‘Family S.O.S.,’ largely ‘asseptable’
TLC series, starring Jo Frost, may bring hope to some viewers
May 22, 2013
The reality shows about visiting child experts — ABC’s “Supernanny” and Fox’s “Nanny 911” chief among them — always start with at least one extraordinarily difficult kid who is reformed in just an hour of TV time. Although the process can be fun and enlightening to watch, we usually feel that big parts of the story must have been left out.
In TLC’s new series “Family S.O.S. With Jo Frost,” Frost, the star of “Supernanny,” not only fixes some troubled children but also repairs their parents’ relationship. Even though the premiere episode lasts 90 minutes, the process feels improbably rushed, and one gets the sense either that important steps and details have been cut or that the ending has been tidied up for TV.
But like most of these shows, the episode will provide moments of recognition for anyone who has ever been a parent or a child. We can’t help rooting for the family and hoping that the happy ending at least approximates reality. Generously disposed viewers will get something out of “Family S.O.S.”
In the premiere, airing next Tuesday, May 28, at 9 p.m., Frost visits the Quinn-Davis family, in Huntington Beach, Calif. Frost say they’re a blended family “who are not quite blended right now.”
The husband, Don, has two sons from his previous marriage, Derek and Justin, and the wife, Julie, has three daughters, Ashley, Amber and Emily, and one son, Chad. In a recipe for disaster, all the children seem to be in or near adolescence.
Although Frost doesn’t single anyone out, the main problem seems to be Amber and Emily, both of whom love disobeying or insulting their mother. Julie seems to resent Don’s efforts to help, seeing them as criticism of her children and an implied comparison with his.
Teenage Chad has been sober for two years after doing rehab for drug and alcohol abuse. Although one would expect this to be the family’s biggest issue, it causes relatively little friction.
As a first step, Frost has the family members sit in the dining room — she says this will be the first time in months they’ve all been in the same room — and say what they think is pulling the family apart.
After some hesitation, Julie says that she’s upset with the way Amber talks to her, and Chad says Amber thinks she’s too cool for the family.
Julie and Don discuss their fights over the kids, and Derek, in tears, says that he’s unhappy all the time at home and resents Don for using him as a sounding board.
Chad volunteers that he thinks that all Frost is accomplishing is getting everyone upset for a TV show. Later, he accuses Julie of doing and saying things she would never say in real life. This acknowledgement of the built-in falsity of the process is refreshing.
Ashley says nothing and then vanishes for the rest of the show; she doesn’t even reappear for a family portrait at the end.
That night, Julie has to go to pick up Amber at a party where there’s underage drinking. She takes the girl to the emergency room, where Amber vomits.
The next day’s discussions are much worst. Both Frost and Julie have to chase after Amber when she walks out.
The camera cuts to a sign in the house that says, “A daughter is a special gift from God.”
Later, it’s Emily’s turn to treat her mother with disrespect. Both girls have perfected that smirk that teenagers use as a shield when their parents are trying to be serious.
Frost’s procedures are similar to those she used with little children on “Supernanny.” She makes the parents write down rules and chores, insists that children listen and makes everyone express their feelings. Don and Julie’s discussion of their problems in communication are particularly painful to watch.
The process begins to work, but we know this more because the soundtrack music switches to a more hopeful tone. Soon the more troubled family members are talking about how they’ve had a breakthrough. If this seems quick, it’s probably going to seem even quicker in subsequent episodes, which will be only an hour long.
Although viewers will suspect that Ashley isn’t the only thing mysteriously left out of the episode, the family earns our sympathy. Frost’s working-class English accent is endearing. Although she has dropped her “Supernanny” catch phrase — “That’s not asseptable” — she makes up for it with references to getting the family “togevvah.”
Viewers who are willing to take it on faith that the Quinn-Davises have turned a corner will be moved, and all of us will recognize a little of our own dysfunctionality in them. “Family S.O.S.” isn’t great, but it’s asseptable.
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