It’s been two weeks since the last (ever?) season of Who Do You Think You Are? wrapped up — time for superlatives! Here are my picks:
Best Episode: Jason Sudeikis’ three generations of sons without fathers. Each generation’s story involved fascinating records and surprising twists, but the connection of each generation to the next made for the best episode-wide arc of the season. We saw how the forgotten past influences our present, and Jason clearly got how lucky he was to have a father who broke the cycle. Honorable mention to Edie Falco’s even more dysfunctional line tracing back to the orphaned daughter of a master mariner from Penzance.
Best Guest: I loved how Reba McEntire connected her ancestors’ distant lives to her modern proclivities (ex: why she never liked England). I loved how she personified her ancestors and addressed them directly. I was moved when she apologized to her seven times great-grandfather for judging his decision to indenture his son. Best of all, she got the irony that this indentured ancestor’s success paved the way for his prosperous descendants… to own slaves. What a family story, and what a person to discover it!
Most Emotional Episode: I give Rashida Jones’ lopsided family tree the slight edge over Rita Wilson’s father’s escape from Communist Bulgaria. Although it was pretty clear early in both episodes where we were going, I cried with Rashida when she and her mother paid their respects at Rumbala and also with Rita when she read her father’s first letter from freedom. But Rashida’s journey came as a total revelation to her; whereas Rita’s filled in details of a story she mostly already knew.
Most Ironic Disocvery: The shiksa goddess from Mad About You turns out to be descended from Jewish aristocracy! Helen Hunt seemed completely nonplussed by this connection (in contrast to her Augusta Hunt connection), but I was shocked!
Most Interesting Ancestor: Blair Underwood’s three times great-grandfather, Sauny Early. “Eccentric character wearing badges and cabalistic (sic) signs.” “Second Jesus.” “Negro religious enthusiast or lunatic.” Given how many times he was shot — in the face, even! — declared dead, even! — he might not have been so crazy when he claimed that no man could kill him. It also turns out he might not have been so crazy for “[declaring] war” on his neighbors, who in reality encroached upon his property.
Most Appreciative of His Ancestry: Rob Lowe didn’t have the sort of Revolutionary War hero he expected, but his Hessian five times great-grandfather prisoner-turned-patriot proved to be a much more inspiring example for Lowe’s patriotism.
Most Enviable Breakthrough: My most vexing brick wall is how the last name Davis prevents me from tracing this line into Eastern Europe. But Rashida Jones’ Bensons were Bensons since the day Latvian Jews took last names in the early 19th c.! It is extremely difficult to find these kinds of records in this part of the world, which makes the discovery all the more remarkable.
Agree? Disagree? What are your picks?