Genealogy ranges from a parlor game to an obsessive pursuit for people yearning to find their roots. In the age of the Internet, interest and availability have increased dramatically for even the most casual investigation into ancestry and answers to that nagging question of the soul, Where did I come from? American television picked up the Who Do You Think You Are?
franchise after programs with the same name and format were a hit in Britain, Ireland, and Australia, and this two-disc set represents the first season that appeared on NBC in 2010 (season two premiered in February 2011). The series follows seven celebrities as they trace a family line back three or more generations, ostensibly showing us the commonality of experience and profound sense of connection that comes with understanding the path of life that led you where you are. The stories are undeniably moving, even if the sentimentality sometimes feels forced and the manipulation of emotion a little heavy-handed. Included in the season's stories are actors Lisa Kudrow (one of the show's producers), Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick, Brooke Shields, and Susan Sarandon, as well as filmmaker Spike Lee and former NFL star Emmitt Smith.
Each episode unfolds with a stylish flair of mystery and includes moments of drama that are often genuinely moving as these famous faces all but melt when they make their individual discoveries. The journeys take each subject on lengthy field trips. Susan Sarandon makes a jaunt to Italy; Mathew Broderick travels to a World War I cemetery in France and Civil War battlefields in the Deep South; Lisa Kudrow discovers a painful family history in Belarus and Poland; and Spike Lee uncovers roots in the red clay of Georgia. The mini-documentary sagas are juiced with VIP celebrity treatment and ease of access to information that would probably take regular people months to track down. The subjects receive privileged entrée to top experts who have clearly done a lot of legwork in researching old paper records, microfilm, and computer scans. And the drama is often laid on a little thick as key documents are presented with a this-is-your-life flourish at key moments in the middle of historic settings. Invariably there are tears of emotion that the camera grabs onto with a schmaltz that sometimes borders on shameless. Nevertheless, the tears you find welling up at these poignant scenes may well be your own. (As a side note, you'll want to keep your finger ready on the fast-forward: the episodes are heavily padded with "coming up" spoilers and rehashes of what you've already seen on each side of the original commercial breaks.) --Ted Fry
As seen on NBC
Stars trace their family roots through history
"Fascinating" --The New York Times
"Brings history alive in a way rarely seen on television … satisfying emotional journeys" --The Philadelphia Inquirer
To know who you are, you have to know where you came from. In this fascinating reality series, seven celebrities share their life-altering discoveries. Working with genealogists, historians, and researchers, they travel the world to uncover the secrets and surprises in their family trees.
Sarah Jessica Parker’s (Sex and the City) search leads back to the Salem witch trials. Dallas Cowboys legend Emmitt Smith follows his slave ancestors to Benin. Lisa Kudrow (Friends) learns the truth of her great-grandmother’s fate in the Holocaust. Tony® winner Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Glory) traces his family to battlefields in France and America. Brooke Shields (Suddenly Susan) unearths her royal connections. Oscar® winner Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking) explores the racy life of her grandmother. And Emmy® -winning director Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X) meets a relative he didn’t know he had.
Intriguing, moving, and ultimately uplifting, this series proves that genealogy is more than a pastime. It’s a journey through history that changes everything.