PBS “Finds” More Success With The Fourth Season Of ‘Finding Your Roots’

Courtesy: PBS/Public Media Distribution

PBS’ hit family history-based series Finding Your Roots has, over the course of its now four seasons on television, become one of television’s most significant series with the presentation of various celebrities’ humble family roots. Late last year — Dec. 19 — the series’ fourth season wrapped with profiles of Amy Schumer and Aziz Ansari’s family histories, and its fifth season is said to already be in production. While audiences wait for the premiere of Season Five, they now have the series’ fourth season to enjoy any time they want as Season Four was released on DVD early last month. This latest entry in the series’ run is another interesting offering that is certain to keep audiences engaged while also leaving audiences wanting to learn more about their own families’ histories. That is due in part to the guests featured in this season. This factor will be discussed shortly. While the guests clearly form the season’s foundation — and a solid foundation at that — they collectively lead to the season’s one negative, the lack of an episode guide other than on disc. As always, this might not seem overly important on the surface, but even as an aesthetic element, is important to the season’s overall presentation. To that end, it is something that cannot be ignored in examining this season’s presentation. It is, luckily, the season’s only negative. Its other positive is the collective information shared through each interview. That includes not only the celebs’ family histories, but the additional history to which each family’s history is connected. Each element is important in its own way to the whole of this season’s presentation, as will be pointed out throughout this review. All things considered, Finding Your Roots: Season Four proves to be another engaging and entertaining entry for the series.

The fourth season of PBS’ hit family history series Finding Your Roots is yet another engaging and entertaining entry for the series. It is an offering that is certain to not only engage and entertain audiences, but potentially have them doing more research on their own family histories. That is due in no small part to the guests who are featured throughout this season. The guest list this season includes celebrities from the worlds of television, movies, music and sports and people from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. That variety includes NBA superstar Carmelo Anthony, veteran actor William H. Macy, political strategist Ana Navarro and so many others. Simply put, the guests featured this season are black, white, Latin American and so many others. As a matter of fact, one of the biggest surprises that is revealed is that comedian Fred Armisen, another of the season’s featured guests, is in fact Korean by descent despite being American by birth. That is information that will be discussed later. Getting back to the matter at hand, this reaching into so many avenues of the entertainment world yet again, and presenting guests of so many ethnic and cultural backgrounds is another way to promote America’s diversity. It’s nothing new for the series. It creates its own interest for this season, and while it does plenty to make this season interesting and entertaining, it also leads to the season’s one negative, its lack of an episode guide outside of the discs’ main menu.

Omitting an episode guide might not seem like an important factor in the overall presentation of a box set, but it is in fact far more important to note than many might think. That is because of the number of guests (and by connection, information) presented throughout the season. The season’s total guest count sits at 27, with the majority of its episodes featuring three guests each. Episodes 1, 8 and 10 are the only episodes of the 10 total episodes to feature only two guests. Keeping this in mind, not having a physical episode guide leaves viewers to have to go through each disc manually or just go to Wikipedia for an episode listing. That takes extra time that viewers likely won’t like having to take. So again, while this aesthetic element might not seem all that important, it reduces the ease of choosing an episode/episodes to watch. The last time that the series seemed to have included an episode list was the series’ first season. Since then, there has seemed to be no sign of an episode list printed anywhere on the seasons’ cases, taking away at least some points for general effect. Luckily though, that once again lack of listing is not enough to make this season a fail by any means. It’s just one thing that really should be taken in to consideration for re-addition beginning with next season. Keeping that in mind, there is one more positive that should be noted here: the information shared throughout each episode.

The information that is revealed about each guest’s family history is so important because it reminds audiences that while these people are celebrities, their roots are just as humble as anyone else’s. That, in turn, makes the guests more relatable to viewers, and — coming full circle — makes the program that much more engaging and entertaining. Audiences will be surprised to learn that one of William H. Macy’s ancestors was one of a group of people who originally bought Nantucket Island and that The Tonight Show drummer/The Roots founding member Questlove’s roots go back to the last slaves to ever come to America aboard the slave ship Clotilda. Just as interesting to learn is that Ana Navarro and Carmelo Anthony’s famil histories involve stories that sound like something right out of a soap opera. As noted previously, Fred Armisen’s family history, which reveals that his family’s roots reach all the way back to Korea, is interesting in its own right. It’s just one more family history that is certain to keep viewers enthralled. Of course the histories are not the only interesting information shared throughout this season. The deeper histories presented alongside those family histories adds even more interest to the season.

