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April 9, 2012

Finding Your Roots - Two Thumbs Down

I finally managed to watch an episode of Finding Your Roots on PBS last night. It featured Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgewick. The host, if you haven't seen this series, is Henry Louis Gates Jr.

I thought I'd love this show. Especially this episode. I expected to be glued to the television while it was on. But the truth is it didn't grab me. I was bored. It didn't show any of the research behind the scenes. It didn't walk me, the viewer, through any steps that showed me how they got to Ancestor "A" or "B" or whoever they were focused on.

It also seemed to be a celebrity love fest - with a whole lot of buttering up of Kevin and Kyra. Don't get me wrong I like both of them as actors, very much. They seem like great people. But the show is called "Finding Your Roots" and that's what I want to hear about.

There was also an awful lot about the host himself.  Certainly more than I was interested in. That confused me. I didn't expect to be seeing photos of Professor Gates as a student and hearing his stories about his own life.

I'll watch one more episode to be fair. I'll try to be open-minded. But in comparison to Who Do You Think You Are? on NBC it fell short.  By a lot.  At least for me. I wanted to like it. I tried to find something good about it. But I couldn't.

I expect I'm in the minority and in fact I'll probably get a lot of criticism from my readers but I have to call it like I see it.


Frances Elizabeth Schwab said...

As a genealogy show, it was disappointing for the reasons you mention, but I found it very interesting as a history show.

NoOceanInKansas said...

I can't decide if I like this show or not. This week was strange because I found Kevin Bacon's hair to be very distracting, but that's kind of a side note. One good thing this show doesn't do that WDYTYA does is, it doesn't tell you to plug a name into and see what pops up. Sometimes I feel as if WDYTYA is one giant advertisement for, and I suppose in some respects it is. I think this show does a better job of putting ancestors in historical context, although the historical context they seem to be focused on (at least the last two episodes I've watched) is the African American story: owning slave, being a slave, or having the blood of the slave owners in the family tree. I do agree with Frances when she says, "I found it very interesting as a history show."

Cinamon Collins said...

I agree that showing the research process is lacking. It was better last week with the Barbara Walters episode. Nearly every episode Gates somehow brings up his ancestry, which always surprises me and takes me out of the moment of the episode. Historically last night's episode was interesting and I loved the story about Mumbet!

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

I agree that historically Finding Your Roots was interesting. I neglected to mention that in my blog post.

Re WDYTYA and Ancestry -
Since Ancestry is the sponsor for the show it wouldn't be realistic to expect them not to have their product mentioned. I'm actually surprised it isn't mentioned more.

And for a beginner, I think Ancestry is a good place to start. All the census records for N. America and England are there at one's fingertips! And of course lots of other records.

CollProf said...

I have to agree. I was enthralled with previous episodes but this one didn't grab me either. (Still, it's great to watch with no commercial breaks and recaps.)

Perry said...

I think you picked a bad episode to start with. I was falling asleep during last night's episode. I found it somewhat strange that they seemingly combed through their trees to find an ancestor that owned slaves. I guess it was because it's HLG's pet topic. The whole show just didn't seem organic - usually on these shows they research a topic or ancestor that the guest has questions about, but here they just jumped 300 years back to the most famous ancestor they could find.

The previous three episodes have kept me glued to the screen though. Barbara Walters' episode was particularly good. You can watch the previous episodes online - google Finding Your Roots and go to Video.

Sheri Fenley said...

OMG! I am relieved that I am not the only person who found Kevin Bacon's hair a distraction. I found it to be more than a distraction - it was hideous - stringy and greasy looking and just plain YUCKY!

This week's show didn't do much for me either Lorine. But I really like Kyra and am in love with her father and their beautiful family estate. I am a little jealous of all the important American history her family was a part of.

Kathryn Lake Hogan said...

Greetings Lorine,
I agree this week's episode was lacking in research and interest. Last week's episode with Geoffrey Canada and Barbara Walters was much better, and showed some of the research.
The show is a bit different from the past shows Gates has done. Each pair of celebrities in an episode of Finding Your Roots has something similar in their family history. Last week's show with Canada and Walters had the common element of finding the original family surname.
As for Gates himself, part of the show is his journey in finding who fathered the children of Gate's 3x great-grandmother, Jane. This was a secret she took to the grave. Gates thinks it may have been Jane's slaveholder. Gates is using DNA testing of men in Virginia in the hope of discovering the answer. I can understand how not knowing that about the show would throw you for a loop.
I think comparing FYR and WDYTYA is like comparing apples and oranges. Just my two loonies worth! ;-)

Janice EH said...

Worst show he has done from a genealogist's point of view; A great history lesson on New England slaveholders. Truly a waste of Kevin (greasy hair and all) and Kyra. It would be interesting if one of the shows did a full hour on each of them as they both have some interesting ancestors.

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

Perry, Thanks for your take on it. I wish I could watch online but I'm in Canada and we can't view them.

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

Kathryn, glad you explained the premise of the show to me. But I'm still disgruntled. If HLG wants to find his ancestors, great, terrific and would probably be very interesting BUT he needs to call it "The HLG Finding My Roots" show.

Oh so glad you gave me loonies and not pennies!

Re comparisons - speaking about oranges and apples they are both fruits, both taste yummy and both are nutritious. And both are spherical. So I find 4 points of comparison. I know I'm one of those annoying people who go "aha! I can argue that point!" :-)

Anonymous said...

