There’s a scene early on in the pilot for “Almost Family” where Julia Bechley (Brittany Snow, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”) meets up with some random from a dating app. The date isn’t going so well. She has to think quick. She just goes for it. She tells him she wants to have sex. It works and they do. Later on in the episode, she finds out he might actually be her brother. So, she hooks up with him again. That’s kind of all you need to know about how the pilot went.
The premise of “Almost Family” is both serious and unsettling. Overworked lawyer Edie Palmer (Megalyn Echikunwoke, “House of Lies”) is having marriage problems. Former child-athlete superstar Roxy Doyle (Emily Osment, “Young & Hungry”) has anger problems. Julia is the ignored assistant to her father, the world-renowned fertility doctor, Dr. Leon Bechley (Timothy Hutton, “Leverage”). But all of those problems pale in comparison when it’s discovered that Dr. Bechley fathered hundreds of children by secretly using his own sperm to impregnate patients. At least they should. But somehow they don’t, which only makes the basis for “Almost Family” that much more disgusting.
Once Dr. Bechley gets confronted, he conveniently has a heart attack and is put in the hospital. As her father’s assistant, Julia hands out hundreds of DNA test kits to calm the scandal down. Edie and Roxy both come in to get one. They quickly realize that they’re probably sisters. What’s strange is that this isn’t explicitly said, but implied. It’s as if the show forgot to confirm that the three women are sisters. Which is even more bizarre, because that’s half the plot of the show. None of the women really engage with this information. It isn’t talked about except in one scene and is bypassed quickly.
What makes “Almost Family” most difficult to watch is that it seems to want to be a character-driven show. This is a huge problem because the premise is so compelling. What Dr. Bechely does is so heinous and awful that the characters ought to be more furious. But when the news breaks, Julia dismisses it as media gossip. Edie is more confused than angry when she finds out. Roxy’s parents don’t seem to be too concerned about their familial situation, but instead hire a lawyer to ensure they’ll be compensated. The characters aren’t even very interesting. Despite having a talented cast, each character feels archetypal and flat.
The biggest problem the show runs into is that it’s premise is horribly revolting. A man violated the privacy of hundreds of women. He ruined families. It’s a very big deal. But the show doesn’t seem to want to engage with the problem very much. I can’t tell if it wants to be a comedy or a drama — or if it’s just a very poorly executed dramedy — but the show demonstrates a clear lack of consideration given the severity of its premise. The way the fertility scandal takes a backseat to unfulfilled character development makes me question how dedicated the show is to its plot. If the show is not committed to this plot, they probably shouldn’t be trying it at all.
Each step of the way, “Almost Family” is conventional and predictable. Yet it still manages to fall short of meeting the most basic expectations. It can’t even seem to follow through on the promise of its plot. Ultimately, the show is weighed down by uninteresting characters and a confused sense of self. If the show were more self-aware — or even more organized — there may be something slavagable here. However, there’s no “almost” about any of this. “Almost Family” is most definitely off to a confounding and disappointing start.