The Family is the newest reality TV show on ABC. The concept of the show is simple; sequester the members of an extended Italian American family from New York and New Jersey in a lavish Palm Beach estate, and let them battle it out for a million dollars. During their stay, they’ll have their every need catered to by a full household staff, complete with butler, chef, housekeepers, social secretary, and stylist. Each week, a secret Board of Trustees, whose identities are unknown to the family, will be presented with two family members that lose that week's immunity contest, and this mysterious group will vote one of the two out of contention for the million dollar prize. The twist (and what reality show these days would be caught dead without one?) is that the Board of Trustees is made up of the household staff. Still with me? Good, then let’s meet The Family.
The show opens with a yellow cab pulling up to the palatial Palm Beach estate. Those of you familiar with The Bachelor are probably thinking “Cabs? Where the hell are the limos?” We’ll never know. The first three family members have arrived. They are:
Uncle Michael. Age 46, a sales manager from Manalapan, NJ. He informs us that he is the leader of the family, and if he doesn’t win the game that the rest of the family wouldn’t respect him. The question is, do they respect him now?
Aunt Donna. Age 47, Uncle Michael’s wife and a school bus driver. She tells us to be careful because her “claws are coming out", and she adds “I’m the bitch in the family.” Aunt Donna looks even more scary than she acts, and I’m reminded why I stopped riding the bus in 7th grade. Well, actually I stopped riding the bus because some 8th graders threatened to beat me up, but that’s not why you’re here. Let’s move on.
Cousin Anthony. Age 22. Dance instructor. Anthony is Michael and Donna’s son. Young Anthony lets us know that he’s the playboy of the family. He wants to win so he can look at his dad for the rest of his life and say “I’m better than you.” Hmm, he apparently hates his father. Looking at Aunt Donna my first thought is “Please lord, don’t let this guy’s Oedipus complex play out on the show – that would just be gross.”
The three enter the mansion and are presented with champagne as they wait to find out which family members will be joining them. Oh, that’s another “twist” – they don’t know who they’ll be competing against. Aunt Donna says in her lovely accent “It’s like waiting for Rhett Butlah.” Yeah, it is - except that Rhett Butler was suave and Scarlet wasn’t a crazed bus driver from New Jersey.
The rest of the family arrives one by one. Again, no limos, just yellow cabs over, and over, and over again.
Cousin Jill. Age 27, a radio sales person from Brooklyn. Jill is the Gossip Queen of the family. And since she is the one that told everyone about the casting call, she feels that she deserves to win the million dollars. When Jill arrives, her relatives greet her warmly. Uncle Michael gives her a huge smile, hug, and a kiss, which for some reason reminded me of Michael Corleone kissing his brother Fredo in The Godfather, Part II. We then hear Uncle Michael tell us “The one that will drive me the craziest is Jill. If there are pools, I might have to put her under water for a little while.” Apparently, my Fredo vibe was more accurate than I thought.
Cousin Ed. Age 34, a catering supervisor from Oceanside, New York. Ed’s role in the family (have you noticed that they all have well defined roles?) is the “wise guy”. My family doesn’t have one of those, but maybe it’s an Italian thing. Ed tell us that he will lie, steal, cheat, whatever it takes to win – if he doesn’t do these things, he’ll be dead.
Cousin Robert. Age 29, from Manhattan. His web profile says “Public Relations” but I’m pretty sure that on the show they said he was a bartender. I’m guessing blatant resume embellishment here. Robert is the jerk of the family. Judging by what I’ve seen so far, to get that title in this family he must be an extremely accomplished jerk. Robert says “A million dollars can wipe away all my problems in a second.” Folks, I think we’ve just met the first reality tv contestant that’s in too deep with his bookie. But wait, there’s more! He also tells us that “Short of killing a baby, I think I could, ya know, pretty much do just about anything to win a million dollars.” Good to know Cousin Robert knows where to draw the line, don’t you think?
Cousin Maria. Age 28, a travel consultant from Boston. She tells us that she’s the outsider of the family, but in actuality, Maria is the babe of the family. Oddly enough, we didn’t have one of those in my family, either. Maria enjoys traveling, and never gets Christmas cards from the family because he is always moving. She wants to win the money so she can travel even more than she does now.