As Armisen learns his family’s history, he (and viewers) learn about the mistreatment of the Koreans by the Japanese during and before World War II. This is another little-known piece of history that history buffs (and especially WWII history buffs) will appreciate. Gates’ interview with Lupita Nyong’o reveals the military element of her family’s past. This leads to a brief but concise history of Kenya that is sure to be the start for another lesson. Navaro’s family history leads to a brief discussion on the conflicts in Nicaragua and Cuba while interviews with Larry David and Bernie Sanders reveal the pair’s connections through their Jewish roots. Between these lessons and so many others presented through the guests’ family histories, audiences get even more to appreciate in each episode, historically speaking. When those history lessons are coupled with the guests’ own family history lessons, the whole of the two elements proves completely why the information shared throughout this season is just as important to its presentation as its guest list. That list, together with the information, makes this season well worth the watch, even without a printed episode list. Taking this into consideration, Finding Your Roots: Season Four proves to be another solid entry in the series’ run and one of this year’s top new box sets for grown-ups.

Finding Your Roots: Season Four is yet another solid entry into the hit celeb/history-based series. The guest list presented this season is just one part of what makes it such a strong new offering. The dual history lessons presented on the guests’ families and the connected world histories prove that even more. When these two elements are joined together, they make the lack of an episode listing anywhere on the box an element that, while it can’t be ignored, not enough to ruin the season’s presentation. It is a nuisance, but not an overwhelming issue. With that in mind, this season’s presentation overall is such that the season is not only another solid entry to the series, but one of this year’s top new box sets for grown-up audiences. It is available now and can be ordered direct via PBS’ online store. More information on Finding Your Roots‘ fourth season is available online now along with all of the series’ latest news at:

Website: http://www.pbs.org/finding-your-roots

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/FindingYourRootsPBS

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.


PBS Announces ‘Finding Your Roots: Season 4’ Release Date

Courtesy: PBS/Public Media Distribution

Fans of PBS’ hit genealogy series Finding Your Roots will soon be able to own the series’ fourth season.

PBS and Public Media Distribution announced Monday that the series’ fourth season will be released Tuesday, Feb. 6 on DVD and digital HD.  Season Four sees host Henry Louis Gates, Jr. interviewing celebrities such as Ted Danson and his wife Mary Steenburgen, Bryant Gumble, Fred Armisen, William H. Macy and even presidential candidate Bernie Sanders among many others.

Over the course of the season’s 600-minute run time, audiences will learn that one of William H. Macy’s family members was a member of America’s very first Air Force.  Also of interest is the revelation that Sanders and entertainer Larry David have quite the interesting and unexpected connection.  Christopher Walken and Amy Schumer receive their own emotional surprises in their interviews, too.  Between all of this and more, audiences have a lot to enjoy in Season 4.

Season Four is spread across three discs and will retail for MSRP of $39.99.  It can be pre-ordered at a reduced price of $34.99 via PBS’ online store now.  More information on Finding Your Roots is available online now at:


Website: http://www.pbs.org/finding-your-roots

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/FindingYourRootsPBS


To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Gates “Digs Up” More Celeb Histories In FYR’s Third Season This Spring

Courtesy:  PBS/PBS Distribution

Courtesy: PBS/PBS Distribution

PBS just recently wrapped up the third season of its hit history/genealogy-based series Finding Your Roots. And officials with PBS and PBS Distribution are making sure that audiences won’t have to wait long to own Season Three for themselves.

