A Friend of the Family Crime-Drama Series Is Even More Disturbing Because It's True

Stars McKenna Grace and Jake Lacy, showrunner Nick Antosca, and producer Jan Broberg invite you to meet the Broberg family and their neighbor Bob Berchtold, who was responsible for Jan's repeated kidnapping and assault.

by | October 5, 2022 | Comments


A Friend of the Family key art

(Photo by Peacock)

In the early ’70s, while the rest of America was fixated on our withdrawal from Vietnam, the Watergate scandal, or inflation rates, the Broberg family of Pocatello, Idaho, was living an idyllic existence of cartwheels in the front lawn, church picnics, and school plays.

Then they met their new neighbors, the Berchtold family.

As depicted in the true-crime biography Stolen Innocence: The Jan Broberg Story and the Netflix documentary Abducted in Plain Sight, and now reenacted in disturbing detail in the Peacock limited series A Friend of the Family, Berchtold patriarch Bob systematically groomed and assaulted multiple members of the Broberg family. And he did it all while earning their trust through Christmas dinners, joint family vacations, and false confessions to the parents. His biggest obsession was eldest daughter Jan, whom he kidnapped once when she was 12 and again when she was 14.

“My community and congregation members, the neighbors — everybody loved him,” said Jan Broberg, who is portrayed in A Friend of the Family first by Hendrix Yancey and then by McKenna Grace and who, along with her mother Mary Ann, serves as a producer on the limited series. “The women swooned over him. He was so charming and charismatic, and the men all wanted to be like him.”

She added that “this story is so current right now, in 2022. It’s just the context of time and what we knew then was different. We know the words now; we’ve we got some of those things going for us. But this kind of abuse is happening at rampant numbers right now. And people are just starting to come out of the shadows and tell their story.”

Below, Broberg talks more about her family’s decision to explore this story again as Grace and Jake Lacy, who portrays Berchtold, talk about the series’ importance.

Jan Broberg

A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY -- “Horseback Riding in American Falls” Episode 101 -- Pictured: Hendrix Yancey as Young Jan Broberg -- (Photo by: Peacock)

(Photo by Peacock)

Broberg was 12 when the first abduction happened. But, to see hers and Berchtold’s relationship unfold onscreen, the manipulation and mental abuse happened way before that.

Broberg, who grew up to become an actress in such productions as The WB’s Everwood and holiday movies like The Road Home for Christmas, said she was willing to again explore her trauma because “telling a story in headlines, you don’t get the context.”

“These are real people, the closest people in my life; my family members who I dearly love and who dearly loved me,” she said. “And when we decided together [that] we are ready to share our story in a in a in a broader, bigger way, everybody was ready. We will be exposed and it’s gonna be hard. It’s going to be honest, it’s going to be vulnerable.”

But, she added “we knew that, maybe, we can help somebody out there who also has experienced child abuse from somebody that they know and that they often love and trust because it’s the most common abuse.”

Nick Antosca is the showrunner and an executive producer on A Friend of the Family. With credits that include Hulu’s The Act, which deals with Munchausen syndrome by proxy, and Candy, which is about a Texas housewife who was murdered by her husband’s paramour, he is no stranger to sensational small-town crimes.

However, he told Rotten Tomatoes that it is unusual to have the subject be so closely involved with the story-making process.

“Every case is different; every every story is different,” he said. “And, in this particular story, there was no way we were going to tell it or feel comfortable telling it without [Jan’s] blessing, participation, and partnership. So the first thing that we did, when we were considering telling this, is reach out and start a conversation that has continued until this day.”

A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY -- “The Bitter Cup” Episode 105 -- Pictured: (l-r) Mckenna Grace as Jan Broberg-- (Photo by: Peacock)

(Photo by Peacock)

Grace, who portrays Jan during the second half of the series — which is when she’s beginning to understand and ask questions about what happened to her — said her research meant relying on the elder actress’ old diaries as well as her book and interview transcripts from the Netflix film that didn’t make the cut. They’d also text each other when Grace was on set if something needed to be clarified.

Grace was also careful not to judge the actions (or inactions) of Jan, her sisters, and parents.

“I do have a lot of awareness, which is, unfortunately, a very important thing to have for any young woman or person at this point,” she said. “I wanted to be a part of telling Jan’s story because it’s easy to look from the outside after watching the documentary or just hearing about this and be like, if that was me, that would have never happened.”

She reminds that this was “the ’70s and a tight-knit Mormon community with somebody who was like a second father to the children and like a brother [to the parents], and it could happen to anyone.”

Grace also understands the curiosity surrounding her choice to play the part. At just 16, she’s already appeared as an abused wife in Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the daughter in the horror movie Annabelle Comes Home, and led the cast in Lifetime’s adaptation of the horror-thriller The Bad Seed, which is about a complex parent-child relationship (she also co-wrote the sequel, The Bad Seed Returns, with her own father, Ross Burge).

