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Has the Humor Disappeared with “The Austerity Games”?

By VL Vanderveer on Jun 5, 2013 to Family Tree

Previously, we learned that Harry Chadwick was more than a photographer: he was an actor at the Regent’s Theatre and played the rear-end of a pantomime horse. The “gob ender” (meaning the front) was Sid Balducci, who had an affair with Harry’s wife and, after Harry’s early death, ran off with the wife and they got married. Tom Chadwick had a hard time accepting all of that, and we end with him at Harry’s grave, saying they are both cuckolds. Also: Tom’s sister, Bea, and her puppet Monkey decided to start acting (cool fact: Nina Conti, the actress who plays Bea, is actually a ventriloquist and does Monkey’s voice), and Tom and best friend Pete Stupples ran in a pantomime horserace together with Tom as the rear-end, which they lost miserably.


Tonight’s episode attempts to focus on the Austerity Games (hence the title), also known as the 1948 Summer Olympics which took place in London and Tom’s grandfather William, but is more of a mishmash of various plots than family-centered like our first two episodes. First, though, we get a real treat of an opening as Bea and Monk audition as entertainment for a five-year-old’s birthday party. Needless to say, it does not go well. Bea, Monk, and Tom visit the Chadwick family plot and realize they could be there in several years. Tom and Pete track down Mildred, to whom Victoria willed her flat. While there, they learn more about William and the family, including a brother they never knew she had and the part William and Victoria played in the 1948 Olympics. While visiting Mr. Pfister, Tom meets his daughter, Lucy, and contrivance is served in the form of a moist cake. Dad Keith has another gem of a quote when Bea and Tom visit. Tom goes to the gym where his grandfather William trained, and Pete asks for a boxing partner. And lastly, we see Bea and Monk’s act at a Greek wedding.

bronze medal copyIf you’ve read my other two posts about “Family Tree,” you know that I go for the details. For once, though, this is pretty much the episode, fully summed up but without a few funny quotes and pictures. It was more of a filler/segue episode than one with new or super important – or even funny – information. There was no mystery like with Harry Chadwick; instead, the answers are easily served over a bottle of beer. The whole Bea and Monk relationship/partnership/whatever-this-is only gets weirder and more off key. There isn’t the super fun portion of the show I love known as Tom’s Horrible Date, which actually isn’t recurring. Instead, we have contrivance in Lucy Pfister bringing a moist cake to her father. There were some good quotes but, overall, I just can’t say this was a great episode. It certainly is not on par with the first two, and I wonder if it even comes close to them. In many ways, I saw this as choppy and not Chadwick-history focused, which I thought (and hey, I can be wrong) the show was about. Overall, 1 being the worst ever and 5 being the best thing I’ve ever in my life seen, this is 1.4. If this was the first episode of the show you ever saw, I doubt you’d watch again. To me, this was scripted and not off the cuff, Tom’s usual dry humor areas were absent or cut out, and Pete, Bea, and Monkey are just getting too silly for words. So, 1.4, and be grateful for that, Christopher Guest. You better step it up next week.

Now, into a bit more detail about the show.

We open with Bea and Monkey auditioning in front of two parents for their son’s birthday party. The kid is turning five. Five, people. Of course, Bea and Monk – who have no mental filter of any kind – insist this is a great time to talk about drugs and how good mushrooms are, namely because they don’t make you super erratic. From a person who has never done drugs of any kind, this makes me go, “What the heck did I just hear?” Also appropriate fare for the five-year-old’s party is “Ask Monk!” because every child will want to know if their dad is gay or why their mom is frigid. It’s all about keepin’ it real, yo (can you feel my sarcasm?).

Next, Tom and Bea (and Monk, who is getting annoying at this point) go to visit the Chadwick family plot. Grandfather William, Grandmother Lydia, and Great-aunt Victoria are all there – “1, 2, 3 dead Chadwicks,” as Tom says – and Bea and Tom realize this is where they will be eventually. Tom jokingly blames Victoria for setting him on this quest in which he learns about the family. We discover that William and Lydia died in a freak hot air balloon accident, and all balloons were banned from Chadwick parties. When Tom is dead, Bea says she will bring him flowers and soup. He replies with, “Wait – why am I dead first?” “Because you’ve got less to live for, I think,” says Monk. Oh, and at the funeral for William and Lydia, people partied and played “Staying Alive” by the BeeGees. That makes total sense to me; how about you? (Note my sarcasm.) I love this family.

Tom begins poking around in the box from Great-Aunt Victoria and discovers a jersey from the 1948 Summer Olympics . The reason I bring up this forty-second or so long clip is Tom’s excellent and humorous quote: “Winner of the Bronze Medal, Mister…. – Why did I say bronze? If I’m making it up, just make it gold.”


