What a warm, loving family...
June 18, 2008 2:02 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for some films/TV shows that revolve around the concept of family, especially the "created family".

I loved Buffy. I loved Angel. I really really loved Firefly. I also quite liked Six Feet Under. Fraiser was kind of interesting. But I hated the Soprano's.

What films or TV shows might I like, where the central theme is a group of disparate strangers being lumped together to form a cohesive unit - a "family"?

The outside details (being in a spaceship/fighting monsters/whatever) aren't vitally important. If the shows are available to rent on DVD (in the UK, though I figure that shouldn't be too much of an issue), that would be great too.
posted by Solomon to Media & Arts (36 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Star Trek: Voyager springs to mind. Enemy agents, aliens, a hologram, civilians and military personnel... they all have to learn to get along after they're transported tens of thousands of light-years from home. By the end of the series they're very much a family.

Deep Space Nine and Enterprise are like that too, but I think the family/unity theme is most pronounced in Voyager.
posted by hjo3 at 2:25 AM on June 18, 2008

Not a family in the traditional sense, but kinda fits your requirements - Heroes
posted by jontyjago at 2:29 AM on June 18, 2008

Gilligans Island of course!
posted by Kerasia at 2:52 AM on June 18, 2008

posted by Rhomboid at 2:54 AM on June 18, 2008

Best answer: Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Off the Map (2003)
Manna From Heaven (2002)
posted by keith0718 at 3:04 AM on June 18, 2008

The Wire, especially season 1.
posted by fire&wings at 3:14 AM on June 18, 2008

This is one of my favorites, too. I especially like, in these kinds of shows, where unlikely pairs--say, on Six Feet Under, Billy and George--would have a poignant moment together.

The work family is a pretty classic theme on TV:
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
The West Wing
posted by lampoil at 3:38 AM on June 18, 2008

Best answer: I liked all the shows you mentioned, and I loved Carnivale.
posted by indienial at 3:55 AM on June 18, 2008

Band of Brothers- not a traditional family per se.
posted by Gungho at 4:02 AM on June 18, 2008

If you liked Buffy/Angel/Firefly, you might like Veronica Mars.
posted by minus zero at 4:45 AM on June 18, 2008

Spaced, from Channel4 (coming to Region1 DVD this July, finally). The 'created family' is a great description of what the show becomes, and is even discussed at the end.
posted by pupdog at 5:18 AM on June 18, 2008

TV Shows:
Homicide: Life on the Streets
The Office (UK version - I've never watched the US version)

Secrets and Lies
Ocean's 11/12/13
The Godfather I/II (though, if you didn't like Sopranos...)
Lord of the Rings ;)
posted by yeoja at 5:30 AM on June 18, 2008

Dead Like Me kills the main character and plops her into a created family of reapers, and the subplot usually centers on her spying on the birth family she always took for granted while she was alive.
posted by Drop Daedalus at 5:33 AM on June 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Some people seem to be interpreting this question as "name some TV shows you like". The question asked for television programmes with "disparate strangers being lumped together to form a cohesive unit".

There are better shows than this listed above, but the programme that screams out at me as fitting this requirement is Lost. Band of Brothers also fits the bill, and Heroes too, to an extent.
posted by nthdegx at 6:06 AM on June 18, 2008

Seconding The West Wing, and adding the older, even better Aaron Sorkin series: SportsNight.
posted by eafarris at 6:36 AM on June 18, 2008

The archetype is "Upstairs Downstairs." In a late episode, the characters even become aware that they've inadvertently formed a family, and they discuss it.


All in the Family
Sesame Street

Long Day's Journey Into Night (originally a play)
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (originally a play)
You Can Count On Me
Mystery Men
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Plays (most of which are on video)
King Lear
Death of a Salesman
posted by grumblebee at 6:57 AM on June 18, 2008

Tales of the City is the great novel of chosen family

Admittedly I haven't seen the TV series but I can't imagine how it could be any different in that respect.
posted by tomcooke at 8:16 AM on June 18, 2008

Brady Bunch!
posted by LordSludge at 8:27 AM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Deep down, many many American sitcoms and dramas are about forming surrogate families, part of postwar media's work of sentimentalizing and valorizing first the professional and then the working classes to keep up that ol' American productive spirit; Joss Whedon talks explicitly about this in terms of his shows (and has his surrogate families move in together and split up domestic tasks, like a fantasy version of a college co-op), but he's hardly unique in treating this theme.

The American Office, for instance, moved into intensely sentimental mode in its third season; it's now more a family-at-risk show than a working-with-assholes show, but it's better now than when it began (the writers and actors are that strong). Grey's Anatomy looks like a workplace drama but it's centrally a 'look at how close we've become' show, and is marketed that way, just like ER (both shows are/were bullshit though). If you like Firefly for its familial-bonding elements then you'll love Deadwood, which is all about community-formation in a very explicit way (cf. Paul's sermon about the hand and eye being part of one body but not the same) and which in particular features (arguably) a kind of amoral-dad-finds-his-soul plot in the central relationship between the pimp Swearengen and the rest of the town. The second and third seasons of that show follow a similar emotional trajectory to that of The Office.

Arrested Development is one of the best sitcoms in memory and is about the persistence of family in the face of each's strangeness (and insufferability) to the other. It's also a formally crafty show and never gets bogged down in sentimentality.

There's Friends, of course, with its awful 'I'll be there for you' friends-are-family theme, and then there's Sex in the City, which is Friends-without-cocks. Neither is worth your time.

