Wednesday, July 06, 2005

A Queasy Reality: Family Forensics on A&E

Have you ever wanted to look in someone's closets or medicine cabinet; poke your nose around and see what makes them tick? In FAMILY FORENSICS, a family vacates their home for two days, while a team of real forensic experts paints a portrait of them through what they find in their home.
—from New Series in Production, 2004 press release from A&E

Summer is upon us, with fill-in fare on cable replacing our usual favorites. So last night, there I was, flipping through the channels, choosing between second re-runs of CSI and Seconds from Disaster, when I saw a new title: Family Forensics.

The brief description in the cable listing sounded promising. A family (the Chadwicks) think they're going on a family getaway show, but instead, a team of "experts" (a criminalist, a Los Angeles police detective and a family therapist named Dr. Jan Berman) will go through their house as if it is a crime scene. The full CSI press will be brought to the task of building a "profile" of the family.

Mom Jean Chadwick is the only family member who knows the truth; it seems she wants to find out what her secretive second son, Brandon, 20, is really up to. But Jean doesn't realize the forensics team will not stop with investigating Brandon—they will also put her husband Doug, her adult son Ben, and her pre-teen son Danny, 11, under the microscope. Jean herself will not be spared their scrutiny, either.

Perhaps it is my own closet skeletons that make me a bit queasy with this concept. The sight of the criminalist gleefully uncovering "bodily fluids" in the bed of a 20-year-old single man (and then—surprise!—discovering that it is semen) made me squirm. When she turned the same ALS inspection on the marital bed, and 11-year-old Danny's bunk bed, the squirm became a full-blown writhe.

Okay, the detective found a loaded rifle tucked away next to a appliance in a closet. Confronted, the family was surprised it was "still" there, and agreed to get it out of the house. They also uncover a box of "spicy" photos of Mom and Dad, which embarassed the kids more than their folks, I think. (Doug, grinning: "We were in a lot better shape, then!") But a computer specialist called in to uncover the extent of porn viewing via the Internet finds that Ben, the oldest son, has proposed to a lady he met online. And Danny's fingerprints are found on a tequila bottle. Oh, man!

Brandon, however, came in for the most intense revelations. First, they found a suicide hotline phone number at his desk, then the computer guy uncovered the extent of Brandon's porn viewing (3 to 4 hours daily). When they found Jean's diary, an entry spelled out that Brandon (and his mother) had been abused as a child, both by family members. The confrontation had Jean and Brandon both in tears.

I don't think I'll be choosing to view this one again. There was very little insight into forensic techniques, and a maximum of stuff I wouldn't care to learn about anyone I actually knew, let alone a family of strangers. I appears I won't need any great willpower to avoid it either—A&E's web site for the program says "We're sorry, there is no upcoming episode."

Nancy Dubuc is Executive Producer and Patrice Andrews is Supervising Producer for A&E Network. FAMILY FORENSICS is produced for A&E Network by Fox Television Studios.

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