Cousin Melinda. Age 25, a kindergarten teacher from Brooklyn, and Robert’s sister. She looks just like a young, sweet, kindergarten teacher, but she’s Robert’s sister, so she can’t be so sweet. She informs us “My family thinks I’m the sweet one. I use the ‘good girl’ image to get what I want.” Ah, there’s that family charm I’m starting to know and love.
Cousin Mike. Age 26, a warehouse foreman from Brooklyn. Mike is related only to Jill, so he is the true outsider in the family. “I’m Mike, and my family doesn’t understand me. They think I’m a thug.” While his relatives all have thick, classic, Italian hair, Mike is sporting a shaved dome and tattoos. My first thought is that if this group thinks he’s a thug, we should all be very, very afraid of Mike. But he puts my fears to rest when he tells us that if he wins, he’s going to buy a house for his mother and sister. Ah, what a nice boy. I like Mike even more when I see the daggers shooting at him from Uncle Michael’s eyes as Uncle Michael tells us that he considers Mike a stranger in the group. Yep, I think Cousin Mike is going to be my favorite.
Hang in there, folks, we’re about to meet our last relative.
Cousin Dawn Marie. Age 29, a housewife and mother from Staten Island. Her “Oh my gaaawd!” upon seeing the estate is reminiscent of Melissa from Joe Millionaire, but that is where the similarity ends. “I take no crap from nobody. This is it. This is the package, take it or leave it. I like me.” Good DM, because you’re losing me rapidly. Her profile tells us that she feels her family doesn’t think she has the intelligence to win. “My family is going to think I don’t have it in me” She hesitates, then points at her head “up here - and I’m going to prove them wrong.” Uh, Dawn Marie, if you can’t remember the word for “brain”, they may be right. “If I have to leave my husband and my two children, you better rest assure I’m comin’ home with money.” Actually, I’ve never been less “assure” of anything in my life.
At this point, we’re given a glimpse of Ringo, the pretentious social secretary. “This family needs a lot of work.” Let’s just say that Ringo is a lot lighter on his feet than Anthony the dance instructor and move on.
As the family mills about the foyer with champagne, our host appears on the balcony above. I cringe. Please ABC, don’t let it be Ahmad Rashad again. Thankfully, we get bon vivant George Hamilton. I know he’s a bon vivant because every review of this show I've read has informed me of that fact. I didn’t know what a bon vivant is, so I looked it up in the dictionary. There was no definition, simply a picture of George Hamilton. That was no help at all. Anyway, George flamboyantly greets the family with a brilliant smile radiating from his bronzed face. “Oh, hi – hello! I’m George Hamilton and I’ll be your host!” George explains that while they are at the estate, they will be catered to by the staff “Your every wish is their command!” He further explains that the winner will control the money, but can share it with their relatives if they wish. Oh please, George. Just as there is no crying in baseball, there is no sharing in this family.
As George makes a toast “To Family!” the credits finally roll. In addition to using “Godfather” font, the intro is tongue-in-cheek Dynasty style, with shots of each family member in some glamorous, soft-focus shot. I’m glad the producers chose to poke fun at this whole thing, and Hamilton’s soap opera, over-the-top-style is a perfect fit.
George tells the family that there are four bedrooms, and they should go find where they want to stay. As the family races through the mansion (and I’m thinking “only four bedrooms?”) we’re treated to random sound bytes from the family:
Anthony: “This definitely does not suck… they got a bidet!”
Dawn Marie finds a bathroom with a large copper tub and exclaims “This is my heaven!” Actually Dawn Marie, it’s called a “tub”, honey.
Cousin Robert: “Not only am I living with people, I’m living with my family.” Robert, I’m sure the staff will appreciate you making that distinction between them and your relatives.
Speaking of the staff, let’s meet a few of them, shall we?
Ringo Allen: Social Secretary. Born in Seattle Washington, he still calls it home. Ringo (yeah, I know, I laughed too) has catered to the likes of President Bush, the Gates, and several members of the Russian royal family. Rather than wasting time pondering our surprise over the existence of a Russian royal family, let’s move on. Ringo can’t abide bad manners. “Decorum is out the window with this group” he tells us in exasperation.
