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"Who Do You Think You Are?": Season 1 DVD Review

Who Do You Think You Are?: The Complete First Season DVD cover art - click to buy Season 1 DVD from Amazon.com Who Do You Think You Are?: Season One (2010)
Show & DVD Details

Executive Producers: Alex Graham, Lucy Carter, Lisa Kudrow, Dan Bucatinsky, Don Roos

Narrator: Mocean Melvin

Stars: Sarah Jessica Parker, Emmitt Smith, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Broderick, Brooke Shields, Susan Sarandon, Spike Lee

Familial Guest Stars: Timothy Britten Parker, Barbara Forste, Pat Smith, Mary Smith, Emmitt Smith Jr., Lee Kudrow, Nedra Kudrow, Tomek Barudin, Boleslaw Barudin, Andrezj Barudin, Janet Broderick, Leonora Criscione, Miles Robbins, Guinevere Grier

Genealogical and Historical Assistance: Megan Smolenyak, Natalie Cottrill, Prof. Stephen Aron, Jon McCabe, Josh Taylor, Elaine Grublin, Prof. Mary Beth Norton, Dawn Crook, Marjorie Sholes, John Caknipe, Prof. Stephen Deyle, Ole Falola, Madame Loucress, Mede Nicasse, Tamara Vershitskaya, Natalia Ivanova, Maria Aleksiyonok, Alexander Gavrilik, Krzysztof Dzieciolowski, Peter Barton, Richard C. Roberts, Mel Smith, Gordon Jones, Brad Quinlan, Michelle Chubenko, Tom McCabe, Gary Boyd Roberts, Daniela Felisini, Carθne Rabilloud, Charles Mosley, Dr. Mary Brown, Cinzia Rossello, Gabriele Calibrese, Prof. Burton Peretti, Melvin J. Collier, Prof. Mark Schultz, Prof. Daina Berry, Bill Bragg

Running Time: 295 Minutes (7 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated (TV-PG on air)

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English; Not Closed Captioned / Season 1 Airdates: March 5 - April 30, 2010
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99 / DVD Release Date: March 15, 2011
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s); Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover

Buy Who Do You Think You Are?: Season 1 on DVD from Amazon.com • Download Amazon Instant Video


Reality television dominates network primetime for two reasons. It's cheap to produce and enough people watch it to make it profitable. It may not have the enduring artistic value of traditionally scripted series, but if we're honest, even much of that is relative and nostalgia-based. TV is not a long-sighted industry.
All that matters is that people are entertained enough to keep watching.

Closer to a news documentary series than a competitive game show, "Who Do You Think You Are?" nonetheless includes celebrities whose names aren't exactly on everyone's tongues these days. Adapted from the United Kingdom and executive-produced by "Friends" star Lisa Kudrow, this hour-long NBC program sends famous people on genealogical journeys.

Each episode explores the lineage of one celebrity, who meets with genealogists and searches public records to fill in the blanks on their family tree. The series succeeds at making the genealogy of other people fun. Believe it or not, it also makes for some gripping television, as the quests take them and us to different locations around the globe, all of which are nicely shot. There is the suspense of waiting for documents to answer questions raised, the sadness of discovering the unpleasant circumstances of deaths of these newly-unearthed ancestors, and the joy of deducing happiness and longevity.

Brooke Shields traces her paternal side's Italian nobility back to the snowy town of Augerolles, France. How's that for being born under a good sign? Matthew Broderick learns of his ancestors' contributions to two major American wars in the US version of "Who Do You Think You Are?"

Whether it's the result of luck or -- as on the BBC version -- not airing uneventful finds, almost every celebrity here has some remarkable surprises to uncover. In the series premiere, Sarah Jessica Parker links herself to not one but two huge chapters in American history. Her husband Matthew Broderick discovers ties to two major wars. NFL Hall-of-Famer Emmitt Smith and director Spike Lee explore their slave heritage. Kudrow herself takes on the Holocaust. Rounding out the first season, Brooke Shields and Susan Sarandon travel to Europe and put human faces on their unknown forebears.

The process does feel a little staged at times, especially Kudrow's episode. It also feels self-conscious, as the famous people are compelled to react in dramatic, unnatural ways for the cameras following them along. Ancestry.com furnishes promotional consideration, which makes the mentions of and reliance upon that website not entirely tasteful. All of these traits are easy to forgive, though, and the pluses far outweigh the understandable minuses.

The show may feel like a huge plug for the ever-lucrative genealogy industry, but so what if it does? Of all the pursuits a person can get into, researching one's past is fascinating and revealing at best and costly and fruitless at worst. One doesn't come away thinking that the show is some masterful misleading marketing tool, even if Ancestry.com (a for-profit company that generates $300 million annually) is behind it. Your genealogy may not be as exciting as these celebrities but you also won't have to broadcast your bloodline to the world.

Though no ratings behemoth, the show has performed well enough not to get cancelled, something that can't be said of "Law & Order" and "Friday Night Lights", the dramas that have held the network's same Friday night 8:00 Eastern/Pacific time slot in other parts of the year. While five of "Who"'s eight scheduled second season episodes have aired in recent weeks, the series' 7-episode Season 1 now comes to DVD on Tuesday from Acorn Media, a distributor specializing in British television.

