‘Almost Family’ an unconventional group of siblings

Rick Bentley
Tribune News Service

LOS ANGELES — Odds were long that Brittany Snow, Megalyn Echikunwoke and Emily Osment would be cast to play sisters from the same gene pool because they are so different physically. Such a casting would take a unique set of circumstances in a script for the three to end up portraying siblings. The new Fox series “Almost Family,” set to debut Wednesday, fits all the unusual criteria.

Based on the Australian production “Sisters,” “Almost Family” starts with Julia Bechley (Snow), who has lived the life of an only child. That changes when she learns her fertility doctor father, Leon Bechley (Timothy Hutton), has been doing an experiment. He’s used his own genetic material to conceive at least dozens of children. Two of Julia’s new sisters include her ex-best friend Edie Palmer (Echikunwoke) and ex-Olympic athlete Roxy Doyle (Osment). The three young women must embrace the reality of an instant family.

Executive producer Annie Weisman has found since starting to work on “Almost Family” that similar events keep happening in the real world. None bother Weisman because her series was designed with a family-oriented angle.

“The origin of wanting to tell this story in the first place really came from this idea that we are living in a world now where while the available genetic testing just makes it possible for people to suddenly discover the story of who they are is not the real story,” Weisman says. “And so a lot of people – maybe not in as extreme cases as the Jeffrey Epstein case – knows someone who has suddenly discovered that their paternity is in question.

“It felt like it was very much in the zeitgeist, very much in the experience of a lot of people we know. So it felt like the right time to tap into it and to tell a kind of unconventional family story through it.”

There’s no dodging the “God complex” factor that made Hutton’s character decide to populate the world with a massive amount of offspring will be present at the start. Weisman promises that element will only be a small part of the story because a TV series allows more time to look at a lot of factors.

The other big issue the creative team faced was finding the right tone. “Almost Family” is obviously a serious story of modern medicine gone mad but at the same time explores how the siblings are going to cope with the situation. Some will see the humor of it, while others will be filled with outrage.

Executive producer Jason Katims stresses the tone will be set by what has become the main focus of the series: What is family?

“One of the things that I find so charming and beautiful about this story is these three women who, as adults, are discovering that they are sisters and the question of ‘What does it mean to be sisters?’ Does it mean, because you are connected genetically in some way, that makes automatically connected to somebody in that deeper way or not?” Katims says. “And, also, they are discovering this at a time when all of them are adults but they are also still figuring out their lives. What really attracted me to this story was telling this beautiful, sort of, unconventional family story in a way that we haven’t seen it before.”

At the heart of the unconventional family story is a daughter who feels betrayed by her father, and that has made her angry despite her still looking up to her dad. Snow’s playing the character as facing the pain of knowing her whole past has been a lie, an approach she understands from just growing up herself. She says when you become an adult, you realize your parents are maybe not who you thought they were.

“I think everybody goes through that a little bit of learning that your parents are people and human, and they did a bunch of things that were right and wrong, and that’s how you came to be,” Snow adds. “And I think that that’s her dilemma going through this is learning that this person that she looked up to for so long is actually human and somebody that she has to now redefine in a way of how she sees him and how she relates to him.”