Saturday, February 4, 2012

Love Bloggo: NBC's Who Do You Think You Are?

Occasionally I worry that because of the synchronization of Glee simultaneously dominating my blog and swirling down the toilet, this place has become far too negative and nitpicky.  I love things, I promise!  And it was recently suggested to me by an anonymous reader that I should share more of the things I love - books, television, music, etc.  

So, in an effort to spruce up this bloggo with positivity and sunshine, I present the first in what will hopefully be a continued trend of sharing random things I love, to balance out the long-winded criticisms occupying the archives.

The first thing you should know about me (which you probably already do) is that I am an extreme nerd.  Now, as we all are aware, there are different types of nerds.  No need to lump us all together in one big category.  There are math nerds, science nerds, video game nerds, comic book nerds, sci-fi nerds, music nerds, film nerds, book nerds, word nerds, history nerds, humanities nerds, art nerds - you get the idea.  I happen to be a conglomeration of the latter five, give or take.  I also happen to be a genealogy nerd.  It sort of combines my love for history and sociology and humanities with my penchant for organization and documentation, with added storyteller and mystery intrigue thrown in.  As such, I am a huge nerd for NBC's Who Do You Think You Are?

It doesn't seem like something that'd ordinarily do well on television: every episode follows a celebrity on a journey to discover their family history.  They talk to a relative to get a few leads, then, as most of them are part of America's historical "melting pot," whisk away to their original homelands to trace the steps.  They meet up with genealogists and hold original documents in awe, and walk the same paths their ancestors did, if they're lucky.  It's part documentary, part reality show, and part mystery hour.

But at the same time, every episode promises intrigue and self-discovery, as every subject inevitably compares their ancestor's circumstances and choices to their own life experiences.  The urge to look at the family that produced you to try and find some similarity in yourself is universal and singularly human, and it's amazing to see the connections people actually legitimately make to their pasts.

Tonight, Who Do You Think You Are? returned with Martin Sheen as its celebrity subject, which means that we also learned the ancestry of Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen!  Sheen traced an uncle on his mother's side to the rabble-rousing half of the Irish Civil War and a great-uncle on his father's to the law-abiding half of Spanish Civil War, and both parties on either side spent significant time in jail.  As a result, this episode quickly became a sober reminder of history's atrocities and how they affected so many people so permanently.  And for me, it's this that is the most powerful aspect of Who Do You Think You Are? and genealogical research in general.  

There are events in human history that bind countless people together, and affect them irreversibly.  Sometimes it's happenstance, like famines and illnesses and outbreaks.  But mostly, it's the dark side of humanity and human actions, where wars reach into every home and disturb a family enough to create a lasting mark on the lives of their descendants, most of whom never even realize. 

So that's what Who Do You Think You Are? is for: for the descendants to understand the realities their ancestors faced, the stories they lived in real life, the seemingly random or mundane events of their life that were woven inextricably into the fabric of their contexts, and dominoed just so, thereby creating the descendant's entire existence, mostly likely taken for granted.

In the case of Martin Sheen, he discovered a half-a-dozen-greats grandfather in Spain that was a judge hellbent on persecuting a young woman in the village who aborted a baby fathered by a married man above her status.  She was lucky enough to escape, and eventually moved away to start a new life in another town.  Then, lo and behold, four generations later, her great-great-great-great granddaughter married her persecutor's great-great-great-great grandson.  And of course, no one realized this until now, when the zoom-out is so cosmic that every piece of information tracked down takes on a strange meant-to-be aura and makes you think about every little thing that happens in your life and how it will affect your future.

So, if you are in fact a history nerd, sociology nerd, mystery nerd, documentary nerd, humanities nerd, genealogy nerd, or OH-MY-GOD-THE-TINIEST-THINGS-BLOW-MY-MIND nerd (like me) -- I highly recommend checking out Who Do You Think You Are?  This season features, along with Martin Sheen, Marisa Tomei, Blair Underwood, Reba McEntire, Rob Lowe, Helen Hunt, Edie Falco, Rashida Jones, Jerome Bettis, Jason Sudeikis, and Paula Deen.  Actually, according to Executive Producer Lisa Kudrow (another reason to love the show, frankly) Rob Lowe's and Marisa Tomei's stories have been in the works since the first season, so I take that to mean they are epic and mysterious!  Tomei's is next week, and the preview hinted strongly at murder and conspiracy theory, so tune in!

(It occurs to me after all this overjoyed plugging that I should make note that I do not work for NBC's Who Do You Think You Are? in any way, shape, or form.  Although, frankly, I would love to.  Your move, Lisa Kudrow.)


  1. I haven't really watched WDYTYA, mainly because I live in Spain and they don't broadcast it there, though it does sound very interesting; but I just wanted to tell you that even if Glee is (since a long, long time) getting worse and worse, I enjoy your reviews a lot. Reading negative comments can also be very interesting, specially when they're so profound and well-written as your recaps. I find you're spot-on in your criticism, and I learn a lot about the art of storytelling and charactersation just by reading your blog. I follow the show mainly out of loyalty, some sort of mysterious sympathy for the characters and the increasingly tiny wish that one day things will get better and there will be continuity, Blaine will be written beyond his Gary Stu role, Tina will have a storyline about herself, Mercedes' character will be treated with dignity... and so on.


  2. Sorry this is a bit off-topic for this post. :-) I sent you a message via LJ a day or so ago, and it occurred to me that you might not get notification for those, so I thought I'd post here as well. I am contacting you to see if you would be interested in being interviewed for Slashcast, a multifandom slash-focused podcast. If you're interested, I can give you more information via email (emmagrant01 at gmail dot com).


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