Thursday, February 11, 2010

Reflections on Faces of America

I watched the show Faces of America on PBS last night. I enjoyed some of it and some of it seemed a bit dry to me. I wasn't expecting high drama or excitement but I was expecting it to keep my attention. It didn't entirely do that for me. I was interested in the family histories of Yo-Yo Ma, Eva Longoria, and Kristi Yamaguchi, not so much in the others who I'd never heard of before.

I read some reviews written by other genealogy bloggers and it seems that opinions were mixed on this show. What I haven't read and would like to read are reviews written by those who have not yet been bitten by the genealogy bug... the group I suspect this series was aimed at. I invited my husband to watch the show with me but he wasn't biting. He has no interest in genealogy whatsoever. However, he did offer to watch the show over the weekend and let me know what he thought. I haven't told him my opinion because I don't want to influence him but I'm betting the show isn't compelling enough to hold his attention or pique his interest in family history.

I will say that I thought overall the show was well done. However, I'm not sure it was effective at hooking in viewers for future episodes. I'll watch the next episode but I'm not sure there was enough in the first episode to captive my husband and those like him who aren't family history fans. I'll leave a comment to this post after  my husband watches it and let you know what he thought.

Did anyone else watch the show with someone who isn't into family history?


  1. Jasia,

    I agree with you...I was a bit underwhelmed. It was just OK in my book. Unfortunately I am the only one in my house interested in genealogy so I watched it alone. I did see quite a few Facebook comments where everyone loved it...could be just the usual FB cheerleading though.


  2. I watched it with my wife and she was very interested in some of the stories. She was completely overwhelmed by the Yamaguchi story. She didn't know Japanese-Americans, American citizens with family members fighting for the US in WW2, were sent to concentration camps. I guess they don't teach that in history classes?

    I thought the show was good but perhaps trying to have so many stories cut across a single era is too much. I would have preferred to see them dig deeper on the more intriguing stories.

    One question my wife had was about the host and whether or not he was "famous" in genealogy circles. I didn't have an answer on that one.

    Good show. I will Tivo the rest of the series and keep watching it.

  3. Good Morning,

    Just wanted to stop by and say thank you! Where I Come From is celebrating there 1st Anniversary today and it's all because of you.

  4. I really enjoyed the show but my expectations may not have been as high as yours. I have seen all the previous shows done by the professor Henry Louis Gates. He can be a bit pompous, but I put up with it because I am interested in the content. I think the future shows will be more interesting because they will supposedly delve into the 19th century and further back. I think what they were trying to do, although I am not sure, is to start with the current person, their parents, and their grandparents, just like we all do in genealogy research. We'll all have to wait and see the future shows. I will be interested to read your comments on those of others. - Oh, and I watched the show with my mother (a non-genealogy geek) and she also enjoyed it.
    Georgia Keilman

  5. Hi Jasia,
    I enjoyed the show and interesting backgrounds of the various people, and especially their reactions to the information they received. The thing I was disappointed in was that Professor Gates seemed aloof, and that took the energy out of the show in my view. I'll continue to watch and hope that Professor Gates can warm up a bit... that would help.
    Sue Edminster

  6. I've not watched this season's "Faces of America" but have watched Henry Gates in the past doing family's histories. I thought they were good, and some of the stories quite moving, but I also thought that he came across as a bit aloof, too. Not all college professors are like that, and perhaps he is not in real life.

  7. I recorded the first episode but I have yet to watch it. The timing of the series is unfortunate. For the next two weeks, many people will probably be tuned into the Olympics instead of Faces of America.

  8. Jasia, I decided not to write a review of the show because I figured I'd be the only one who was, to borrow Tim's word for it, underwhelmed. I decided to sit on it for a week, and see how the second episode goes. Apparently many of us were underwhelmed, though. The show skimmed over the best and most fun parts of actually doing family history research. Like others, I hope there will be more depth in the coming episodes.

    I had to go to my dad's to watch, since I don't have cable TV and am only getting FOX and NBC at present. My sister was there that night, too. She and Dad sat down to watch the show with me. After the show, my sis said, "Well, that was pretty interesting." Truth to tell, she had the recliner and was pretty quiet throughout the show, so I'm not sure she actually caught the whole thing, if ya know what I mean! And Dad has a hard time paying attention to anything these days--I think he was pretty restless. I don't think the show answered his question, the one he asks me when I start talking about researching family history stuff: "What do you want to do that for? What's the difference?"

    I'm hoping they intend to put the other three episodes online, as I'm not excited enough at this point to sally forth in the cold dark chill of night again to watch at Dad's.

  9. Hi All! Thank you so much for your comments. I enjoyed reading them :-) I'm sorry to say that my husband got caught up in watching the Olympics over the weekend and didn't get around to watching Faces of America Episode 1. He still intends to do it as a favor to me but it likely won't happen for a couple days yet.

    I have to admit, I'm going to watch the Olympics tomorrow night instead of the next episode but I will record it to watch at a later time. You're right about the unfortunate timing Steve. Even if it were a really exciting episode it probably still wouldn't be as exciting as watching the Olympic events televised at the same time. At least not for me.

    I'm looking forward to seeing the next episode, it just won't be tomorrow night ;-)

  10. OK, so this evening my husband and I watched the second episode of Faces of America together. As I expected, he dozed on and off throughout the show. When I asked him for his feedback he said it wasn't bad but he wouldn't watch it again. He didn't think it was exciting enough to spark interest in those not already interested in family history and probably not detailed enough to satisfy those who are.

    I enjoyed the second episode a little more than the first because it seemed to jump around less. I also appreciated that it too was about the immigrant experience. That's something I can relate to my own family history.

  11. I have been disappointed in it as a family history show. My daughter said it did not perk her interest in doing family history at all. It seemed a high profile coverage of famous people and their family. I don't see it as sparking peoples interest in family history and there were a lot of political attitudes thrown in the second one as side comments by the 'guest'. After much ado made of it my a librarian here in Texas, I was somewhat disappointed in it.

  12. Jasia,
    I've been watching online and have enjoyed the first two episodes immensely.
    I have no US links but did know Eva L (from Desperates). The way everyone was portrayed as 'American' despite such different backgrounds I thought a good starting point. I could draw parallels with the treatment of 'Aliens' in Australia during the World Wars. Families whose men were fighting were detained. Native people at best marginalised (an issue I am not sure whether this series will consider).
    The second episode linked in with my recent investigations of shipping manifests for very peripheral family. I was very moved by the portrayal of starting a completely new life, with some more accepted than others. Could this perhaps be a series better appreciated from a distance?

  13. You bring up a good point, Bronwyn. Perhaps this series would be better appreciated from a distance. I'd never thought of that. Thanks!

  14. I love American history, so I loved the show. It's was only on in 2009 and 2008 during Black History month (Feb). Prof. Gates profiled famous black Americans in much the same way was done on this show. In the previous years Prof. Gates also did a bit of his own history, including DNA which showed that he is 51% Caucasian; quite the shocker, considering he is the head of African American studies (I might not have the title quite right) at Harvard. He traveled to Ireland to find out about his Irish roots. The show is not about the search as we know it in the genealogical world, but as the family history of some Americans, I thought the shows were great!