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HTF DVD Review: What About Brian - The Complete Series

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#1 of 3 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

Matt Hough

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Posted September 24 2007 - 11:09 PM


What About Brian - The Complete Series
Directed by Anthony Russo et al

Studio: Touchstone
Year: 2006-2007
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 1024 minutes
Rating: TV-14
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
MSRP: $59.99

Release Date: September 25, 2007
Review Date: September 25, 2007


The Series

2.5/5

Poor Brian. All of his friends are either married or coupled (Adam-Marjorie; Nicole-Angelo; Deena-Dave), and he finds himself a seventh wheel in all their outings. What’s more, he’s in love with his best friend’s fiancé which could definitely make things uncomfortable if that kiss they shared in the closet comes to his friend’s attention. Such is the world of What About Brian, one of ABC’s lesser lights during the past two seasons. Premiering in the spring of 2006 for a brief tryout, the show didn’t capture big ratings, and it was something of a surprise when ABC picked it up for a second season. Airing in the Monday at 10 p.m. timeslot opposite CBS’ CSI: Miami and NBC’s widely heralded Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, What About Brian died of indifference. Never a terrible flop but not even a middle tier hit, the show had its plug pulled in the spring of 2007.

This box set of the entire series run (24 aired episodes plus one unaired one) shows its weaknesses from the pilot episode on, and they were never seriously solved despite constant tinkering with the cast and its romantic couplings. Problem #1: the writing. The characters aren’t interesting enough to stand out from their generic underpinnings. Additionally, the plotting was predictable and often irritating when attempting to be light and maudlin when attempting to be serious. The constant angst, which only increased in the show’s second season, seemed overly manufactured, clumsily written, and almost insulting to the audience with its frustratingly weak motivations and obvious twists. Problem #2: the casting. Very few of the leading actors made these cardboard characters likeable, and without that likeability factor, a substantial audience wasn’t going to tune in on a weekly basis. In the second season , the producers brought in Jason George to racially diversify the cast and introduced William Devane as Brian’s errant father to possibly give the series a sometimes more mature perspective. But these changes offered no long term solutions, and What About Brian never achieved any water cooler buzz or national catchphrases to make it must-see viewing.

The producers’ most damaging decision between the seasons was the elimination of the show’s most likeable, charming, and ingratiating character. No, not title character Brian (Barry Watson) whose ineffectual commitment issues never were endearing but often were annoying, bur rather Brian’s brother-in-law Angelo (Raoul Bova) married to his flaky sister Nicole (Rosanna Arquette, typecast as usual). Bova’s sweet-natured actor got shipped off to Rome (and removed from the opening credits) in the show’s second season, and the loss of such a genial, warm-hearted character was a fatal decision leaving the show with a cast of nothing but ungrounded, anxiety-ridden LA yuppies with more relationship issues among them than grains of sand on the beaches at Malibu.

Here’s the rundown of episodes from the official run of the series:

1 - Pilot
2 - Two in Twenty-Four
3 - Moving Day
4 - The Importance of Being Brian
5 - Sex, Lies, and Videotape
6 - What About Second Chances
7 - What About the Wedding
8 - What About Denial
9 - What About This Fish
10 - What About Angelo’s Ashes
11 - What About What Was Supposed to Be
12 - What About First Steps
13 - What About Secrets
14 - What About True Confessions
15 - What About the Tangled Web
16 - What About the Exes
17 - What About Marjorie
18 - What About the Lake House
19 - What About Finding Your Place
20 - What About Temptations
21 - What About Strange Bedfellows
22 - What About All That Glitters
23 - What About Secret Lovers
24 - What About Calling All Friends

Video Quality

3.5/5

The series was broadcast on ABC in 720p, and these 480p down converted images vary surprisingly in quality. Some are very sharp with excellent color and smoothness while others are soft, contain excessive edge enhancement and occasional aliasing, and feature prominent grain in the darker scenes. Each episode has been divided into 8 chapters (except the pilot which had 6).

Audio Quality

4/5

As usual with talk being the primary driving force in the series, the center channel gets by far the most workout in the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Yes, some of the soft rock music score is filtered into the rears in every episode, and an occasional car crash, siren, or ambient sound effect ends up there, too, but it’s undoubtedly a front heavy mix that wastes the rears and LFE channel.

Special Features

3.5/5

Series creator Dana Stevens provides an audio commentary for both the first and last episodes of the series. For the pilot, she admits to a problematic concept and two different reshoots before the program was ready to air. In the commentary to the finale, she praises the creative contributors to the program, mentions how the writers had to scramble when ABC rescinded its plans for a second season of 22 episodes and reduced it to 19, and goes into detail about the plans they had for the third season (which never happened). In fact, her comments here are much more intricate and interesting than the random statements she makes on a later bonus feature mentioned below.

“What Happens in Vegas” is an unaired episode of the show introduced by creator Dana Stevens. It was intended to be the season one finale episode but was wisely cut and never shown. It ended the Brian-Marjorie-Adam threesome before the wedding fiasco in the second season, had Nicole and Angelo interviewing expectant mothers for adopting s baby, and had an ugly fight between Deena and Dave at their daughters’ dance recital. The video quality is poor being grainy and overly soft compared to the broadcast episodes in the set.

“Calling All Friends: The Story of What About Brian” is a 13-minute anamorphic featurette looking at work going on behind-the-scenes at the show. The content of the feature is not well organized but does show the close-knit family atmosphere of the participants.

“What About 3: The Season That Never Was”
is the weakest of the extras lasting only 3½ minutes with creator Dana Stevens rambling on a bit about her surprise over the show’s cancellation and mentioning two or three ideas they had already started working on for the next season. It is presented in anamorphic video.

As usual the Buena Vista TV set features previews of other TV box sets including Lost, Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty, Grey’s Anatomy, and Brothers & Sisters.

In Conclusion

2.5/5 (not an average)

ABC made the right decision canceling What About Brian after its second year. The writing wasn’t getting any better, and with the couplings and uncouplings constantly going on, the show had established only one core relationship to become vested in (Deena and Dave‘s separation and reuniting). Fans of the show will welcome this souvenir of a series which with better scripting and better casting might have developed into something special.


Matt Hough
Charlotte, NC

#2 of 3 OFFLINE   Elizabeth S

Elizabeth S

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Posted September 25 2007 - 01:42 PM

Thank you for the review of the DVD boxset (which I will be getting shortly), though I do not agree with your comments about the show itself. I ADORED it, and thought the entire cast created extremely likeable characters. I'd give up virtually any show I watch on TV right now to have this show back. Posted Image

#3 of 3 OFFLINE   onecent

onecent

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Posted September 26 2007 - 01:03 PM

Now I know I won't waste my time on buying it. Thanks Matt!