By Boyd Reynolds | Staff Writer Published: 06/18/2013 10:00 am EST
Season: 1 Network: HBO Creator: Christopher Guest, Jim Piddock
Mental note: wear shorts. That’s what you need if you’re stepping off the plane in Los Angeles. “Welcome to America” begins with Tom Chadwick (yes, in shorts) moving past customs and exiting LAX airport. Finally, Tom has taken action. No longer is he sitting around in London and waiting for his life to happen. Ironically, Tom ends up sitting, waiting for Al and Kitty Chadwick, played by Ed Begley Jr. and Carrie Aizley, to pick him up. His distant relatives finally arrive with a hand written cardboard sign: Welcome to America.
With some good awkward moments, Al and Kitty drive Tom to their home. He stays in a mostly pink bedroom, its Al and Kitty’s daughter’s, who is away at graduate school. Tom settles into bed with much jet lag and retires for the night. A great laugh comes when Tom is woken by his computer. It’s Monk, calling him wanting to talk. The laugh hits before Monk says anything and it’s a personal favorite. I don’t know about you, but I love watching (and in this case hearing) someone’s reaction to being startled, especially from a deep sleep. It’s likely the devious part in me poking its red horns out, but there’s so much satisfaction watching someone’s state go from peaceful to disturbed in seconds.
Furthering the awkwardness, Tom gets a fantastic Welcome to America when he opens a cabinet and out falls one of Kitty’s ‘products.’ She has a side-business selling anal flushes. The kicker (pun intended) – you can purchase the flushes in different flavors. The scene is hilarious and at one point, I was sure I could see Chris O’Dowd (playing Tom) breaking character, almost cracking into hysterics. This reminded me of Seinfeld, where Jerry so often looked as if he were going to breakdown. As well, who can forget The Carol Burnett Show (I know, I’m old) when Harvey Korman would undoubtedly spend half a skit trying to fight off a horrendous case of the giggles. Although an unlikely event in “Welcome to America,” O’Dowd’s smirks were playful and fun, something Family Tree is when it’s working.
Unfortunately for “Welcome to America,” the laughs drop off once the guests arrive for Tom’s dinner, one including series co-creator Christopher Guest (again, pun intended). Sure, there are a few laughs, mainly with Guest and Fred Willard involved. But the wit, the subtle humor that makes Family Tree so watchable slowed to a trickle. A disappointing end for sure, after “Welcome to America” started with such promise.
What is it about staying in another person’s house, especially overnight, that is so darn uncomfortable? Should we ask if we can use their bathroom? The first time yes, but the second and third, is it okay now to just head to the porcelain god? We need to ask before opening the fridge, but what about for a glass of water? It seems like we should, but every time? What if you’re ridiculously parched? Get the tallest glass!
“Welcome to America” does a good job showing the awkward play between people, not only with Tom in Al and Kitty’s house, but with Al and Kitty as well. You can sense something is going on under the surface between them. Could it be marriage tension? Could it be human awkwardness? Could it be too many flavored anal flushes? Point is, more often than not, the awkwardness works.
Why are humans so socially awkward with one another? Do other animals have such problems? Perhaps. But as humans, it’s almost like we’ve forgotten what to do, how to act, how to be ourselves in the presence of someone new. Maybe, in this regard, being self conscious is a bad thing – we think too much. Our mind’s constant chatter: I shouldn’t say this or do that because this person will think that, and I want that person to think I am like this and not like that. Exhausting to write, let alone live. Yet we all do it. Thankfully, shows like Family Tree are out there, showing us just how foolish we really are just being human.