Coming into the second episode of Family Tree, “Treading the Boards,” my expectations were reasonably high. Unfortunately, at episode’s conclusion, they were unfulfilled.
“Treading the Boards,” starts out with our somewhat depressed hero, Tom Chadwick, watching television at his father’s house. A dialogue ensues which keeps in the spirit of the first episode. It’s witty, with hints of self-deprecation and irreverence. As Tom shows his dad a picture of Tom’s great-grand father, Harry Chadwick, in the background, his dad’s wife is exercising on a stationary bike. Without fail, she falls unceremoniously off the bike. It’s a good laugh and the scene is chalked with subtle touches that bring a smile.
Soon after, Tom discovers his great-grand father was an actor, which impresses him. Tom is now on a mission; he must uncover the truth behind this mysterious relative. Is he searching for parts of himself as he finds parts of the past? I believe so. What is it about life where, only when we are struggling trying to get out of the bottom of our personal sewer, are we more prone to look for meaning? Perhaps it is in those times when we are more apt to change. When nothing is going right, we have nothing to lose. Conversely, when everything is rolling, why mess with a good thing.
Tom finds his great grand-father’s old address and visits there with his best friend, Pete. “Treading the Boards” continues its subtle hilarity when Tom and Pete sit down with an extremely older lady, who somewhat remembers the Chadwick’s who lived next door. The pace of the scene is slow, but that gives it its hilarity. The elderly woman pauses, pauses and pauses again to give Tom his needed information. But the timing is well crafted, as the scene never over-does it.
Something strange happens when Tom leaves and heads to the Regent Theater, where Harry performed. The story-line, driven mostly by humor, falls completely flat. The laughs dry up like the Sahara. While Tom learns more and more about his great-grand father’s time treading the boards of the stage at the Regent, the humor has changed. It feels forced. The wit is gone, and the story-line becomes boring.
Tom learns that Harry was the rear end of a horse act, and to honor that, he purchases the costume and enter into a derby against other performers in animal costumes. The premise could be funny, but its not.
“Treading the boards” picks up slightly near its conclusion when Tom is on another quirky date. He embarks on a lively debate on the woman’s favorite subject: bones. The scene ends with Tom whimpering, as his embark back into the dating world has not been a seamless transition.
One idea that perked my curiosity in “Treading the Boards” was how certain professions make one proud, while others conjure disappointment. At first, it seems that Tom’s great-grandfather was in the military. Then, a photographer. And finally, an actor. Even more than that, he was on the stage, treading the boards with Sir Lawrence Olivier. Tom is blown away by this nugget of information. But once he looks at an old Regent Theater program, he notices Harry Chadwick’s name on the last line of the production, listed as a Greek Soldier. Tom is brought down by this. Harry wasn’t what Tom thought he was. What is it about certain titles that are cooler, bring greater prestige than others? Harry Chadwick was an actor, which sounds pretty good, but as a struggling hack, that’s not as impressive. Would it matter if Harry was a great person? As far as Tom sees it, probably not. Why is what you do seemingly more important than who you are? This can be seen in society’s obsession with celebrities. Even worse, celebrities who appear to do nothing – the Kim Kardashian’s and Paris Hilton’s of the world. Who knows what they are really like as people, but they have secured a level of importance for a time. Superficial – yes, but importance nonetheless.