It’s unfortunate that the writers’ strike interrupted the second season of Brothers & Sisters. I was looking forward to finding out if the writers were going to live up to the amazing on camera talent they had speaking their words. What I found was pretty much more of the same, and a quickly eroding patience with the series. I guess the writers had a little more on their mind this year. More’s the pity.
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 possible.
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. To make the cast even stronger, there have been some very impressive recurring stars this year including
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.
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? Dialog is clear and well placed in the center.
The show spans 5 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 a couple of 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
Guest Book: This 14 minute feature looks at the wonderful collection of guest stars on the season. Cast and crew glow over the additions, and the guests themselves talk about how welcome they were made to feel.
TV Dinners – Food From Season 2: The 6 minute feature begins with a montage of scenes where there’s food. We then meet the show’s food designer and get a look at the preparation into the “script food” for the show. If the writers spent less time on food and more on their talented cast…
Open House – Designing The Brothers & Sisters Sets: This is basically a 10 minute set visit with a set designer and a set decorator. You get to look at many of the huge standing sets like the
Blooper and Outtakes: A little over 4 minutes of the usual missteps and mayhem.
Deleted Scenes: There are 7 mostly character scenes that you can access individually or with the convenient play all option.
Because of the strike, we only got to see 14 episodes. Still, this continues to feel like a series without a focus. It might even be the case of too much talent. Fans of the series tell me that they like it because it reminds them of their own families. Perhaps that’s why I don’t get it. I appear to have different reference points. Readers of my reviews know that The Godfather reminds me of my family. The show also became a bit more political with Lowe’s character running for President. Is it just me, or is he still playing Sam Seaborne? The show ends up as one large collection of character studies that I can’t seem to get in step with. These writers should have stayed out on strike. It just seems that every time a writer on this show puts pen to paper or fingers to keys “we lose an opportunity”.