An American Family is one of those really important shows in the canon of television history that I don’t think many people in the UK would have heard of. And yet without this show it is possible that what we watch would be very different. Why? It’s one of the first successful reality TV shows.
Back when An American Family came out the idea of ‘reality TV’ was just not on the cards. In essence, this show was an attempt to chronicle a year in the life of an American family. The ‘an’ in the title is key as I would hardly call this family an accurate depiction of the average American family.
For one thing, they are a very well to do family living in a large house in Santa Barbara. Also they have five children, the eldest being an openly gay man (the first openly gay ‘recurring character’ on American TV), and the parents split up during the filming of the series. Honestly, it is the divorce that makes this an interesting programme. I wish I could say I enjoyed the piece of history of watching the first openly gay man on American TV… but he just kept finding new ways to make me cringe.
There is one word that hub used to describe most of the children in this show: ‘vacuous’. I don’t know if it’s the accent, the way this was cut or the fact that they seemed to have no self-awareness with regards to their creative talents, but there you go. The number of times this family breaks out into song and you really wish they hadn’t is more than you can count on fingers and toes.
One of the big selling points of this show was the irony that for a family with the last name of Loud there is very little in the way of meaningful communication. After all, it is this lack of communication that seemed to lead to the dissolution of a 20 year marriage. The thing is, as lovely as that irony is it makes for a rather disjointed TV show.
Having watched current reality shows (not a lot, but you know) there are two things I really wish this series had: commentary and talking heads. Due to the sound quality of some of the recordings (some were abysmal) it would have helped to have some context from either the director or the Loud family themselves. I would have also appreciated some more editing of the sing songs… but the family only really agreed to this for the sake of promotion so I guess this had to stay.
Of all the shows so far since starting on this list An American Family has been the hardest to get through. It was a perfect storm of being an hour long show with shallow characters and poor audio. It’s been a privilege to watch this piece of television history and I will enjoy working out how we got from here to The Real Housewives of Orange County.