Anthony and Robert warm to Ringo instantly. “Look at this pain in the ass.” “Look at this freak” they tell each other. Such nice boys. Sadly, I agree with them.
Andrew: Butler. Born in Kent, England, Andrew now resides in that noted Butler haven, Baltimore, Maryland. He always dreamed of being a butler, and attended the famed Ivor Spencer Butler school. He has worked for a billionaire Saudi princess, several world-famous rock stars, and the British Royal Family. He’s is everything that Paul from Joe Millionaire was not; tall, slender, and devoid of personality. Wisely, he’s going to use his eyes and ears to judge the family. Good idea, Andrew. Much better than relying on, oh, say a magic 8-ball or something.
Franck: Chef. Born in Bordeaux, France, he resides in West Palm Beach. Franck is a twenty-one year veteran of the kitchen, and has cooked for President Bush and brother Jeb, Celine Dion, and Luciano Pavarotti. Our first exposure to Franck is when Aunt Donna decides to make it perfectly clear to the chef that this is an Italian family and they want Italian food. She gives him a long list of things she will need to prepare a pasta meal including the stern proclamation that “My family wants dried parsley, not fresh.” Franck politely takes notes, then when Aunt Donna leaves he executes a perfect eye roll. Nobody can compare to the French when it comes to the eye roll.
Linda Levis: Head Housekeeper. Linda is from Cleveland but lives in West Palm Beach. A matronly single mom, she has worked for banking gurus, oil barons, real estate magnates, and probably an Enron exec or two. Linda describes herself as “tough but fair”. She’s going to form judgements about the family one person at a time. She tells us “We need rules and regulations in order not to turn into raving, freaking maniacs.” Linda, it may be too late for this family, but good luck with that.
Jill Swid: Stylist.Born in Manhattan, she lives there still. Thankfully, Jill was a victim of ABC’s horrific publicity photographer, because it turns out she’s gorgeous. I mean really, really attractive. I’m aroused. Men all over the country are aroused. Visions of her helping Maria pick out the right bikini dance through my head. Then she speaks, Fran Drescher’s nasal voice erupts from her mouth, and the visions fade as quickly as they appeared. Jill tells us that she has been personal stylist to such celebrities as Uma Thurman, Hugh Grant, and Tom Hanks. At the mention of Uma Thurman, the visions return.
We’re treated to Ringo struggling to drag someone’s luggage up two flights of stairs. He strains and grimaces with each stair. When he finally reaches the second floor he comments “Find a bigger bag!” I’m wondering if perhaps Uncle Michael has already found a way to dispose of Cousin Jill’s body.
Anthony and Dawn Marie share a moment. Anthony: “Nobody is used to being watched twenty-four-seven. I just hope my parents aren’t in there making porn movies.” Trust me Anthony, all of America shares that sentiment.
At dinner, the family informs us that they like their hamburgers, their pasta, their meatballs. They sit down at a magnificently set table. It’ so fabulous that Dawn Marie informs us that “I kept waiting for the dishes and the forks to sing!” Insert your own Beauty and the Beast joke here. I’m relieved to see that Cousin Jill is still alive and well. Since the family has expressed their love of regular-folk food, you know what’s coming. They are served escargot, frog legs, and quail. From the expressions on their faces, you’d think they were facing a gross food challenge on Fear Factor. After dinner, Aunt Donna says “The quail was tasty, but not enough meat. It’s too much work. It’s like eating crab.” Aunt D, try using your claws, that should help. I’m sure that in the kichen Franck was cursing - in French. The censors only let him tell us “Aunt Donna is getting on my nerves.” Nobody can compare to the French when it comes to cursing in French. Well, maybe the folks in Quebec.
The Luxury Contest
The next morning, Ringo wakes Robert and Anthony, informing them that everyone’s presence is requested on the back lawn. It’s 7:30am and Anthony, who hasn’t seen this side of Noon since high school, is seriously pissed, and he pulls the comforter over his head.
Mike visits the kitchen, thanking Franck. “The snails were real good!”
Anthony and Dawn Marie have a conversation. Apparently Anthony managed to drag his sorry butt out of bed after all.
Anthony: “What are we in store for?”
DM: “What are we in store for?” Dawn Marie tries to get her mind around the question. "I think we are in store for the experience of a lifetime.”