You can go back further if you'd like, to zany-workplace shows like M*A*S*H and WKRP and the Mary Tyler Moore shows, but if you're looking for recent stuff, just watch any highly-regarded workplace comedy of the last 15 years (NewsRadio springs now to mind! What a marvelous show!) or a strong small-cast genre drama.

(Bonus: Slings and Arrows. Arguably as good as anything on this list, though I don't agree; it's a backstage comedy/drama set at a Shakespeare festival in Canada, and is explicitly about surrogate-family relationships, hardly an unknown topic for theatre types.)
posted by waxbanks at 8:28 AM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It should be noted that Lost is basically a bad surrogate-family show in the mould of Swiss Family Robinson; I can't recommend it, certainly not after the dreadful second season, but it does seem to fit your request to a T.
posted by waxbanks at 8:30 AM on June 18, 2008

i don't think there's a better example than the lord of the rings trilogy.

when i was a wee lass, grieving the utter absence of family-of-origin in my life, i became really fond of LOTR for this reason. i'm awfully fond of chosen-family stories.
posted by CitizenD at 9:00 AM on June 18, 2008

How has no one said Battlestar Galactica yet? Seems like a prime example.
posted by MsMolly at 9:03 AM on June 18, 2008

If you liked Fraiser, you might also like Cheers, the show it spun off of, which explores the idea of a bar community as a sort of family. At this point, it's probably very dated, but as other commenters have said, pretty much any workplace comedy is about this type of created family.
posted by andrewraff at 9:17 AM on June 18, 2008

Seconding M*A*S*H (it was the first show to pop into mind), and Lost (which IMO is an excellent series).
posted by Koko at 9:42 AM on June 18, 2008

Arrested Development, hands down.
posted by muxnaw at 10:12 AM on June 18, 2008

How I Met Your Mother is a current sitcom that bears a passing resemblance to Friends (attractive white people in their 20s living in NYC), except that you can understand why these people like each other and are friends, which is something that I was never able to see in Friends. also, bonus for featuring Neil Patrick Harris in a career redefining role.

and I seem to be the first to mention Friday Night Lights, which is a show about (American) football in a small Texas town that is about WAY more than football. It follows a closely-knit but kind of dead-end American community, where the school and the team are given the burden of standing in as surrogates for the students who don't have a traditional family structure. it deals with issues of class, race, sex, gender roles, and it is a fantastic, fantastic show that I cannot recommend highly enough (and whether or not you are an American football fan is irrelevant. after two seasons of the show I don't understand any more about the sports than I did when I started watching, but the storylines are so compelling and the acting is wonderful).

seconding Arrested Development, Battlestar, Slings and Arrows.
posted by dropkick queen at 10:51 AM on June 18, 2008


Arrested Development
Battlestar Galactica

i think Deadwood and Arrested Development are two of the best shows in the last 10 years, if not ever. BSG is also pretty good, with flashes of brilliance, and explicitly discusses the idea of the ship's crew as family fairly regularly.


Tilsammans (Together)

a pretty great comedy (released in 2000) by Swedish director Lukas Moodysson, about a leftist commune is 1970s Stockholm.
posted by blapst at 11:10 AM on June 18, 2008

posted by Gungho at 11:11 AM on June 18, 2008

Boogie Nights is the cinematic epitome this theme.

God help me for mentioning these, but they do fit...

Party of Five (yes, they're already a family, but the roles are unconventional)
posted by mkultra at 12:06 PM on June 18, 2008

Just about every Korean film ever made seems to deal with the topic of family -- though usually by blood, but they always tend to be flawed and struggle to maintain cohesion. If you've never seen it, The Host is as good a place to start as any, and like most of the Korean films I've seen, it tends to skilfully and seamlessly genre-hop -- in this case between drama, comedy, Godzilla-style monster movie and tearjerking melodrama.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:40 PM on June 18, 2008

seconding Sports Night and The West Wing. Sorkin is a genius at this.
posted by dizziest at 12:46 PM on June 18, 2008

Best answer: Supernatural. The two primary characters are brothers, but there are numerous non-related people attached to them by what could be considered a family-like bond.

As a bonus, the program thematically fits with several of the others that you mentioned. (And is damn entertaining.)
posted by quin at 12:47 PM on June 18, 2008

I was going to mention Supernatural, but quin beat me to it. You might also like Medium. The main characters are an actual family but their family life is strongly influenced by Mom's paranormal crime-solving activities, and it does have a 'created family' aspect. Also: Blake's 7.
posted by rjs at 1:44 PM on June 18, 2008

I might never forgive myself for this, but: The O.C?
posted by narrativium at 5:17 PM on June 18, 2008

CSI: Las Vegas has a very strong theme of the team being a family. There are lots of episodes where the bonds are tested, they go out for breakfasts, and a more episodes than you think are dedicated to humour - especially recently, the lab rats got a couple dedicated to them.

Is this too obvious? It's why I love it, but it's a mainstream show.
posted by saturnine at 6:43 PM on June 18, 2008

NYPD Blue (real family, work family and personal redemption)
My Two Dads
Picket Fences
I too like "How I Met"- they have created a pretty authentic friend-family for their generation
Gilmore Girls - Stars Hollow as a "created" family of misfits, and the "real" family
Samantha Who? is also a good show- she's 30-something and relearning and recreating her family
The various Law and Orders do touch on this sparingly, but well.

Going old school:
The Jack Benny show- might be the first to have done this, the concept of a work family
I Love Lucy- the Ricardos and the Mertzes (and the old lady who babysits for them)
(God help me) Hogan's Heroes.
posted by gjc at 8:54 PM on June 18, 2008

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