Long Lost Family
TEN's new series aims for your heartstrings with backstories and reunions given a happy ending.
A long time ago TV used to do reunions by flying relatives from Hobart to Sydney on Ansett and asking Aunty Beryl if she recognised the sound of a voice before an emotional embrace with Uncle Ned.
In 2008 Seven’s Find My Family reunited loved ones documentary-style, beefing up the backstory with Jack Thompson as presenter. Nine debuted Missing Pieces with Peter Overton in 2009. The long-running This is Your Life was also underpinned by weepy reunions and surprises.
Now TEN premieres Long Lost Family with Chrissie Swan and Anh Do.
Sticking to the documentary format, this series produced by WTFN features two reunions in an hour, with Swan and Do each meeting opposite sides of reunions before cameras film the money shot. A private investigator Julia Robson has done the leg-work in between to bring separated family members together.
The first story trails back over 40 years when a holiday romance at Phillip Island in the 1970s led to a young mother forced to conceal news of her pregnancy and give up her child for adoption. Having met her mother at the age of 20, now 36 year old Emma is hoping to meet her father, Ken.
As Anh Do hears Emma recount the death of her own partner before their wedding, there’s no getting away from the melancholy start to this series. Given the nature of the show, I would expect this to be a regular event, but hopefully it invests you in the storyline.
Investigator Julia Robson, a former policewoman, is depicted asking Phillip Island locals if they remember names, before heading to the State Library of Victoria for archival records. Like Who Do You Think You Are? this element of the show is amongst its most interesting features and has been skipped in past genre pieces.
Chrissie Swan meets Ken living in Darwin (he clearly had been wised up to filming before she knocks on the door) and is equally eager to hear about his long lost daughter. Each participant is presented with a letter from their missing family member that is full of hope, questions and deep sadness, suitably turning everyone to tears. Interesting that this message isn’t delivered via a video, as Find My Family did some years ago. But there is a certain mystery and old-fashioned charm about a letter.
The second story from the first episode profiles two separated sisters, Alanna & Sian, who were the offspring of a music industry roadie and their mother. One had only recently learned she even had a sister. Again our hosts hear the backstories and pass on the letters before the reunions take place.
Those reunions are filmed at “significant locations” (Phillip Island / pub band room), thankfully without our presenters in sight which allows them to play out more naturally.
I couldn’t help but wonder what potential reunion stories uncovered by Robson were rejected by one of the parties preferring to remain anonymous -but that would be an anti-climax to tell someone their quest has been denied. I was also uncomfy with the obvious plug for a genealogy website which is sponsoring the show. WTFN are kings at branded-content, I hope it won’t be a weekly story inclusion.
Overlooking the soft lens and the tinkling piano, Long Lost Family achieves what it sets out to do: paint a picture of a sad start to life and give it a happy ending. The casting of the presenters works well -Anh Do’s own tale of the “happiest refugee” is well-known and he remains enormously popular with audiences. Chrissie Swan may have to resist the temptation to tear up, for fear of it becoming a cliché.
I’m not entirely convinced the stories warranted 60 rather than 30 minutes, but Long Lost Family will aim to tug at your heartstrings and probably succeed in strumming a few.
Long Lost Family airs 7:30pm Wednesdays on TEN.