Lorine, you can watch in Canada here

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

Appreciate the link to but the first 2 videos I clicked on (Barbara Walters and then Harry Connick) say they can't be played.

Am getting Lewis one to play, but that's my only choice

Jenny Jones said...

I've been watching every week and this was by far the least interesting episode, in my opinion. I actually fell asleep in the last 15-20 minutes.

From a history perspective it was OK, but as those above have mentioned, no research info. Previous episodes have been great at showing that, especially the Barbara Walters/Mr. Canada and the one with Cory Booker. Those two were probably my favorite!

I am starting to think, because it usually shows more research, that I prefer it over WDYTYA. Although I'll still watch both, best shows on TV!

Give it another chance and hopefully you will catch a good one.

Dee Sager said...

Hi Lorine and all,

It was mentioned on the show about Kevin being somewhere away from home getting hair plugs put in for his next movie which is placed in the 1970's. That definitely was 70's hair!!!! He usually looks more clean cut than he was on the show. I've watched several of the shows and enjoyed them all - except the Kevin-Kyra one. Boring! Maybe because both families had been researched before and written about, especially Kyra's. Still - I did watch through to the end.

Dee Sager

GeneBugGrams said...

First I want to thank Anonymous for posting the video link. I just watched the Connick/Marsalis episode that I had previously missed. In this episode, I was impressed with the amount of research and resulting documents they showed viewers -- more than any I saw in the Canada/Walters or Sedgwick/Bacon episodes -- and the history of the people of New Orleans was very interesting to me.

Gates does seem to have a "thing" about researching for slaves and Jews in someone's ancestry. Also his use of DNA to show percentges is lacking when he could expand this to show specific areas of origin. Perhaps this is yet to come.

Like most of the responders on this topic, I have mixed feelings and can't say I really like this show when compared to WDYTYA.

Even with WDYTYA, I am often frustrated about the way they will present one fact which has additional, obvious, clues they skip over to jump back to the next generation.

In any case, I will continue to watch -- I am hooked.

Lynn Palermo said...

So far I have only managed to watch the Canada/Walters episode. I too found it lacking. Couldn't put my finger on it at first, but then I figured it out. The storytelling. WDYTYA really takes us on an emotional journey with the celebrity and shares a story. I cry every episode. I was not touched the same way with Finding Your Roots. Maybe it was just this one episode, but I feel like the information is presented very matter of factly to the here it is, interesting huh, what do think? The celebrities seemed detached from the journey. Gates seems to be taking the journey for them. I will try again, perhaps it was just this one episode.

Jana Iverson Last said...

I've watched the show from when it started a few weeks ago. I DVR'ed (is that a word?) it and watched Sunday's episode yesterday. I turned it off about half way through. Not sure I'm going to watch it any more. Disappointing. I like WDYTYA much better!

Jana Iverson Last said...

I've watched the show from when it started a few weeks ago. I DVR'ed (is that a word?) it and watched Sunday's episode yesterday. I turned it off about half way through. Not sure I'm going to watch it any more. Disappointing. I like WDYTYA much better!

pauline said...

Try for links that work in Canada. Just watched the first episode and I agree with all your comments. I am enjoying the history so will keep watching I think.

Pauline said...

Try for links that will work from Canada. Like you have all mentioned, the show is missing something but I will give a chance, have only watched 1 episode. Learning a lot about American history.

Stephanie Nichols Bateman said...

I dislike it for two reasons:
(a) like you said, there are too many instances of the host making the show about him and his family. This is not the first episode to do this.
(b) The host isn't satisfied to just let history speak for itself. He has to put his perspective on it, which is African American history...he specializes in that. I appreciate the history to be learned from our mistakes, but he makes every single episode about slavery.

Anonymous said...

I agree that of all of the episodes, this was not my favorite by far. And agree with all of you as to why. But please look at the one of Cory Booker and John Lewis, it was so awesome. John Lewis previously unknonwn to me, was a civil rights leader, who walked with MKL. I watched twice and cried both times.

GrumpiGrampi said...

Amazing what you can find out about your ancestors if you have a bushel basket full of money, and you hire a trained researcher. This show is nothing more then a celebrity show & tell. I watched 10 minutes of this episode, and turned it off. Makes me wonder how many people they tried to find history on, and hit a dead end, so they said, "Hey, we can't use you!" Why don't they randomly grab someone off the street and do their research, even if they hit a brick wall. And say they hit a brick wall. That's how the rest of us do family research. One "Ah ha" at a time.

Maureen Haggerty said...

As a family/local historian, I've found Finding Your Roots disappointing.

I especially dislike Gates injecting himself into the stories & fawning over the celebrities.

WDYTYA? does plug Ancestry, which is reasonable. Every episode of Finding Your Roots highlights a DNA testing procedure.

Cassmob (Pauleen) said...

i have recently watched a couple of these on cable and in fact saw this one last night. I am with you at many levels Renthisnshow Lorine. I often feel the celebrities don't much's handedntothem on a plate more than WDYTYA.

One thing I really noticed is that much is made (quite rightly) about the impact of slavery yet there are gliib remarks abour the Sedgwicks being given 500 acres as there was plenty of empty land. The idea ofnterra nullis seems to be qlive in well in US history asit was for years in Australia, but no longer.

It seems hypocritical thatnthe host ignores the displacement of the American Indians while highlighting the lack of autonomy of slaves.