Review: The Family is Worth your Time

September 16, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

the-family.jpgChannel 4, Wednesday 17th September, 9pm Alert me

When you’ve got real substance, there’s actually no need for smoke and mirrors.  The refreshing new documentary from Channel 4 directed by Jonathan Smith is proof of this.  Offering a harmonious combination of compelling subject matter and an intuitive format, The Family modestly shows a family in their home environment and promises to steal an hour away from you in the most pleasant way possible.

Deriving its name from Paul Watson’s celebrated 1970s documentary of them working class folks, The Family is a modern day eight part fly-on-the-wall portraying the lives of the Hughes household, Simon, Jane and their four children.  Within the first five minutes of watching, you suddenly feel like you’ve been transported to your childhood home again.  Opening as the family sit down to dinner, an oh-too-familiar tea-time row ensues.  Emily, nineteen yet still living at home, obnoxiously accuses her younger sister Charlotte of burping in her face and this escalades into an argument over whether she will attend her mum’s 40th birthday at the weekend.  This is the overarching theme of the first episode, a mother turning forty and dealing with a changing family while her husband tries his hardest to help.

Beyond reminding you how repulsive teenagers are, the show gives you a wonderful glimpse into the various roles within every household- the troublemaker, the peacemaker and the one just trying to stay out of everyone’s way (here this is youngest, Tom, who endearingly skulks around the empty and substantially quieter rooms but clumsily manages to break two glasses and draw attention to himself).  It urges you to remember those things that people share in their everyday existence.

Unobtrusive, there is no crew.  The house is fitted with twenty-one cameras and sixteen microphones and makes for what feels like a genuinely un-staged interaction.  It’s kind of like BB in the old days, not how it’s become now with endless hours of live footage and contrived manipulation of media-conscious wannabes, but the carefully crafted weekly episodes that were put together to build up a particular story within a house full of vaguely normal people.

Drawn in by the delightfully absorbing parts of ordinariness, you’ll find yourself lost in The Family.  There will be no boredom, or need for suspicion of artificiality as a load of irritating people self-consciously open their so-called hearts to the camera, just a regular family who are certainly worth your time.

By Susan Allen