The third episode of Family Tree, “The Austerity Games,” gets back to the humor which made the first episode so enjoyable. The show begins with our lead’s sister, Bea and her hand puppet Monk. The two are interviewing for a job as an entertainer at a 5 year old’s birthday party. The scene is hilarious, and is ruled by Monk. Being her inner voice, he’s rude, crass and fearless. One of the best parts is watching Bea’s reactions to Monk. She gets embarrassed by him. Yet, he’s saying what’s she’s thinking! Totally ridiculous, but it really works. And of course, they don’t get the job.
This begs the question, what would life be like if we were free to say whatever rude comment we wanted? Sure, there are those people who do, but they are somewhat rare. In a way, it’s exciting to think about a life full of Curb Your Enthusiasm moments. No longer would we hold back, trying to say the right thing, never offending anyone. Is anyone allowed to be offended in today’s society? It’s probably offensive just to think that. What is that fear in us, holding us back from saying what we really think? Being Canadian, I’m overly polite. It’s all the maple syrup. But what’s the rest of the world’s reason? Maybe, at heart, we really don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings. Or we just want them to like us. I think it’s the latter, humans are just too self absorbed.
“The Austerity Games” continues with Tom digging further into the life of his great-grandfather. Rummaging through his newly found box, Tom comes upon an old tank top worn by his grandfather, William Chadwick. The top was worn at the 1948 Olympic Games, called the Austerity Games because Great Britain had just come out of the war and hardly had enough money to host. Through more investigation, Tom is given his grandfather’s old boxing gloves. He was a boxer in the Austerity Games. Of course, what is Family Tree without an inappropriate moment from Monk? While Tom and his dad marvel over one boxing glove, Monk is having his way with the other. The scene is fantastic because Bea is essentially controlling Monk, but won’t stop him. No one does, as they all sit in uncomfortable silence.
Tom continues his pursuit, ending up at his grandfather’s old boxing gymnasium. While searching for more information from a few coffin dodgers, his friend Pete wants to show off his fighting prowess. He steps into the ring with a pre-teen. Although funny, the scene is contrived. We know he’s going to get his butt whooped, and low-and-behold, he does.
At the end of “The Austerity Games,” Tom uncovers a startling truth about his great-grandfather. He was born in Maryland. He’s an American. Having sneaked a peek at the Family Tree trailer weeks back, this will lead Tom across the pond to the US, following his quest for meaning. Tom, played by Chris O’Dowd, is terrific. His version of the ‘crushed man’ is both funny and touching. He is able to walk that fine line between being self-deprecating enough to get a laugh, but also conjure emotion in this viewer – sadness for his struggle, the undying desire to find someone or something to love. To his credit, Tom has begun to find it in his journey to uncover his family’s history.
“The Austerity Games” ends where it began, with Bea and Monk. They have finally landed a job, doing a bit of stand-up at the Greek wedding. The performance is hysterically offensive. After, in mockumentary style, Bea and Monk are interviewed. There, Bea opens up about family, specifically how Tom is on the right track looking into it. When asked what she thinks he’ll achieve, she answers, “a connection.” Here, the heart of Family Tree is opened. Through its self-deprecating humor and unfiltered inner voiced monkey, the show is really about the often confusing connection we have to family. Tom’s desire to connect to his family tree has begun to fill the deep void within him. Whoa, I’m getting a little too deep here. Where’s Monk when you need him?