In a world of snark, Family Tree – Christopher Guest’s low-key but charming HBO comedy series about a Brit searching for his roots – felt like an oasis when it premiered on the premium channel last May. Irish actor Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids) stars in this series – released today on DVD in a two-disc set from HBO Home Entertainment — as sweetly bedfuddled Tom Chadwick, who is feeling a little rudderless at age 30, having recently lost both his wife and his job.
He finds unexpected new purpose when he learns that his late great-aunt Victoria, of whom he has no memories, has left Tom a very old chest packed with family memorabilia. After consulting with his father, Keith (Michael McKean), and a neighbor, Mr. Pfister (Jim Piddock, who co-created and co-wrote the series), Tom becomes obsessed with learning more about his family, embarking on a quest accompanied by his very eccentric sister, Bea (Nina Conti), and best chum Pete (Tom Bennett).
The memorable encounters Tom has along this personal journey, which eventually leads him to the United States, aren’t as gut-bustingly funny as, say, Waiting for Guffman, my personal favorite among Guest’s feature films, but then, Guest and Piddock seem to be pursuing something far more bittersweet here: a celebration of and meditation on family, both the good and the bad.
If you missed this show’s run on HBO last spring, it’s certainly worth catching via this new set, which includes appearances by Fred Willard, Don Lake, Kevin Pollak, Ed Begley Jr. and Guest himself, all of whom excel at Guest’s trademark style, which uses heavily improvised dialogue. The welcome extras in the DVD set include several memorable outtakes from those improvisations, including Pete’s confession of his one-night stand with Bea that got scuttled by her hand puppet, Monk.
Another extra features more extended footage from There Goes the Neighbourhood and Move Along, Please!, two (completely fictional) 1970s Britcoms we fleetingly see Keith enjoying at various points during the series. There’s also a track that includes all the engaging music from the show.
No word yet on whether there will be a Season Two of Family Tree, a co-production between HBO and the BBC, but it’s good to have the lovely moments from Season One preserved on disc in time for holiday gift-giving.