Fox's 'Almost Family' is a drama disaster that makes light of a heinous crime

Kelly Lawler

What were the producers of "Almost Family" thinking?

That's the only question that comes to mind when watching Fox's smiley nightmare of a new series, in which a disgusting crime is merely the backdrop for a quirky family drama. 

It is tonally dissonant in the most extreme sense, a case of two wildly incompatible concepts crushed together so inelegantly that the result is a morally reprehensible, skin-crawling drama. 

The premise: A rich, charming fertility doctor, Leon Bechley (Timothy Hutton) is revealed to have surreptitiously inseminated several of his patients with his own sperm – an invasive and unthinkable crime for which we don't really have a name. There's nothing "alleged" about Leon's acts, it's all established in the first episode with handy DNA tests. 

Brittany Snow in "Almost Family."

Yet the thrust of the series isn't righting the wrongs Bechley caused, or tracing the fallout for the mothers he victimized. Instead, the focus is on three of his offspring – one consensually conceived and two not – bonding as (half) "sisters." Julia (Brittany Snow) is his only child with his wife, who works in his fertility clinic and must bear the brunt of the fallout; Roxy (Emily Osment) is a washed-up Olympic gymnast; and Edie (Megalyn Echikunwoke) is a defense attorney in an unhappy marriage whose mother is an old friend of Leon's (making his violation of her all the more sickening). 

The revelations about their shared father, and tumult in their personal lives, brings the three women closer. It also brings both Roxy and Edie closer to Leon. Roxy practically worships him, latching on as a loving father figure.

Megalyn Echikunwoke, Emily Osment and Brittany Snow in "Almost Family."

The producers of "Almost," which include "Friday Night Lights" creator Jason Katims, have  insisted that the series is about an "unconventional family."  You can almost see the ghosts of a better way to make that show in the first two episodes of "Almost" (Wednesdays, 9 EDT/PDT).  Had the three women found out they shared the same sperm-donor father, for instance, you might see an interesting narrative about what it means to meet a sister as an adult, with hijinks, awkward social interactions and messy family dinners.

But that's not this series, which centers on  three women who come together as a result of a horrific violation. Inseminating a wide population of women is an act famously accused sexual assaulter Jeffrey Epstein fantasized about doing before he died by suicide in jail.

And although Leon is arrested for fraud and sexual assault, the series isn't convinced that what he did was so wrong. Hutton is a sympathetic, recognizable guy, and no one in his circle – not his daughter, nor even the two mothers who unwittingly carried his genetic material – seems horrified by what he's done. He's just a quirky old guy who was trying to help people and got a little carried away! Never mind that he tracked the progress of his spawn in a database like a sociopath. 

Timothy Hutton and Brittany Snow in "Almost Family."

The problem with "Almost" isn't that it's about a serious crime – there is plenty of good and great television made about criminal activity – but that its world is wildly out of balance. Not one character acts in a realistic or relatable manner. These kinds of revelations can shatter families and cause trauma. This is not a happy event, as Roxy is so keen on framing it. It is terrible, and the show just doesn't see it.  The "Almost" writers fail to grasp the enormity of the story they're telling, so every moment the series ignores the larger implications of its premise is frustrating and angering. 

Some freshman series need time to find their legs, but others shouldn't have been made at all. If you want a show about an unconventional family, try "The Fosters" or "Big Love." Just let "Almost" drift away into the abyss like so many hanging strands of DNA.