By Boyd Reynolds | Staff Writer Published: 07/10/2013 8:00 am EST
Season: 1 Network: HBO Creator: Christopher Guest, Jim Piddock
“Cowboys,” the first season finale of Family Tree, begins with Tom Chadwick continuing pursuit of his own family tree. Tom and Ally, his new love interest, go to Melvin Schmelff’s home to learn more about Tom’s ancestry. Melvin shows Tom his shrine dedicated to Tom’s great-great uncle, Tumbleweed Tim. A silent film star, Tumbleweed Tim played many cowboys, as he could ride a horse and shoot a gun at the same time – apparently, a sought after commodity in the silent film era. Although promising, the scene falls quite flat, as Tom and Ally try on some of Tumbleweed Tim’s age-old clothing. The humor works on occasion, but mostly the scene is filler to two crises.
Walking along the boardwalk, Pete and Bea enjoy a humorous day at Venice Beach. That is until the unthinkable happens. Bea loses her hand puppet Monk. Now, of course to Bea, Monk is more than a hand puppet. Monk is Bea’s equivalent of the security blanket to Linus in Charlie Brown. Bea’s reaction is easily the most memorable part of “Cowboys.” Nina Cont is fantastic; she goes stark-raving mad. I was getting anxiety just watching her hysterically freak out. The resolution to this unmitigated disaster is quite touching. Tom, Ally and Melvin all rush to the boardwalk and together with Bea and Pete find Monk. He’s been mistakenly placed in a stuffed animal hamper for underprivileged children. The crew has to steal Monk back from the hamper, as once a stuffed animal is given, it can’t be taken back for tax purposes. Tom, played by Chris O’Dowd, is so genuine in his care and love of Bea. His acceptance of Monk as part of his family and nonjudgmental nature toward Bea is incredibly sweet.
Once Monk is safe and sound perched on Bea’s right hand, there is another touching moment back at Al Chadwick’s house. Al, played by Ed Begley Jr., has an announcement to all the quirky Chadwick family members and friends. He speaks on getting older, how one looks around and you have a bunch of stuff. He references a bumper sticker he once saw stating, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Al emphasizes that it should have said, “He who dies with the most friends and family wins.” As humans, we want things. We want things to impress others. It’s part of being human, part of our ego. If we have the most, are we then better than everyone else? Unfortunately, there is never an answer to this, as there is always something else to have. Perhaps the only solution is to follow what the spiritual guru’s say – it’s all about balance. It’s okay to want things, to want material goods, but when that want becomes a never ending pit, it can be the elimination of happiness. Where is the line? And if there is one, who draws it? I guess that’s for all of us to discover on are own, hopefully without too many shattered hearts and broken dreams in the process.
The second crisis to be averted in “Cowboys” is at episode’s end, when Tom has to say goodbye to Ally. Tom has to go back to his life in London. The first season of Family Tree ends rather ambiguous with Tom kissing Ally at the airport. They don’t want to leave each other and after one last kiss, the screen goes to black. It’s a predictable ending and cliché but it works. I’m not sure if HBO will pick up Family Tree for a second season. My inkling is it won’t. The episodes were a little too erratic with hits and misses. But when Family Tree is at its best, it combines razor sharp wit with sincerity. One other clear standout is the song “I’m Alone But That’s Ok” played during the end credits. Written by co-creator of Family Tree Christopher Guest and Harlan Collins and sung by Canadian artist Ron Sexsmith, it is a fantastic ballad of lost love, heartbreak and eventual understanding. Hopefully, Family Tree will have gathered enough momentum to garner a second season. If not, I will be left with a lasting impression of Monk, the inappropriate inner voice given an avenue to let loose. It’s the stuffing dreams are made of.