going to make an appearance and start dating Tom, I hope it happens soon.
Still unemployed, Tom begs for a job which he can’t get because he doesn’t know how to operate a specific software program that is required. I doubt he’ll receive a call back from them, but you never know.
The saving grace for Pete this episode comes in the form of discussing mothers. In one of those fake interview moments, he says, “I’d love to be a dad. I mean, I’ve got to find the right girl first. None of the girls I’m seeing at the moment are – they’re not mother material. Well, one of them is a mother. But the others are like 16 and 18. I met her at an over-40s night in Catford. And she’s a terrible mom, actually… If I meet the right girl, I’m happy to have a baby. It’d be a little babe – and I’d wear it on a papoose and then I’d push him on the swings and roundabouts. Then I’d have a go, ’cause I still love playgrounds, especially when drunk.” Oh yeah, Pete, you are so ready to be a father. (Note my extreme sarcasm.)
Tom, Bea & Monk, Keith, and Luba go on a road trip to Derbyshire. The scariest part of it was that Bea & Monk were driving. That would make me feel so safe, knowing that one of the driver’s hand was covered in a cloth puppet. Not really; I’m being sarcastic. Keith’s best line of the episode? “I don’t trust nature. It’s anarchy.” It’s not as great as some, but I’ll take it. Tom wonders why grandfather William and great-uncle Brian had a falling out, and expect Monkey to come up with a great comment: “Maybe he was locked in an attic. Didn’t get out much. Ate cat food.” For some reason, I think of Harry Potter and am really hoping that dear Harry won’t be ruined for me because of Monkey. Next, Luba has to use the restroom, so Bea stops the car. Luba then grabs a shovel and proceeds to run into the woods to dig herself a hole. A beautiful moment of Keith talking about the beauty of the countryside and Joyce Killner’s poem “Trees” is ruined by Luba shouting something in Moldovan. It was a fantastic moment that was heartfelt and genuine – and it was ripped away by an idiot doing something idiotic. The only profound thing Tom can then say is “Trees are great” and we’re back in the car.
Once in Derbyshire, we encounter awkward introductions, which are fairly realistic and to be expected. Cousin Graham takes Luba, Keith, and Bea & Monk inside while Emma, the wife of Ronnie who is Graham’s son, takes Tom to meet Ronnie, who is working in the barn around pregnant female cows. He extends a manure-covered hand to Tom, who is not very keen on shaking it. But – ha! ha! – it’s a joke Ronnie plays on everyone. Next, Ronnie takes Tom out to castrate some lambs. They aren’t using bricks to do it anymore (Ronnie: “Smash, crackle, and pop!”), but instead some rusty pliers/clippers. I’m a woman but hurt just thinking of that. Tom’s response to the castration request? A very well-deserved and understandable “Shut the f*** up.” Eventually Tom says he can’t do it, Ronnie laughs, and, oh, it’s a joke Ronnie is playing on Tom because he can.
In the middle of a bathroom break that Tom takes to gather up his courage to castrate the lamb and call Pete for advice, he receives a video chat from Alistair Chadwick, Jr., in California. The conversation is a bit stilted and no one knows what to say. It ends with Al and Cousin Kitty inviting Tom to come visit, and he says that he will. See? I told you there would be a trip to California in the future.
Keith and Graham bond while watching the cop comedy “Move Along, Please!” but have a falling out over whether or not being a policeman/woman is a noble profession. I must side with Keith on this and say, yes, 100%, it is a noble profession.
In the kitchen, Luba questions Ronnie’s wife Emma’s cooking skills because Luba is an idiot. Emma is working on a dress for the Feast of St. Krakowitz, which is not a real thing because there is no St. Krakowitz. Luba decides to share Moldova’s Festival of Life with Bea & Monk and Emma. Let me just tell you it is stupid, involves a magic chicken and magic eggs, virgins on a mountaintop, men, keeping an egg in your mouth, true love, and prostitutes dying. Fun all around, right?
At a big Chadwick family dinner, we learn about what happened between William and Brian. Graham is kind enough to enlighten us: “[O]ne day, William decided to tell Brian something which he should have kept to himself. And it was who was Brian’s real dad… Now, you see, Harry and Sid Balducci were part of the horse… Well, one day Sid and Elsie (Harry’s wife) – how shall I put it?… She got front ended, and result was a lot of little redheads.” After showing Tom the family photo, Graham proudly proclaims, “We don’t come from the ass end of the horse. We come from front end.” Monkey jumps in and saves the day, though, with, “So not to put too fine a point on it, the redheads are bastards.” I never thought I would say that Monkey would have the saving the day comment, but there you go.
At the end of the episode, Tom confirms that he no longer wants to be a farmer because they are either “too posh or…too angry.” Instead, he’s going to see Al in California. This trip is the perfect way for Christopher Guest and his troupe to appear in next week’s episode, as you can see in the clip. I was wondering when Mr. Guest would guest star, and now we know.
Hopefully, with Guest’s troupe being on the show, the episode will be great. I have my fingers crossed. I am still hopefully for this show namely because of Chris O’Dowd. He has been fantastic every week, and if that’s not reason enough to keep watching and reading about “Family Tree,” then I don’t know. See you next week in California!
VL Vanderveer is a graduate of East Tennessee State University’s Department of Literature and Language. Aside from her blogging for HBOWatch.com, she can be found in the Marketing department of InnLink Central Reservations Services.