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Who Do You Think You Are?

Genealogy has never been so entertaining. Making its debut this evening, Who Do You Think You Are? explores the family history of a celebrity who travels about to find missing information and reconnect with their ancestors by seeing for themselves the location of their family’s historical events. Sponsored by Ancestry.com, the celebrities, of course, use the website as a primary source of their research. (Don’t worry, the tie-in is natural and not overly advertorial.) It’s an emotional experience to discover one’s roots and feel a family connection like never before.

Having received a screener of the entire season, which will unfold weekly for NBC viewers, the first episode staring Sarah Jessica Parker was the most gripping. She discovers that she has an ancestor who was involved in the Salem witch trials. As she waits for whether her ancestor was an accuser or a victim to be revealed, it’s most incredible to watch her conviction and sense of responsibility. She’s quite nervous about the results, and unsure which way it would go, but it was admirable that she felt the need to make things right in some way should her ancestor turn out to be an accuser.

However, the flip side is that she’s horrified by the idea of having an ancestor unjustly accused of being a witch. It’s fascinating to see her instant love for the relative and her immediate connection with the historical nature of the events. It's as if these were her own life events unfolding. It goes to show that there is a bond among families that surpasses time, distance, and even death.

The journey that most surprised me was that of Emmitt Smith. All I knew about him was that he used to be a football player. It was amazing to watch this bighearted man connect with his family despite the harshness of his genealogical roots in slavery. Most inspiring was his powerful respect when he learns that his grandmother successfully used her strength, intelligence, and strong protective instincts to make the best of a tough situation. He’s enormously impressed with her accomplishments and reveres her effect on his family's posterity. To watch a man view the power of a woman with such honor is truly beautiful.

Other celebrities featured in this first season of Who Do You Think You Are? are Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Broderick, Brooke Shields, Susan Sarandon, and Spike Lee. Lisa Kudrow's Jewish ancestry leads right into the Holocaust, and this is by far the toughest episode to watch. But if you can bear with Lisa through the heartbreaking journey, the ending turns out to be a small miracle in the midst of tragedy. Matthew Broderick's family history is full of war heroes, and Matthew’s research into his lineage helps to solve a 150 year old mystery. If you watch the show for its travel aspect, be sure to tune in for Brooke Shields' episode. She has an exciting family tree that leads to beautiful locations. Having a very unique family history, Susan Sarandon has always felt a connection with the grandmother she never met yet believes she inherited her best qualities from. The search for the truth of this women, who disappeared many years ago, is a challenging treasure hunt and the family connection through strong women is wondrously insightful. Spike Lee discovers a truth about his ancestors that he wishes weren’t true. It’s a look into genuine emotion, though with a tough exterior, as he tries to accept his family history, blemishes and all.

Who Do You Think You Are? gives you a mix of history lesson, travel show, and human interest documentary with a touch of reality TV. It’s a good mix that keeps the audience entertained while educating and enlightening them as well.

Written by: Sarah Eve Nichols-Fulghum, March 5th 2010

I think they do a pretty bad job of maintaining the viewer's interest. About ten minutes in I found myself doing other things and having the show on as a kind of background noise instead of giving it my full attention. The uber patriotic "I am an American" ending to this episode left a bad, bad taste in my mouth.

I really enjoyed the Sarah Jessica Parker episode, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the season. I would be curious to see how many branches of each family tree were explored before finding the interesting ones. Sarah Jessica's story was wonderful, but I imagine it's the exception rather than the rule.

I saw the SJP episode tonight. It was mildly entertaining but, in my not-so-humble opinion, derivative. Afterall, Henry Louis Gates has been doing African American Lives and American Lives for many years now on PBS. I do plan to watch the Spike Lee episode, though.

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