It dawns on me that “We’re in store for the experience of a lifetime” has become the reality tv version of Arnold Schwarzenegger saying “I’ll be back.”
At last, the family assembles on the back lawn. I note that Uncle Michael is wearing a classic “wise guy” sweat suit jacket, the latest from the Tony Soprano line at K-Mart. George wheels up in a golf cart, fresh off the front nine. “So! How does it feel to be living the life of the rich and famous, where your wildest fantasies come true with the snap of a finger?!!!” I imagine that since meeting Stylist Jill, Anthony and Robert have been snapping their fingers like crazy, to no avail.
George explains the first “Luxury Contest”. Each member of the family stands next to a large box on a pedestal. Once in position, the boxes are removed, revealing ten different luxury prizes. In turn, each person will have to choose to keep their prize and eliminate a relative, steal someone else’s prize, eliminating them, or sacrifice their self and allow someone else to stay in the game.
First up is our favorite, nice Cousin Mike. He chooses to keep his Roman holiday and eliminates Uncle Michael. Anthony keeps $5,000 and bids farewell to Dawn Marie. Ed steals a Carribean resort vacation from Jill, Robert eliminates Maria by taking her home entertainment system. Melinda steals the resort from Ed. Aunt Donna knocks Mike from the game, taking his Roman holiday, probably not because she wants to visit the old country as much as because he knocked her husband from the game. Aunt Donna has her claws out, you know. Anthony sacrifices himself. Robert keeps his home entertainment system and eliminates Aunt Donna. If he’d been smarter, he would have taken the Roman holiday; his bookie would have had more trouble finding him in Italy. Melinda plays her good girl role and sacrifices herself so her brother can “have an apartment that looks like a grown up’s.” After all, he is almost 30 and you’ve got to grow up sometime. George flashes his smile, announces he still has time for the back nine, and leaves us.
Mike can’t get used to servants and offers to help Lina arrange his clothes in his closet. Such a nice boy.
Meanwhile, out at the pool (oh my God – watch out Jill!), Jill, Melinda, and Dawn Marie are lounging. I don’t think Maria was with them, I’d have remembered them, um, I mean her, being there. The four girls are sharing one room, and one bathroom. Jill and Melinda proceed to tell DM that she is a slob. She gets dramatic and denies that she is. During the denial, we are shown clips of their room; water bottles scattered willy-nilly, cosmetics strewn on the bathroom counter, clothes piled on luggage. We don’t know if that is really DM’s stuff, but we are led to assume it is. Those evil producers. Sobbing, Dawn Marie leaves them to be alone for awhile. We were never told what her role in the family is, but it’s becoming clear that she’s the Drama Queen.
Which brings us to the Elimination Auction. The family is all decked out in evening wear. Aunt Donna watches the staff hustle about and comments “I get tired just watchin’ them.” She is wearing a dress that is cut way too low for a bus driver from Jersey, and to our horror we find that Aunt Donna was apparently too tired to bother with wearing a bra tonight.
The family is led into the gallery where they each take a seat. Each chair has an auction paddle with “$5,000” printed on it in big, bold letters. George, wearing a white tux that is only outshone by his blazing smile (I make a note to wear sunglasses for next week's show) informs them that they will be bidding on “priceless works of art”, which turn out to be portraits of each of the family members. George has a way with exaggeration, but he’s just so damned charming. He gives each person a pin bearing the “sacred family crest”, and asked them to pin it near their hearts.
The family will bid in $5,000 increments, and the two paintings that go for the most money will be sent to the Secret Board of Trustees, who will then vote to deny one of the two relatives access to the fortune. The twist (yep, this show is loaded with ‘em) is that the money they bid will come directly out of the million dollar fortune they are all after. Actually, that’s a pretty cool twist, George.