To learn more about the Austerity Games and his grandfather, Tom visits dear Mr. Pfister. This is only important because Mr. Pfister’s daugther, Lucy, comes by to bring him a (contrivance) cake. She and Tom meet again, and Tom learns that her recent engagement has been broken up. They commiserate for a moment about how bad breakups are. Oh – we also learn that Tom lives above Mr. Pfister’s shop, which is why we see them together in every episode. About his breakup and Lucy’s, Tom says, “You’re so close… Then you wish that they had never been born.” Cutting to an interview scene with Tom, we continue with his very excellent breakup analysis – and I do not say that sarcastically: “Obviously, in the aftermath of Sarah moving out, there was quite a void. But, you know, I’ve realized not all voids are bad. I’ve been reading this book, ‘Wonders of the Solar System’ kind of thing, and there’s a chapter on black holes. And they are, in essence, a void. But they expand, sucking different celestial bodies and debris into the vast darkness from which not even sunlight can escape. And then they implode on themselves.” I really love this quote. It’s true satire: funny yet so depressing that I need some Prozac to keep watching. Poor Tom. Maybe Lucy won’t be such a bad addition to his life.

Tom and Pete visit Great-Aunt Victoria’s flat, left to her best friend/partner/person-with-whom-there-is-an-implied-relationship-but-we-don’t-completely-know Mildred. Apparently Tom has a great-uncle he never knew about named Brian. While visiting with Mildred, she gives Tom boxing gloves and a jockstrap that belonged to his grandfather William, nicknamed the Tufton Terror, and a shot put ball that Victoria used in the Olympics. Tom asks Mildred why Victoria might have left him the trunk full of family history. Mildred tells Tom about a time when he visited Victoria as a child and how she thought he was bright. “She hoped you might be the one to carry it on,” she says. “Carry on with what?” asks Tom. “I don’t know,” Mildred answers. Tom says soberly, “I will.”

Unhappy KeithWhile Tom and Bea visit, Dad Keith has his usual one line in the episode that stays with you (or at least me): “In our clan, family is what disappears when you’re not looking at it.” As little as the Chadwicks seem to know about each other, I don’t disagree. It’s still so sad, though. But don’t worry, that sadness goes away when Keith learns that Bea and Monk will be performing at a wedding. His reaction? “Are you using your real name?” and “Oh my Christ.”

I’d like to tell you about Tom’s trip to the gym, but without subtitles, there’s no hope. The man who runs the gym is Jamaican and his accent is so thick that I just have no idea what he says about the boxers. I’m guessing it’s about boxers because it’s a boxing gym. The only parts I really understood were without the Jamaican man when Tom talks with some old timers at the gym about his grandfather William and if William won a medal. The men talk about how amazing it was that these games could be heard “wireless” on the radio. Considering how much instant information we have at our fingertips, trying to imagine hearing the Olympics Games over a radio for the first time ever is a stretch. Think how far we’ve come from 1948 to 2013. Mind = blown. Being the idiot he is, Pete gets his butt whipped by a kid in the boxing ring. He can’t even climb into the ring properly, which is a sure sign that you’ve already lost. The only thing that would have been funnier was if a girl in pigtails had done the beating, but kudos to that boy for his boxing skills.

you know you've lost when...Bea and Monk perform at a Greek wedding. Almost instantly Monkey calls the bride a stripper because money is pinned to her dress. Then there are jokes about Greece’s economic difficulties, the rise in Greek suicides, and that religion isn’t great but it’s nice the priest is there. A few rules to live by, my friends: 1) never tell a bride she looks like a stripper at her own wedding. I’m sure that’s in an etiquette book somewhere, but if not, now you know. 2) Don’t insult the Greek economy in front of a room of Greeks, considering that your act was introduced in Greek. Just no, people. Don’t do that. 3) Don’t bring up suicides at a wedding. Not cool, ever, never, nope. 4) Lastly, don’t insult the religion of the bride and groom and their family and friends. I’m shaking my head at the thought of that. Again, just refrain. Anyway, aside from these super important life rules, Bea and Monkey barely last a minute and then call their act finished. Thankfully, so is this episode.

“Family Tree,” you really disappointed me this week. I don’t see this blog being too full of praise and it’s certainly shorter than my last two because nothing funny or entertaining happened. You need to do better, Christopher Guest, or I don’t see this show lasting too long.

  • Max Claud

    We do see a little drop in humor. But to the development of the characters, every step has a purpose and so far its interesting to see where the actors are taking their roles and how they can articulate whats given. Come on Family Tree, Grow, Grow, Grow!!

  • I’ll admit that I was kind of hoping this show would be a bit more packed with laughs. I’m still really enjoying the subtly of the humor, but I think it needs more big laughs in the future. That said, I LOVE Monk & he carried this week’s whole episode for me. Tom is such a love, so sweet & sincere. I hope, for his sake, that this show will succeed!

  • Carl Benson

    Bea and Monk doing that act at the wedding was the joke. You don’t have to point out they made some faux pas. I laughed when she started jabbing at religion with unjokes at a religious ceremony; that’s like The Office level of awkward.

  • I still think this show has charm, for sure. I just wish it were funnier consistently. Can’t go an entire episode without a few laughs in a comedy, ya know? There are still a few episodes left maybe it’s about to get crazy when they head to the US.

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