PBS and PBS Distribution will release the third season of Finding Your Roots on Tuesday, April 12th. Season Three will feature twenty-eight more well-known figures from across the worlds of entertainment, politics, literature, and more. The list includes names such as: Actor Neil Patrick Harris, rappers LL Cool J and Sean Combs, Senator John McCain, Actress Patricia Arquette, political activist and organizer Donna Brazile, celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich, and many others. The entire run is totals at six hundred minutes and is spread across three-discs. Host Henry Louis Gates, Jr. discussed the series’ third season in a recent interview noting that it is human to want to know where we came from. He added that he hoped that this season would influence audiences to research their own family histories, especially among younger audiences. “There is something essential in human nature that drives us to wonder where we came from,” he said. “We can’t truly know ourselves until we know something of our origins. With new DNA technology we can learn more about this past and go further back than ever before, and we hope that the new season will inspire people to find out more about their own personal family stories, and spark an interest among young people in genetics, anthropology, history, and the pursuit of science.”

Season Three finds that actresses Julianne Moore and Patricia Arquette, and Senator John McCain all have very deep, rich military roots. Those roots have helped each to develop a sense of strength and integrity. Sean Combs and LL Cool J both discover in their interviews that have some rather interesting family histories that leave them thinking about things in ways they never thought possible. And Donna Brazile tries to get answers about her family’s name while polarizing feminist Gloria Steinem learns in her interview that she is not the first of her kind in her family. These are just some of the secrets that are unearthed over the course of Finding Your Roots’ third season. Bill Hader, Jimmy Kimmel, and Norman Lear each learn about the highs and lows of their families’ histories while Ty Burell is left shocked to learn about his African heritage. All of this and so much more is in the third season of Finding Your Roots.

Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates, Jr. will be available on Tuesday, April 12th. It will be released exclusively on DVD. It will retail for MSRP of $39.99 but can be pre-ordered at a discounted price of $34.99 via PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=85849896&cp=&sr=1&kw=finding+your+roots&origkw=Finding+Your+Roots&parentPage=search.  Audiences can view a trailer for this season online now via YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJwt-aiI0uA.


Courtesy:  PBS/PBS DIstribution

Courtesy: PBS/PBS DIstribution


More information on this season of Finding Your Roots and the series’ previous seasons is available online now at:


Website: http://www.pbs.org/weta/finding-your-roots

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/FindingYourRootsPBS

Twitter: http://twitter.com/HenryLouisGates


To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

New PBS DVD Shows The Importance Of Knowing One’s History

Courtesy: PBS/Inkwell Films/Kundhart McGee Productions/Ark Media/WNET Thirteen

America is a melting pot.  Its history is made up of the stories from the immigrants who settled here from its earliest days.  Sadly, many of those stories have been lost because we as a nation have forgotten our roots.  We have forgotten from where we came.  Now thanks to PBS, a new special has been released that will hopefully re-ignite the fire among Americans to learn their family roots. 

“Finding Your Roots”, hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is a ten part special spread across three discs.  Gates interviews many of this great nation’s most famous names, discussing their family roots with them.  The famous names come from the world of music, acting, politics, and more.  One of Gates’ most interesting interviews comes in the segment featuring musicians and friends Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis.  Another was his interview with actors Robert Downey, Jr. and Maggie Gyllenhaal.  And one of the most interesting cross sections shown in this ten-part special comes in his interviews with Doctor Sanjay Gupta, comedian Margaret Cho, and famed personality Martha Stewart.  They, along with the other unmentioned interviews, make this special one of PBS’ best to date.

“Finding Your Roots” starts with gates interviewing musicians Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis.  Starting the mini-series with this pair of interviews is more than just an interview with a pair of famous musicians.  What gates and those behind the camera intended to do with this segment was to try and bridge the racial gaps of our nation.  The connection between Connick and Marsalis shows that while people may have different color skin, that’s all that really separates us.  Connick admits in his interview that he wanted to be black.  He says that he dressed and acted the part.  What’s really interesting about this is the discovery that one of his ancestors, James Connick, fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War.  On the good side, it should be noted that James Connick  did not fight for slavery.  He fought solely for economic reasons.  He wasn’t even a slave owner.  He was just trying to support his family.  Apparently, Harry didn’t know this.  But it raises what becomes a very interesting trend that viewers will see as the special moves to other notables.

