Friday, March 18, 2011

Who Do You Think You Are? Season One DVD Review

Have you ever wondered where your family came from?  Or whether or not there were any scoundrels or perhaps royalty in your bloodline?  I know I have and that’s why I wanted to review this. The shows format is simple: get some famous people and have some genealogists help them track down their historical relatives.  For this first season the stars are: Lisa Kudrow, Brooke Shields, Emmitt Smith, Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker, Spike Lee, and Susan Sarandon.

Film (4 out of 5 stars) 

Who Do You Think You Are originated in England and after watching it, Lisa Kudrow thought that the United States should have it’s own version of it and decided to produce it.  While I dislike most reality shows, this one looked different since there wouldn’t be anyone getting voted of the island, or forced to eat a bug, you know the general mainstays of reality TV.  This show was more about history which always appeals to me, as a team of genealogists, historians, researchers, and people with long memories all team up to answer a simple question: who was my ancestors and where did they come from?
This show may not be as exploitative as other reality shows but they aren’t stupid either.  They know the general public isn’t going to sit and watch a show about some average joe’s family roots so they’ve enlisted some well known people to entice the public.  You’d think that these people could afford to hire someone to do this kind of research for them, but I guess it’s always nice to have someone else take care of everything for you.  Like most people, the people profiled the first season were aware of their family history a few generations removed from themselves.  Once you get to great-great-great anything, it usually gets a lot tougher for most families to know that information.
I have to say that I thought the show was very interesting.  Sarah Jessica Parker discovered that her relative was involved in the Salem Witch Trials, and her husband Matthew Broderick found out that his family contained war heroes during both World War I and the Civil War.  Dallas Cowboys legend Emmitt Smith not only found out that his ancestors included a slave owner that turned out to be his great great great grandfather but also was able to visit the village in Africa where his family were originally sold from.  Lisa Kudrow knew that a lot of her family had been murdered by the Nazis, but her family never knew what happened to her great grandmother until this show.
Spike Lee traced his family’s roots back to Georgia and discovered that much like Emmitt Smith, his great great grandfather was a slave owner and discovers that he has a relative he has never known that descended from the slave owner.  Other celebrities have happier discoveries like Brooke Shields who found out that she had French and Italian royalty in her blood.  And while most of these segments are devoted to discovering relatives several generations back, for Susan Sarandon, she just wanted to find out what happened to her grandmother who disappeared when her own mother was young.
A lot of these stories are incredibly touching as we watch these people discover some hard truths about their families past.  Of course probably the hardest ones involve slavery and the holocaust and when you see Kudrow, Smith, or Lee actually visit the places where their family was marched to a hole and shot, or the place where they stood when they were sold into slavery, or the fields they worked, it really gets to you.  It would be one thing if they just sat around in a library and relayed the information, but the success of the show is actually taking the celebrity to the actual spot it all happened and let them learn and absorb the information there.
The show has it’s sad moments but it’s also uplifting and it’s nice to see how much closure the information gives these people.  Every one of them thought the new knowledge that they had gained changed their entire outlook on their life.  Indeed, I would be shocked if anyone watching this show doesn’t run to their computer to check to try to discover their own family history.  I know I did and I think that’s an incredibly positive impulse the show provides.  As the show says, “To know who you are, you have to know where you came from.”

Video (4 out of 5 stars) 

This DVD is enhanced for 16×9 televisions and has a nice picture for a DVD.  Detail is excellent, both in close up and far away shots, and colors are accurately represented.  Black levels are satisfactory and the contrast is also good.  Flesh tones are natural and consistent and overall for a DVD, this show has a nice picture which is emphasized by all of locations filmed at world-wide.

Audio (4 out of 5 stars) 

The show offers a Dolby Digital 2.0 track that isn’t going to blow you away but it is perfectly fine for this kind of show.  Since this is a dialog driven show with little need for a surround experience, there isn’t a lot of cross channel use.  Dialogue is crystal clear and is well balanced with the music for the show except at the start of the episodes where the musical theme dominates the track until the show starts.

Special Features (0 out of 5 stars) 

There are no special features.

Final Thoughts (3 out of 5 stars) 

I thought the show was very interesting and it has started me on my own quest to discover my family history so I would say that the show is effective in awakening people’s desire to trace their family roots.  The show did well enough in the ratings to justify a second season which began airing again on February 4, 2011. Featured celebrities on the second season will include Steve Buscemi, Kim Cattrall, Ashley Judd, Tim McGraw, Rosie O’Donnell, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lionel Ritchie, and Vanessa Williams.  If you are interested in the family history of these celebrities you should pick this up or if like me, you are just generally interested in history.  You might just be surprised to find out who you are related to!
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