'Family' sinks ABC to yet another low
By Robert Bianco, USA TODAY
With all the reality ABC is doing, you'd think the network would learn to do it better. Well, maybe someday, but not today.
The network's latest reality effort, The Family, is a tacky debacle that, like so many ABC efforts, comes across as a secondhand knockoff of another, better idea. If it's not the worst of the current crop, that's only because the same network already is running Are You Hot?
To add insult to scheduling injury, ABC is using this family-devalued mess to replace NYPD Blue, one week after that cop classic aired its best episode of the season. Heaven forbid ABC should allow Blue to build on that momentum.
Hosted by George Hamilton, who adds yet another layer of cheesiness to an already moldy premise, Family moves 10 members of a blue-collar, Italian-American, New Jersey family to Palm Beach, Fla., "playground to the famous and ultra-rich." The show makes them compete for $1 million while making fun of them for being so out of place in a Palm Beach mansion.
In essence, it's pretty much the same fish-out-of-poor-waters idea as CBS' proposed reality version of The Beverly Hillbillies, which has been denounced by Georgia Sen. Zell Miller. Perhaps now we'll hear from a senator from the Northeast who is equally and rightfully appalled by Family's regional class and ethnic insults. Tonight's premiere delights in ridiculing the family's heritage, from the snobbish dismissal of their preference for Italian food (set to old-world music), to the on-air logo that echoes the logo for The Godfather.
Nor are viewers the only ones being asked to mock the family members. They're also being judged by the household staff, which votes on them in secret and insults them in private. ("This family needs a lot of work," sniffs the social secretary, who seems to be playing an insulting stereotype himself.)
Like so many reality shows, The Family is designed to take real people and edit them into the genre's already overly familiar roles. Each family member announces the part he or she will play in the introduction: The Playboy, The Wise Guy, The Jerk, The Gossip Queen. You wonder why they don't just emblazon the roles on T-shirts; it would save so much airtime.
Stealing from Survivor, the show is split into two main games: a reward challenge followed by an elimination challenge. In between, we watch the players whine, complain and plot, as when The Playboy tells us, "The first contest I earn everybody's trust, and then I stab them in the back."
And there you have the true glory of The Family: Relatives stabbing each other for money. ABC says the show will "test their family ties to the breaking point" (and isn't that a lovely thing for a broadcast network to be doing). But the only thing ABC is testing is our patience.
It's failing, quickly.