Just as Harry Connick, Jr.’s roots proved to be rather interesting, so did those of Branford Marsalis.  Interviews with Branford’s famed father Ellis Marsalis, reveals that Branford may have actually gotten his musical abilities not so much from his father, but from his mother.  Or rather, he got his talent from her side of the family.  What’s more, it’s also revealed that one of his ancestors was actually the result of a relationship between a white man and black woman.  This brings this very first pair of interviews full circle.  Gates tells audiences that despite the popular belief, far fewer African American males were born of Native American blood than believed.  Many more will find that they have deeper African American and European roots than Native American.  What it seems that Gates is getting at in this first segment is that while the color of our skin is different, blacks and whites may be far more closely related than we think.  We need only take the time to look back and find our roots.

Gates’ interviews with Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis are both entertaining and very insightful.  They’re just one part of what makes “Finding Your Roots” so impressive.  Another interesting pair of figures interviewed for the special is Robert Downey, Jr. and Maggie Gyllenhaal.  It’s revealed that both are descended from Jewish ancestry.  What’s more, Gyllenhaal’s Jewish ancestry is one hundred percent pure Jewish.  She admits in her interview some interesting facts that reveal ancestry and genetics play directly hand in hand.  Again, viewers will see this pop up a lot throughout all ten parts of the mini-series.  What’s really interesting to learn about Maggie Gyllenhaal is that apparently she’s descended from nobility.  It’s revealed through investigations and Gates’ interview with her, that Maggie Gyllenhaal is actually descended from King Henry I.  And somewhere along the line, she’s also linked to both George H.W. Bush and his son, George W. Bush, as well as Shirley Temple, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  She showed that she had no clue about any of these links, and just how amazed she was by all of it.

Robert Downey, Jr., on the other hand, had much different roots.  He and Gyllenhaal both are children of film makers.  And like Gyllenhaal, he too has Jewish roots.  It’s also revealed that he has Swiss roots.  Unlike Gyllenhaal’s roots, though, he can’t claim connection to any real famous historical figures.  Ironically enough, he himself has become one of the biggest names in Hollywood throughout his career.

Musicians and actors were only a tiny portion of the whole that makes up “Finding Your Roots.”  Gates also interviewed Sanjay Gupta, Margaret Cho and Martha Stewart.  This feature offers perhaps some of the most interesting material in the series.  These segments reveal to both the celebrities in question and to viewers some rather unexpected and surprising information.  One of the most interesting pieces of information is that Martha Stewart has links back to the Mongols.  She laughs in discovering this as she admitted to Gates that her dog is actually named Genghis Khan.  What’s more, many of her ancestors also had professions that involved much of what she does today.  As noted in previous segments, it seems yet again that there is at least some link between one’s ancestry and one’s own personal genetic makeup.  Maggie Gyllenhaal admitted her pleasant surprise at her link to her Jewish ancestry due to her own recent personal choices before her interview.  Branford Marsalis’ parents told Gates that he got his musical abilities from his mother’s side of the family.  That link is explained in the connection to specific well known acts from the rich history of music. 

The roots discovered in conversations with Martha Stewart are the revelations of Margaret Cho’s family.  Her interview reveals that one of her distant ancestors was a very well respected member of his community.  What’s most interesting in her discussions is that members of her family are not actually Korean.  They came from other regions of Asia.  She shows her surprise, laughing about it.  She tells Gates that this was a surprising revelation, being that her parents always claimed such national pride for Korea.  This discovery is made through genetic testing.

Sanjay Gupta’s interview was one of the most moving of the entire mini-series.  Gupta shows just how amazed he is by all of the information discovered through the research done for his interviewed.  At one point, he even begins to tear up.  That single moment is perhaps the defining moment of this entire special.  The emotion that he shows is the entire point of the presentation.  So few Americans are aware of their families’ histories.  It doesn’t matter if someone is related down the line to this famous person or that, or if they are simply related to some random person.  It’s that discovery of one’s past is the most important.  It can make all the difference in a person’s life.  It adds that much more to the nation’s already rich history as a whole.

Gates’ interviews with members of the entertainment community reveal some very interesting notes about them.  It also reminds viewers that they might be just as interested if they take the time to do some research into their own family roots.  There’s no telling what viewers might find if they take that time.  “Finding Your Roots” is proof of that.  “Finding Your Roots” is available on DVD now.  It can be ordered online at http://www.shoppbs.org.

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