Almost Family is a revolting nightmare masquerading as a heartwarming drama
Let’s be honest: No one really wants to think about sperm. Sure, it’s a necessary life force without which none of us would be here, but it’s not something people want to dwell on — certainly not every week, for 44 very uncomfortable minutes.
But in Fox’s Almost Family — a nightmare saga about a sociopathic IVF specialist, masquerading as a touchy-feely family drama — sperm is the big bad. Specifically, the sperm belonging to Leon Bechley (why, Timothy Hutton? WHY?), a celebrated fertility doctor who achieved such high success rates by supplementing his patients’ samples with his own “material.” Turns out, he’s sired at least 100 children! Are you setting your DVR yet?
When Bechley’s hideous misdeeds are finally exposed, his timid only child Julia (why, Brittany Snow? WHY?) is horrified… but also, like, kind of excited that she now has siblings, including a family frenemy named Edie (Megalyn Echikunwoke) and a former Olympic gymnast-turned-pill-addict named Roxy (Emily Osment). “I can’t believe it’s not just me anymore!” marvels Julia. “I have sisters!” It’s an impressively glass-half-full outlook, especially since Julia also just learned that her recent one-night-stand is a Bechley Baby, too — and therefore, her half-brother.
Sorry, I need a minute.
The good people at Fox aren’t entirely to blame for this horror show: Almost Family is based on the Australian drama Sisters, which ran for one season in 2017. Though most of the story points in the Family pilot mirror Sisters’ first episode, the Australian drama at least had the decency to treat this subject with an appropriate patina of dread. “It’s genetic rape!” fumed the Australian version of Edie (Antonia Prebble). No such phrase appears in Almost Family; instead the show ping-pongs through a variety of vibes, from “family is, like, soooo exasperating” cutesiness to manipulative, “we’re all connected” mawkishness.
It would help if any of the characters were empathetic, but alas: Edie, a lawyer, actually decides to defend Leon Bechley in court and argues that the sexual assault charge against him is a “huge overreach.” (It’s not.) Roxy has a strained relationship with her stage parents (Victoria Clark and Timothy Busfield), but that does not explain why she suddenly becomes obsessed with getting to know her “real dad,” a notorious sperm criminal. Julia, meanwhile, is self-effacing to a fault, and she continues to support her father and his clinic even after he reveals himself to be a monster. All of this is especially disappointing given that Echikunwoke, Osment, and Snow are very likable actresses; they deserve better.
As for Dr. Bechley’s victims, the women he fraudulently impregnated? They are all but ignored, at least in the first two episodes. The only one we meet, Edie’s New Age-y mom Genevieve (Tamara Tunie), is totally fine with the whole sordid situation. “I’m your mother. I carried you,” she tells Edie. “That’s what matters — not what ended up in some test tube.” Hard disagree, ma’am. As a woman who conceived a child through IVF, I can tell you with absolute certainty that if a fertility doctor sullied my uterus with his spunk, I would burn his clinic to the ground (preferably with him in it).
But Almost Family doesn’t really want to deal with female anger, or the revolting nature of its own premise. Instead, it aims to spin stories about community and family that are just so darn heartwarming, we’ll forget they’re all based on a fertility felony. Like everything else about this show, it just doesn’t work. Grade: D+
Almost Family premieres Wednesday, Oct. 2 at 9 p.m. on Fox.