Brothers & Sisters
The Complete Second Season
US Release Date: September 23, 2008
The Show - out of
"My future in-laws are very different from me. And very different from each other so by definition they are my greatest asset... because they remind me that we are all part of a larger American family and that no one is irrelevant and no one should be ignored"
Brothers & Sisters is an ensemble drama that sews in traditional dramatic tenets and hot button social issues of the day to the fabric of its running time. It portrays the inner clockwork dealings of the Walker family; their ups, downs, triumphs and tragedies with the rhythmic consistency of day time soaps but without their fringe absurdity of storylines that indulge incredulity.
The brothers and sisters of the Walker ‘clan’, absent of their recently deceased father, occupy busy lives under the loving matriarchal warmth of Nora. The three brothers and two sisters live close to each other, have close access to the ins and outs of their day to day pursuits and face the gamut of familial crosses to bear and challenges to face. Season two begins with the family in various stages of stress, happiness and worry. Kitty Walker (Calista Flockhart) is on the campaign trail with her soon-to-be-husband, senator McCalister (Rob Lowe). Kitty’s mother, Nora (Sally Field) is an emotional mess fearing for her son (Justin) who recently shipped off to fight in Iraq. Kitty’s sister, Sarah (Rachel Griffiths) and her husband are separated; her brother Kevin (Matthew Rhys) has met a new man, a minister. Her other brother, Tommy (Balthazar Getty) and his wife Julia (Sarah Jane Morris) have just welcomed a new baby into the world and the entire family is still reeling from the revelation of a half sister Rebecca (Emily VanCamp), the product of a union between the walker Patriarch and his once mistress, Holly (Patricia Wettig). The family also has a steadfast Uncle Saul (Ron Rifkin) who himself has quite the revelation this season.
Brothers & Sisters is a complicated but recognizable mix of family issues big and small that ebb and flow amongst lighter, warmer and sweeter moments. They boil in a pot that offers up a bounty of flavors but, despite the presence of some great talent and dashes of wonderful guest stars, something is missing. Perhaps it is a more brooding edge or a reluctance to avoid manufacturing drama; conjuring what are often predictable circumstances for creating arguments, disagreements and opportunities for one character to leave the scene while the other is allowed a few moments to ponder the outcome of their quarrel. The choices for this hour long drama to explore rung after rung of pinnacle issues that face the American family are earnest and ably done so. But depths that could have been consumed by season plotlines and digested carefully through each episode are moved into and out of the lives of the characters too quickly. For example, the youngest son’s time in Iraq would have made superb dramatic and topical material; a way to do what is conspicuously absent from almost every other show on TV, discuss the war in Iraq in a family narrative. When he returns, his struggle reintegrating with his family and dealing with his injury is approached, but only on the surface and just enough to make a point and move on. That could be the product of such a large cast, but somehow I think it is a television landscape that either believes the audience will tune out if things are not moved along quickly enough or because the TV audience actually isn’t interested in pausing to absorb such things.
Honestly speaking, Brothers & Sisters will draw you in. The cast is quite strong with Sally Field as the Walker family glue and Matthew Rhys as the gay son Kevin standing out. It is perhaps by the nature of the storylines they inhabit most fully that they shine the most; especially the exploration of the love and struggles facing gays in America that network television seems reluctant to have in its line ups. A welcome choice for this hour of television and, quite frankly, a refreshing way to have homosexuality as part of this drama – not overcooked or cliché, but welcomed by the Walker family.
The storylines in season two cover everything from gay marriage, infertility and divorce working within the confines of each hour, but to have seen them explored with more subtly and depth would have made this show stand above others like it.
1: Home Front
2: An American Family
3: History Repeating
4: States of the Union
5: Domestic Issues
6: Two Places
7: 36 Hours
8: Something New
9: Holy Matrimony
10: The Feast of the Epiphany
11: The Missionary Imposition
13: Separation Anxiety
14: Double Negative
15: Moral Hazard
16: Prior Commitments
ABC studios brings the 16 episodes of Brothers & Sisters season two to DVD in its native aspect ratio of 1.78:1 over five discs. The image is quite noisy for such a recently produced show. It isn’t grain, but noise. There is sharpness, overall, but at times it appears light in the details, unfocused and soft. In comparison to how this show looks on ABC HD, the image is disappointing. Compared to other shows broadcast in the last few years and released on DVD, it is just only approaching average.
Blake Neely’s soft, sweet ‘heart-string’ infused score (reminiscent of Thomas Newman’s score work) is pleasing and, at times, outstanding during this shows second season. Mixed with a healthy dose of songs that, if not already, will no doubt make up a CD release in the near future, this release gives the audio something to excel at. And on occasion it does. This isn’t exactly the kind of show that will rock the sub-woofer or enliven the surrounds but it is distortion free, clear, clean and more than suitable for this show.
Guest Book – (14:08) – A look at the guest stars that pop up through season two, including Gary Marshall, Chevy Chase and Danny Glover. Producer (and actor) Ken Olin discusses how the caliber of guest stars has improved since the stigma of a film star being on a TV show has all but vanished and the guest stars speak about their time on the show.
TV Dinners: Food from Season 2 – (6:18) – An interesting extra interviewing a food stylist that works on the show covering the many dishes that show up through this season, either incidentally or as part of the storyline.
Note: This season two box-set also comes with a selection of ‘character-fave’ recipes.
Open House – Designing the Brothers & Sisters Set – (10:11) – A look at the set design, 20 or 30 used per episodes on average. The beautiful Walker house is by far the most used and the most complex and the production designer gives a brief tour.
Deleted Scenes – (7:27) – Seven deleted scenes, including a couple related to Justin struggling when he goes to his high school to speak about his experience in Iraq. These scenes are polished and were likely cut for time.
Bloopers & Outtakes – (4:21) – The cast screw up and play around on set.
Audio Commentaries – Full, revealing and sometimes funny cast and crew audio commentaries are available on a few episodes, including the season opener, ‘36 hours’ and ‘Prior Commitments’.
Brothers & Sisters has clearly found its stride in season two, though your enjoyment of this show will depend greatly on your expectations from it. The large cast allow for an almost infinite set of issues to be explored by characters that face their own concerns with independent perspectives. And the actors also seem to know just who their characters are and are consistent in their portrayals. I was drawn in and found plenty to both like and enjoy about this show, but the nagging feeling that deep and complex social issues were waltzing into and out of the season plotline to quickly while concocted fracas were taking up precious air time, is disappointing. Brothers & Sisters is best when it slows down within a scene and savors the moment. Here’s hoping a season three not truncated by a writer’s strike will give the show a chance to savor more of them.