There have certainly been more interesting family business shows on television over the years, so the premise for Brothers & Sisters is anything but original. Both Dallas and Dynasty set the standard for this kind of show many years ago. Tony Soprano’s family business is far more interesting than the Walker organic fruit business. Hell, the Ewings had more color with “dem dang blasted oil fields”. If you end up liking or are already a fan of Brothers & Sisters, originality isn’t the reason. I found the stories were far too slow and uninteresting to keep my attention for more than an episode. The impressive, potent performances offered by this solid cast carry all the weight on this series. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But I do question a series that once I’ve watched, what I remember are marvelous moments of acting with little about the plots forging an impact in my brain. There are a few gems in the story: The Northern Exposure episode is actually quite entertaining, as the entire Walker Clan descend upon a family retreat house, each hoping for some alone time with a significant other. There are also some intense 9/11 moments to be found in the two-parter, Mistakes Were Made. Beyond these compelling moments, I found myself quickly forgetting much of the actual story arcs of the series. No, trust me. The real punch is in the acting.
Sally Field plays Nora Walker. Her husband has just died and left her with a lot of unanswered questions in her life. She soon discovers a twenty year affair and some even more serious hanky panky with the books of the company the family owns. Her emotional ups and downs can be about as compelling as television can get. Callista Flockhart plays the best opposite Fields as the errant, and of course, conservative black sheep of the family. The moments they share have given me a greater respect for Flockhart than her previous roles have. It is a little much watching her call someone else skinny. Tom Skerritt offers a few great moments as the recently deceased patriarch of this rich and quite dysfunctional family. Ron Rifkin steals every scene he’s in as the old fashioned Uncle Saul, proving that Alias was no fluke for this accomplished actor. Rachel Griffiths again hides her English accent to show that if nothing else she does a good job of crying. The remaining cast of Dave Annable, Balthazar Getty, and Matthew Rys are often just as nice as the three brother siblings on the show. An extra feature deals with these guys who really do pull off the brotherly thing quite nicely indeed. Honestly, there isn’t a weak link in this cast. Imagine what they could have done with richer material.
While most of the crew for this series worked together on Alias, the series looks a lot more like Six Feet Under. The musical cues are so nearly identical, I at first believed they were done by the same composer. They were not. The idea of the recently widowed matron, the dysfunctional family, the gay brother, and a lot of the symbolism remind me often of the former HBO series.
Ken Olin is truly a great talent that I’ve followed back when he played the snotty detective Garibaldi on Hill Street Blues. Since then he’s done some wonderful work behind the camera, and Brothers & Sisters certainly shows his influence; however, this is not some of his best work. The show often leans on clichés and gets awfully lazy in moving forward at times. I do see the great family of characters they created here, but fail to find them interesting beyond the life breathed into them by their performers. This is a case of ego getting in the way of great potential. The writers and producers are trying way too hard to do something special. True greatness often requires the least effort. My advice to Olin and company is, play to the strengths of this great cast, and then get out of their way as often as is possible.
Each episode of Brothers & Sisters is presented in an above average television 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The show is often a little too dark for my tastes, but the image doesn’t suffer in quality from the choice. Black levels are fortunately pretty solid. A taste of grain sometimes works its way to the forefront, but never enough for me to downgrade the quality. You’ll see a little compression artifact from time to time, again made more noticeable by the dark tone of the show. Colors are solid and sharpness creates a fine element of detail most of the time. Again, I just wish this show were a little brighter.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is a nice mix for a television series. There’s plenty of subtle surrounds, more than enough to generate a nice immersion into the story for the viewer. The songs are presented in a solid presentation in so far as quality is concerned, but all of them appear to be from the same female vocalist regardless of the original artist. I know rights costs make this sort of thing necessary these days, but could you at least mix it up a little bit? Dialoged is clear and well placed in the center.
The show spans 6 single-sided discs with most of the extras found on the final disc. The discs sit in a foldout with discs two to a panel. I’m a little confused at this overlapping trend that forces you to handle two discs at once to get to each even numbered disc.
Audio Commentaries: There are four audio commentaries featuring: show creator Jon Robin Baitz, Ken Olin and many other members of the cast and crew. For the most part they are interesting, but not incredibly informative
Creating The Walker Family Tree:Pretty much everyone participates, with plenty of stuff from Ken Olin and Jon Robin Baitz. The plentiful behind the scenes moments are broken down into segments covering Conception, Writing, Crew, Direction, Final Thoughts. Most of the nearly half hour features is the typical self congratulation stuff.
Behind The Scenes With The Brothers:: Annable, Balthazar Getty, and Matthew Rys appear to share a nice off screen relationship, and this 6 minute farce is more fun than some of the episodes.
State Of The Parties, The Deleted Episode: Most shows have deleted scenes, but Brothers & Sisters comes with an entire deleted episode. An introduction by Baitz tells us it was cut because it didn’t work with the flow of the series. You won’t find it totally new, as many scenes and concepts were used later throughout the year’s aired episodes. It was originally intended as the season’s second episode.
Blooper and Outtakes: 2-3 minutes of the usual missteps and mayhem.
The Family Business.: The Olin family has become the Coppolas of television. Ken’s wife has a pretty meaty part as the mistress. Son Cliff is a show writer, and daughter Roxie had a guest role.
Brothers & Sisters is a show that could be great but instead is really quite ordinary with an extraordinary cast. It will be returning for a second season, and perhaps the show runners will have evaluated the situation and recognized the potential they have sitting in the make-up trailers every morning. Honestly, I’m not likely to tune in and find out. If you can get your hands on these as rentals it might be worthwhile; otherwise there are a lot of better shows out or coming to spend the money on. I just don’t have the time or money to spend in “a haze of alcohol and mortification”.
Gino Sassani is a member of the Southeastern Film Critic's Association (SEFCA). He is a film and television critic based in Tampa, Florida. He's also the Senior Editor here at Upcomingdiscs. Gino started reviewing films in the early 1990's as a segment of his local television show Focus. He's an award-winning recording artist for Omega Records. Gino is currently working on his 8th album Merchants & Mercenaries. Gino took over Upcomingdiscs Dec 1, 2008. He works out of a home theater he calls The Reel World. Favorite films: The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, The Body Snatcher (Val Lewton film with Karloff and Lugosi, not the pod people film), Unforgiven, Gladiator, The Lion King, Jaws, Son Of Frankenstein, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, and Monsters, Inc.