“I am the most happy I’ve been with the projects I’m doing right now,” Grace said. “I am in this weird little area where most of what I am doing is very dark and more mature themes. But, I’m so happy with the roles and the stories I’ve been telling lately because I find that they’re important and that they’re bigger than myself.”

Bob Berchtold

A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY -- “The Bitter Cup” Episode 105 -- Pictured: Jake Lacy as Robert "B" Berchtold -- (Photo by: Peacock)

(Photo by Peacock)

Formerly known for Mr. Nice Guy–type roles like in Hulu’s TV series High Fidelity and the film Obvious Child, actor Lacy takes on the depiction of Bob, a small-business owner and family man who was also a brilliant mastermind when it came to ways to ingratiate himself into an unsuspecting household and community.

“A certain amount of his look or sound are taken from photos that we have or recordings that we have,” Lacy said, adding that “there’s a certain amount of him getting energized by pulling this off; the joy of like, ‘I’m getting my way, and you think you’re getting your way.'”

In Lacy’s portrayal, Berchtold hid all of this under a giant-lipped smile of positivity and optimism. It’s only when it looks like the jig is up and he’s been apprehended that the veneer comes down and the true monster appears on his face.

“Certainly in the writing, it felt like there’s clear moments in which we could implement the dropping of this warmth into a private moment, and you see either how he truly feels about something,” Lacy said. “Or, maybe worse than that, is seeing the void where he doesn’t respond at all.”

The series reveals that Berchtold was diagnosed manic depressive who was not undergoing treatment. But, Lacy stresses, the point is not to suggest that all people with manic depression are pedophiles, psychopaths, or narcissists.

Lacy said that it just happens to be that, in this instance, “the plotting and scheming and manipulation to gain access to [Jan and, eventually, other] girls is one thing.” But, he said that there was also the “hair-trigger response to go like ‘today’s the day’ [for the kidnapping] is the kind of thing that was affected by a kind of lack of modulation in his life, emotionally [or] chemically.”

Bob and Mary Ann Broberg

A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY -- “Horseback Riding in American Falls” Episode 101 -- Pictured: (l-r) Colin Hanks as Bob Broberg -- (Photo by: Peacock)

(Photo by Peacock)

Much in the way that the 2019 Michael Jackson documentary Leaving Neverland had everyone asking about the naivety of those parents, it’s very easy to question the decisions and well-intentioned errors made by Jan’s parents, Bob and Mary Ann (portrayed here by Colin Hanks and Anna Paquin). In one scene, Patrick Fishler’s prosecutor Garth Pincock states “I am a Mormon too … but I wouldn’t let some guy do whatever the heck he wanted with my kid.”

The producers know how this looks and, before the series even starts, Jan Broberg sits in a director’s chair on the set and attempts to justify her parents’ decisions to the audience.

Antosca said of the decision to have Jan Broberg introduce the series: “It’s really important, when you’re telling a story that involves subject matter this intense and sensitive and you’re going into a story that involves a child in danger, that you have some reassurance that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. As harrowing and scary as the story is, fundamentally, at the end of it … it’s about a family overcoming something that’s driven them apart.”

A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY -- “Articles of Faith” Episode 104 -- Pictured: Anna Paquin as Mary Ann Broberg -- (Photo by: Peacock)

(Photo by Peacock)

The story also hits at two significant points: the definition of pedophilia was so unknown at that time that even the officers investigating the case hadn’t heard of it and the concept of “grooming” assault victims was so unfathomable that neither Bob nor Mary Ann realized they were survivors of Berchtold’s predatory actions until long after the fact.

It is known that Mary Ann began a sexual relationship after the first kidnapping (and after a considerable amount of manipulation from Berchtold). But Bob’s own sexual history with the perpetrator is not as widely discussed. Jan said now that her dad, who died in 2018, “held on to that guilt and shame his whole life.”

A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY -- “Horseback Riding in American Falls” Episode 101 -- Pictured: (l-r) Anna Paquin as Mary Ann Broberg, Elle Lisic as Young Susan Broberg, Hendrix Yancey as Young Jan Broberg, Mila Harris as Young Karen Broberg, Colin Hanks as Bob Broberg -- (Photo by: Peacock)

(Photo by Peacock)

And while the producers made the decision to only allude to Berchtold’s sexual assault of Jan so as not to look exploitative, they did show his assault of her father — and that there was absolutely no way to construe it as consensual.

“To me, it felt really essential to understand how he was coerced into doing this,” Antosca said.

He added that “the show is about, psychologically, how people did not see” the abuse and that “we felt that this particular moment of coercion was really essential to show because it’s just so painful. It’s so uncomfortable … It’s one of the scariest things that I’ve ever been involved in producing.”

On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.