Family S.O.S. with Jo Frost: TV Review

Family S.O.S with Jo Frost Episodic - H 2013

Family S.O.S with Jo Frost Episodic - H 2013

A very genuine look at families who are brought back from the brink.

"Supernanny" Jo Frost expands her attention to entire families on the verge of complete breakdowns.

Since 2005, English nanny Jo Frost has been helping families deal with problem children in the series Supernanny, while viewers at home have either watched with wide-eyed disbelief or frantically taken notes. The program originated in England in 2004 and aired on ABC in 2005 (and on the Style network through 2011), with Frost attending to dysfunctional American families after arriving in her trademark black London taxicab. In TLC's Family S.O.S. though, there's no cab and far fewer screaming toddlers, as Frost turns her attention to the entire family unit, with genuine and emotional results.

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Unlike Supernanny, Frost's main focus in the new series lands mostly on the parents and older children, who engage in unbelievable amounts of screaming, cursing and crying at one another. Starting with the Quinn-Davis family in the premiere episode, Frost uses her patented system of observation followed by hard truths and interventions, before allowing the family to work on their issues without her, ultimately returning to check in and make any final adjustments.

The Quinn-Davises are a blended California family, with husband Don bringing two kids from a former marriage and wife Julie bringing four. Most of the children are teenagers, making the household one of continuous turmoil. The floodgates open quickly once Frost starts prodding for triggers that are setting the family off, and she has an excellent ability to boil issues down to core problems that can be clearly addressed (such as marital issues, sibling rivalry, kids bullying parents, or a lack of accountability). 

She also doesn't put up with any back talk from the kids or wishy-washiness from parents, and preaches the importance of respect, structure and trust -- common sense statements that make her a necessary voice of reason in the chaos of unhappy homes. Frost remains tough and charming, inserting herself fully into the families she aims to help, fighting with them just as they do with each other until she claims victory and reestablishes calm. Until that point though, the shrillness and shrieking of the family members can be hard to bear.

Family S.O.S. is exhausting but cathartic, not just for the families involved but for viewers as well. The series is not necessarily pleasant to watch, but it is engrossing in the same way Supernanny was. Further, Frost has a dogged sincerity; a real desire to put these broken families back together. Sincerity is a refreshing term when it comes to reality TV, and the show even addresses some meta issues of its structure by including scenes of the kids hiding from the cameras and shouting at the camera crew. Chad Quinn-Davis even says several times he thinks Frost is "full of shit" and that the series is nothing more than "drama TV."

But Family S.O.S. does feel real, which Chad eventually admits once he sees his family begin to work as a unit again. With the number of dysfunctional families and spoiled brats paraded around in series like Bravo's Real Housewives and their upcoming Princesses: Long Island (though TLC is also a big offender), a show like Family S.O.S. gives some relief in actually making people accountable for their actions. Frost starts the episodes off saying, "behind the [family] portrait is the truth, and I'm here to deal with the truth." Reality TV would do well to remember that sometimes that truth is actually worth telling.