Based on its ratings, it's understandable if you didn't watch HBO's latest comedy, "Family Tree." And, honestly, it wouldn't be surprising if you've never even heard of it, seeing as it was tucked away at 10:30 p.m. on Sunday nights with little-to-no fanfare. Which is a shame, because those who'd have tuned in would have discovered a funny, warm gem of a show.
Created by Christopher Guest (the hilarious mastermind behind such famed "mockumentary" classics as "This is Spinal Tap," "Waiting for Guffman" and "Best in Show") and Jim Piddock, the largely improvised comedy just ended its eight-episode first season this past Sunday, with no word yet on whether HBO has renewed it. "Tree" was a bit of an odd duck for a channel that caters to odd-duck programs: It didn't create headlines the way zeitgeist hit "Girls" did, and it wasn't as ribald and profane as "Veep" or as critically worshiped as the late, great "Enlightened." It was, however, a surprisingly poignant, oftentimes hilarious program, one that may not appeal to all but had developed a strong fan base ... mainly composed of me, but I'm all that really matters, so ... .
Centered around Tom, a thirtysomething Irish man (played by Chris O'Dowd) in London, who, after losing his job and breaking up with his longtime girlfriend, begins tracing his family lineage, spurred by the death of his great-aunt. His search leads him around the U.K. — and eventually to the U.S., where he meets long-lost relatives and discovers surprising revelations about his ancestors.
And as is usual for a Christopher Guest production, there is a slew of quirky characters, most notably Tom's older sister Bea, who carries around a monkey puppet that she talks through following a traumatic childhood incident. Guest also includes his usual roster of character actors in bit parts, including Ed Begley Jr., Michael McKean, Bob Balaban and a raucous Fred Willard.
It wasn't a perfect show by any means — there's a certain looseness about its narrative that may irk or bore some viewers, and Tom's best friend Pete, who I'm assuming is meant to be endearingly quirky, comes off too much like a bad, annoying imitation of a Ricky Gervais character. But despite its faults, "Family" was a show I really grew to love, and its amiable, low-key nature was much appreciated in a wasteland of overly cynical sitcoms.
Plus, there's just something that makes me happy about having a show on the air featuring a conversational monkey puppet. I can only hope more people discover its charms.