Family Tree: “Indians”

Fantastically offensive. That’s the phrase coming to my mind as I describe the seventh episode of Family Tree. For starters, the episode’s title “Indians” lends itself to quite the facial cringe. Thankfully, there’s more.

“Indians” begins with Tom Chadwick continuing his pursuit of his family tree. He becomes convinced his great-great grandmother was of Native American descent. His cousin, Al Chadwick, a podiatrist, mentions a Native American patient of his who could help Tom investigate further. She lives near the Mojave Desert. Tom’s sister, Bea and his best mate, Pete have come to California to visit and they embark on an adventure in a bright red convertible, armed only with an old photograph of Tom’s great-great grandmother.

The three head up to a Native Reservation in the Mojave Desert. There, Chief Running Bull, played greatly by actor Graham Greene, and the Reservation’s shaman are waiting for them in a Winnebago. The scene is set for a smorgasbord of inappropriateness and it does not fail. All three, Tom, Bea (with Monk) and Pete get their feet caught in their mouths on many occasion. But it is Pete who offends the most. The terrific thing is Pete is used in a way that works far greater than in any other episode. In the past, he could be such an irritant, he pulls me away from the show. But in “Indians,” we’re given the right dosage of Pete. As well, his comments are made in such a way you can’t help but feel for him. It’s very clear; he doesn’t know what he’s saying hurts. Even better, he doesn’t stop after seeing people’s faces contort around his offensive statements.

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“Indians” ends with a twist, sucking another group of people into Family Tree’s satirical wake. Tom ends up at a local shop, Schmelff’s Dry Goods. The three are greeted by store owner Marty Schmelff. Tom shows Marty the photograph of his great-great grandmother. Immediately, Marty takes him to a larger picture with his great-great grandmother and her whole family. They are his descendants, and they are Schmelffs. To Tom’s chagrin, he realizes he’s not Native American after all. He’s Jewish. Disappointed, Tom accepts his fate to a chorus of incredibly inappropriate one-liners by Monk.

I have to admit, I spent as much time trying to write this piece as actually doing it. For stretches, I was paralyzed, not wanting to write something in an inappropriate way, offending Native Americans with the term Indians (which I’ve probably just done). The term itself is rarely used and conjures memories of distasteful moments in human history. So how do the creators of Family Tree, Christopher Guest and Jim Piddock, get around it. They don’t. They go right for it, never apologizing. With this approach, “Indians” works.

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Happily, I’m reminded of Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm. He will take a dig at anything and anyone, especially himself. Heck, he even referenced George Lucas having sex with prostitutes. Now, I will defend Lucas and Star Wars until my dying day, but that was hilarious. Perhaps it’s humor, when done right, which can skate around such politically incorrectness. “Indians” gets it right. Guest and Paddock know the word is offensive, that’s why they abuse it. And in that abuse, there are incredibly funny moments. In a world today where it seems no one can be offended, Family Tree’s “Indians” takes its swing and hits a home run.

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