Let's take a closer look at the first seven episodes...

Former Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith explains his personal connection to the number 22 to Virginia historian John Caknipe, who finds pertinent genealogical information in Deed Book 22. Three generations of the Barudin family welcome their famous distant relative, Lisa Kudrow of the "Friends", into their Gydnia, Poland home as subtitles clarify their accented English.

Disc 1

1. Sarah Jessica Parker (42:26) (Originally aired March 5, 2010)
The Cincinnati-bred "Sex and the City" star looks into her mother's side, discovering that one ancestor died later and differently than his son's obituary stated, having been part of the California Gold Rush.
In investigating her English heritage, Parker finds out that a female ancestor was involved in the infamous Salem witch trials.

2. Emmitt Smith (42:27) (Originally aired March 12, 2010)
Wanting to trace himself back to Africa, the longtime superstar Dallas Cowboys running back learns that black genealogy is more challenging. His trip from his hometown of Pensacola, Florida to Burnt Corn, Alabama shows evidence of Southern segregation and also reveals rape and white blood.

3. Lisa Kudrow (41:42) (Originally aired March 19, 2010)
The actress best known as ditzy Phoebe Buffet flies to Ilya, Belarus and hears eyewitness accounts of the horrors that the Holocaust brought the small Jewish village then part of Poland. A downer for much of the time, this episode has an upbeat ending when Kudrow finds someone her father knew and presumed dead.

4. Matthew Broderick (42:26) (Originally aired March 26, 2010)
Broderick investigates the lineage of his tight-lipped actor father who passed away in the early 1980s. It takes him to the battlefield of one decorated World War I veteran and, going further, adds a new angle to his Civil War drama Glory. Nitpicks: WarGames put Broderick on the map, a title that would have been relevant based on this episode's subject matter. Also, in what world is Ferris Bueller's Day Off considered a "cult" movie classic?

Susan Sarandon gets some information on her unknown maternal ancestors from genealogist Megan Smolenyak. Spike Lee tastefully pays respect to his great great grandfather by digging up dirt from his land dressed like Mars Blackmon and talking like an obedient slave.

Disc 2

5. Brooke Shields (40:43) (Originally aired April 2, 2010)
The longtime actress takes a look at her long-divided family. First, she checks into her mother's working-class side in Newark, New Jersey, discovering her grandmother had unmentioned brothers and trauma. Then, it's off to Rome to figure out the origins of the nobility of her father's side, a project that redirects her to Paris and uncovers a link to French royalty.

6. Susan Sarandon (42:27) (Originally aired April 23, 2010)
The Academy Award-winning actress knows nothing about her maternal grandmother Anita, of whom she has just two pictures. Beginning with a visit to Tuscany, she sets out to solve the mysteries of this New York showgirl (and succeeds in the show's most human search).

7. Spike Lee (42:27) (Originally aired April 30, 2010)
Wanting to learn more about his mother's side and get answers to questions he didn't ask his grandmother in her 100 years on Earth, Malcolm X's director tries to do the right thing by going to Georgia and uncovering the specifics of his family's slave status, including that of the unknown apparent namesake of his character Mars Blackmon. If you haven't picked up a certain attitude from Lee's films, you'll probably do so here, as he dabbles in slave talk and disrespects a newly-discovered elderly white cousin.

The blanks in Susan Sarandon's maternal lineage start to get filled in in this family tree computer graphic. Lisa Kudrow makes a new friend on the ethereal Disc 1 Episodes menu montage.

VIDEO and AUDIO

While you don't watch a show like this expecting to tell others about the video and audio quality, "Who Do You Think You Are?" thankfully looks and sounds pretty great here. The 1.78:1 widescreen picture is clean and sharp, marred only by some compression ringing on text overlays and infrequent medium and long shots. The basic 2.0 stereo mix is clear enough and foreigners whose English is heavily accented are deciphered by burned-in subtitles. English player-generated subtitles are also offered over the whole program.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

No bonus features are included on the set. While behind-the-scenes looks at the series' production process would be welcome,
it's not too surprising that none are offered.

Disc 1 opens with a 2-minute promo advertising the assortment of television series distributed on DVD by Acorn Media, followed by slightly shorter spots for "On the Road with Charles Kuralt" and "Doc Martin": Series 4.

The main menus resemble the series' opening title logo, becoming barely animate after a brief introduction. Theme music accompanies this and other selection screens. Episodes menus are spruced up with video clips as well, leading to uncommon pages describing each episode and even a scene index.

The two discs are packaged on opposite sides of a standard Eco-Box keepcase and topped by a redundant slipcover.

The sun sets on Sarah Jessica Parker's genealogical investigation, the first and arguably most fascinating one of "Who Do You Think You Are?": Season 1. Want to know if there's French royalty in your bloodline? Check the dang sponsor website, for Denny's sake!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

If you're not a genealogy buff, I'm not sure that "Who Do You Think You Are?" is something you would rewatch often. Still, everyone should find that the series makes for one fast and engrossing viewing. Acorn Media's two-disc Season 1 DVD offers no bonus features but sufficient picture and sound quality. While there are other avenues to consider using to see this, renting the DVD is probably your best bet and is certain to be interesting and enjoyable.

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Reviewed March 14, 2011.



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