Anthony is seated in the chair with the golden paddle, so his picture is up first. Ed makes the only bid, and the painting goes for $5,000. Anthony gets to choose next, and to the surprise of no one, he selects Ed’s portrait. Robert and Anthony bid it up to $10,000. Maria is up next and nobody bids. Ed spends $5,000 on Dawn Marie, then the fireworks start. Robert’s portrait goes up for bid, and after a flurry of bidding, Mike purchases it for a nifty $25,000. Robert is not a happy man and tells Mike to “Sleep with one eye open.” Mike’s painting is next up, and Robert, DM, and Melinda all bid before evil Aunt Donna snags it for $20,000. At this point, George points out that the family has spent $65,000. Uncle Michael echoes the comment, making sure the family understands “This is real money, you know!” Jill’s portrait comes up next, and despite Uncle Michael’s warning, Melinda, then Dawn Marie (who checks her paddle to make sure it still says $5,000) both bid. Uncle M leans over to his wife and angrily states “This is your blood!”, as Melinda and DM are from her side of the family. The intimidation complete, Uncle Michael and Aunt Donna’s portraits receive no bids. Somewhere between Jill and Melinda’s portraits, another $20,000 got spent, bringing the total bill to a whopping $85,000.
Mr. Hamilton informs us that Mike and Robert’s names will be taken before the Board of Trustees, and they will decide which of the two will be denied access to the fortune. He tells the family that they have wracked up an $85,000 dollar bill, which is big and pink and he’s holding it in his hands. “But don’t worry”, he says “I’ll take care of it.” And with that, our bon vivant buddy tears the bill in two. Don’t you just love this guy?
The Secret Board of Trustees
George leaves the family, and retreats to the Wine Cellar, which is doubling as the Secret Board of Trustees Super Secret Hideout. The board is seated around a table, and George hands each of them a black leather portfolio. In the each portfolio are pictures of Mike and Robert. The board has one hour to debate who to deny access to the fortune. They even have a Super Secret Stamp that says “Denied” on it that they’ll be using to cast their super secret votes. George leaves them to their debate.
Andrew: “We are here to come to a decision on two fine young men. Shall we proceed?”
Two fine young men? Um, Andrew, we can’t proceed until we’re sure you understand that we’re here to decide on Robert and Mike.
Ringo “has a problem” with Mike. He doesn’t like his tattoos and can’t bear the thought of Mike ever joining a country club. Whatever, Ringo. Get a grip.
Franck liked Mike (remember the “thanks for the snails” comment?). Andrew thinks of Mike as a “Quiet, silent gentleman.” Linda likes Mike as well, “He’d give every penny to his family.” She also notes that Mike has “a very level, bald head on his shoulders.” Gee Linda, so do I, can I have a million bucks?
Ringo continues to bash Mike. “I just think Robert is more polished.” Yeah, Ringo, would you think that if you’d heard Robert call you a freak? In exasperation (there's a lot of that from Ringo), he tells the rest of the group that after dinner, Mike put his dirty napkin back in the napkin ring. The horror! “It was beautifully fan folded and filthy!” Linda finds that endearing, and points out that Robert would blow the money in a year and be asking his uncle for a job. Andrew agrees.
Finally we hear from Jill, who says that Robert is very engaging with his family and is amazingly supportive of his sister. I think she just likes his hair. Shut up Fran, you folic elitist.
Their decision reached, they hand George an envelope. He tells them somberly “So be it. I’ll… let the family know.” From his tone, I expect him to let the family know that Robert has a long lost twin sister that they just found after she recovered from amnesia, but she has leukemia or something. George goes before the family, pulls the envelop from his jacket, tears it open and says “The Oscar goes to…” Okay, he didn’t really do that, I wanted to make sure you're still paying attention. He simply opened the envelop and told them that Robert was the first member of the family to be denied access to the fortune. Good grief George, can’t we just say he’s been eliminated? “Denied access to the fortune” is so freaking wordy, and I’m boring these readers to death here!!! Oh, we can’t? Because there’s – gasp! – another twist? As Dawn Marie dabs tears from her eyes over Robert’s departure, we get the good news. As family members are eliminated from contention, they will continue to live in the house for the rest of the show. At one point, the family will have the chance to vote someone back in. With that, and a final “Sleep well” George leaves us. Of course we know Mike will be sleeping with one eye open.
As we leave the family for the week, we get one more visit with Robert. He wonders about the identity of the Secret Board of Trustees and tells us that he’d like to give them a piece of his mind. Robert, I’ve only known you an hour, but I don’t think you’ve got a piece to spare.
Until next week, may your wildest fantasies come true at the snap of a finger. Snap! Oh, hello Uma!
Care to comment on this recap? Email me at email@example.com