Almost Family is the latest Jason Katims drama to explore the lives of unconventional families, after Parenthood and About a Boy. The show doesn't premiere until Oct. 2, but the Fox dramedy is already receiving criticism over its controversial premise.
Timothy Hutton stars as Dr. Leon Bechley, a fertility specialist who is arrested in the show's first episode when it's discovered that he's artificially inseminated dozens of women with his own sperm, many without their consent. During Fox's presentation at the Television Critics Association summer press tour on Wednesday, Katims and Almost Family co-creator Annie Weisman were asked why the show seems to take a lighthearted stance on "medical rape" — a term used by reporters in the room — and insemination fraud. Reporters also asked about the show's apparent attempts to paint Bechley as a sympathetic figure rather than a villain.
"We're going to take very seriously the consequences of his actions. There's going to be a very contending with what the people that did not consent to this behavior," Weisman said. "We're also going to get into more complex motivations. In any story, it's important to feel empathy and understanding for every character. We plan to get into that."
Katims countered that the story is less about Bechley's actions and more about the children he brought into the world, and how they learn to come together in wake of his actions going public.
"It's ultimately a story about identity and a story about family. It's a story about where we asking the question, 'What is family?' One of the things that I find so charming and beautiful about this story is that these three women, as adults, are discovering that they are sisters," he said. "What really attracted me to this story was that, was telling this beautiful, unconventional family story in a way that we haven't seen before."
The first episode of Almost Family, which was initially titled Not Just Me, focuses on Leon's daughter Julia (Brittany Snow), who has grown up with him all her life, being confronted with the existence of two newfound sisters. One is a recovering drug addict named Roxy (Emily Osment), who is over the moon to have found a new family, and the other is Edie Palmer (Megalyn Echikunwoke), who grew up with a single mother and is yearning for a father figure in her life. While they are stunned by the news of what Leon Bechley did to bring them into the world, they are happy to discover a previously unknown extended family — a sentiment that is not always shared by real people whose mothers were the victims of nonconsensual insemination. However, more of Bechley's estranged children will show up over the course of the first season, and it's possible those characters will respond differently.
"We are unfolding meeting new siblings and patients over the course of the series. That's part of the fun of the premise," Weisman said. "We will be broadening and expanding and getting to know new characters through his actions. The world will continue to grow."
She went on to explain that Leon is based on the idea that many doctors who helped push the fertility field into the modern age were "outlaws," and crossed lines as the standards of the field were being defined.
"Early on in fertility medicine, it was kind of the Wild West. There were a lot of [doctors] who were breaking rules, taking chances. It was brand new technology. In their wildest dreams they never thought we'd be in a world where you can get a genetic test for 99 bucks," she said. "This is a character that was driven by that visionary sense...Part of [the story] is understanding, still contending with the consequences of his actions, but understanding that those types of innovators do cross lines in their singular quest."
Almost Family premieres Wednesday, Oct. 2 at 9/8c on Fox.