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'Almost Family': Story of a fertility doc was almost a good idea

Emily Osment, left, Megalyn Echikunwoke and Brittany Snow

Emily Osment, left, Megalyn Echikunwoke and Brittany Snow play sisters in Fox's "Almost Family." Credit: FOX/JoJo Whilden

SERIES "Almost Family"

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m. on Fox/5.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Julia Bechley (Brittany Snow) is the only daughter of a famous fertility doctor, Leon Bechley (Timothy Hutton). A devoted daughter, she helps run his clinic and helps run his life. Then she gets the shocking news: He has used his sperm to impregnate "dozens" — perhaps more — unwitting women over the years. She's also about to learn that she has at least two half-sisters: Edie Palmer (Megalyn Echikunwoke), a top lawyer and rival to Julia since childhood; and Roxy Doyle (Emily Osment), a former Olympian who's fed up with her own parents and doesn't mind that she's now got a new father. After the initial shock, they take their new kinship in stride, while Edie undertakes Bechley's legal defense after he's arrested. 

Jason Katims ("Friday Night Lights") is one of the producers of this series based on a show that first aired in Australia.

MY SAY There's almost an interesting series in "Almost Family" but — if the first couple of episodes are a reliable guide — in the same way that there's almost a similarity between a hurricane and a sneeze. (Both involve wind, after all.)

The potentially interesting "Almost Family" could have unfolded in a couple ways. Here's one: As an exploration of identity, or one of those deepish dives into the culture's current obsessions about who we are, where we came from and where we belong. Here's another: As a slashing attack on pathological narcissism, and the astounding breach of medical ethics that resulted in, for want of a better term, test-tube rape. 

"Almost Family" has next to no interest in either. So, yup, it's a sneeze. 

But "Almost Family" is also a snooze. It sleepwalks past the issues it purports to explore, as well as the unethical, and most likely criminal, behavior involved. This is a series verily smothered in "network notes," or those dreaded missives from TV executives to TV producers demanding that any scintilla of controversy be extinguished as completely as a bucket of water poured over a guttering candle. For example, in lieu of "sperm," the term "material" is substituted. But given what the innocuous "material" was substituted for in the first place, it makes that word even creepier under the circumstances.

What happened here? Maybe Fox and the show got sandbagged, or spooked, by the real-world reports of real fertility doctors who substituted their own, um, material for someone else's, like a husband, or donor, or significant other. There are, in fact, real people wandering around in a daze who know their real father is a fraud, potentially much worse, and as one such woman profiled in a recent Atlantic story mused, "Whatever made him do it, was that inside her? ... She couldn’t shake the feeling that a dark impulse might be lurking deep within her [too]."

"Real" could be the hang-up. It might've necessitated a hard look at despicable behavior, turning this otherwise lighthearted extended "family" drama into a sort of #Metoo drama for the #Metoo era. But "Almost Family" decided viewers don't want a sort of #Metoo anything. They want to escape, not think, or certainly not think about the "material" glibly discussed here for any length of time.

So "Almost Family" made Hutton's Bechley an almost-loveable rogue, and his offspring almost-unbothered by the almost crime he perpetrated against them and countless others.

No "almost" about that. It's flat-out creepy.

BOTTOM LINE Unintentional creepout but given the subject matter, how could it have been otherwise? 

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