Ken Olin is truly a great talent that I’ve followed since 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 Field 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. 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.
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.
So what’s up with the Walkers in the fourth season? Justin has entered medical school and the stress is starting to really get to him. Kevin and Scotty are looking for ways to have a baby. Kitty will struggle with a serious illness. Her illness will create tension in her marriage as well as the gubernatorial campaign. It will also become a point for Justin to focus on in his medical studies, but can he stay clean? Justin and Rebecca deal with impending parenthood, while Kitty makes a run for Robert’s vacated Senate seat. The family faces trouble from a family rival named Dennis York, played by Peter Gerety. Also showing up for some episodes this season is Marion Ross as Nora’s mother. The season ends with the impending closing of the Walkers’ beloved Ojai Foods.
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 6 single-sided discs containing 24 episodes. Some things are found throughout the set.
Bloopers: (2:14) The usual missteps and mayhem.
Deleted Scenes on select episodes.
The Red Carpet: (8:11) From the season four premiere, cast and crew are interviewed on the red carpet. It’s really mostly fun stuff. Nothing too serious.
Off The Clock: (11:09) Check out what kinds of things the cast and crew do on their own time.
The show appears to lose just a step in season 4. The drama continues to be about many of the same issues. There’s more financial crisis and even more drama over who is sleeping with whom. The campaign causing friction has gotten old by now. I was really hoping this nice little family drama would find some new legs. There is still a lot of quality writing and acting here. It’s just hard not to feel like we’ve seen these episodes before. I would not be at all surprised if the show ended soon. Maybe it’s time to “have the family bi-laws revised”.