While a dream come true for some families, it can be a perceived nightmare for others. Dr. Phil McGraw is now making house calls courtesy of CBS. House Calls with Dr. Phil, the one-hour primetime series which debuted earlier this week, takes what you know and love about the good doctor and places him in a home setting or an extended time.
“I am so excited because unlike anything I’ve ever done before, my team and I are able to go into the family’s own home, for days at a time, and deal with real world challenges in real world settings,” said McGraw. “It is such a great opportunity for me to bring about meaningful and lasting change.”
This is how it works. One member of a family will contact Dr. Phil’s team asking for help. The crew come over to the phone pretending to be doing a documentary or reality TV show and the family agrees to set up video cameras all over the home. Knowing that the family will be on their best behavior with the cameras on and functioning, Dr. Phil’s crew waits a day or two knowing that eventually the family will put down their guard and interact like they normally would. And that’s when he enters with a “Knock, knock!”
With a format similar to the former Supernanny TV series, McGraw’s first visit is to a family in Utah where one 20-year-old daughter hadn’t spoken to her father in five years or her oldest sister in three years. As it turns out, when the girl was 14 –years-old, she decided to go out drinking with her friends. Her father found out about it and took away the girl’s cell phone for two weeks. He warned her that if she went looking for it, he would throw it in the family pool. Well, her mother snuck the phone back to her daughter, the oldest daughter caught her with the phone and told dad and that phone went swimming.
I’m not so sure that this was the best episode to start the series off. While the setup is outrageous, even Dr. Phil is surprised and amazed how well and how quickly the family came together to right the wrongs of the past. The only son of the family tells about how he quit playing baseball because of the harsh criticism he received from his dad coming home. The dad says that this is news to him and is gutted to hear it. The two face off, the dad apologizes and they reconcile with tears. Next.
Then Dr. Phil goes upstairs to the daughter who has been MIA for five years. After being greeted warmly, McGraw cuts to the chase and asks the girl why she hasn’t spoken to the family for so long. She admits that she after the cell phone incident, she vowed to never speak to her father again, but admits that maybe she was only punishing herself after all these years. She agrees to come downstairs and face her father. It’s not easy for either of them, but they meet and it actually goes fairly smoothly. Almost too smoothly.
The next day or two, Dr. Phil takes the father and daughter duo to an escape room that has been modified to fit their relationship. Dr. Phil and the rest of the family watch the monitors as the two have to navigate through the process working together. And again, they do so without any real hitches. There’s no shouting or disagrements. It’s actually nice to see.
Now I know that the show can show everything, but for me, the biggest issue with this family is actually the mother. And Dr. Phil acknowleges this throughout the show, but we never see her apologizing for her part of the drama. Before Dr. Phil arrives, mom has made pancakes for the family and since her daughter won’t come down to eat, she brings the food to her. We also learn that the daughter doesn’t want to spend holidays with the family, so the mother sets up a separate Christmas tree in her daughter’s room every year. The daughter refused to go to her sister’s wedding and told her mom that she did not want her dad to attend her own graduation. What?!
Clearly there must be some issues between the mother and father as well, but those are not mentioned. In fact, everything ends up very tidy in the end. Hopefully, this family is healed, but I have my doubts. The family does seem like genuinely nice people, but to have everything all cleaned up almost instantly after five years seems really unlikely.
House Calls with Dr. Phil is a lot less sensational than his daily show and I think the pluses outweigh the minuses. I’m glad that CBS took the high road with this particular episode instead of trying to manipulate the family into arguing for the sake of ratings.
House Calls with Dr. Phil airs on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on CBS.
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.