HTF DVD Review: Brothers & Sisters - The Complete First Season

Discussion in 'TV on DVD and Blu-ray' started by Matt Hough, Sep 16, 2007.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer

    Apr 24, 2006
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    Charlotte, NC
    Real Name:
    Matt Hough
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    Brothers & Sisters - The Complete First Season
    Directed by Ken Olin et al

    Studio: Touchstone
    Year: 2006-2007
    Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
    Running Time: 988 minutes
    Rating: TV-14
    Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
    Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
    MSRP: $59.99

    Release Date: September 18, 2007
    Review Date: September 16, 2007

    The Series


    The trials and tribulations, the ups and downs, the good times and bad for the upper-middle class Walker family form the basis of Brothers & Sisters, one of the most outstanding of the past television season’s new series. Any show that brings the wonderful Sally Field and Rachel Griffiths back to series television has to be something special, and Brothers & Sisters definitely is. Its canny mix of comedy and drama with tinges of soap opera around its edges might not be for all tastes, but I found it a compelling companion piece to the fondly remembered Emmy-winning series thirtysomething (no wonder as it shares some of the creative staff both before and behind the camera).

    The Walker family is the focus of the series, and it consists of widowed mother Nora (Sally Field) and her five children: the seriously business-minded Sarah (Rachel Griffiths), the conservative activist Kitty (Calista Flockhart), the desperate-for-children Tommy (Balthazar Getty), gay lawyer Kevin (Matthew Rhys), and addiction-prone youngest son Justin (Dave Annable). During the season both Kitty and Kevin enter and leave relationships, Tommy’s wife is artificially inseminated with the sperm of one of Tommy’s brothers, and Sarah takes over the family business and must deal with the family’s big surprise: a long-time mistress Holly (Patricia Wettig) of the family patriarch (Tom Skerritt) who holds some trump cards in the family’s business dealings. So, like her or not, she becomes someone who consistently enters their orbits and must be dealt with, especially since at one point she begins an affair with Nora’s brother Saul (Ron Rifkin) who also has some secrets of his own.

    It’s a huge cast, and it only got bigger as the season progressed and new recurring characters began taking on added importance. Kitty becomes engaged to a senator (Rob Lowe), Kevin becomes seriously infatuated with a closeted soap star (Jason Lewis), and Holly’s daughter (Emily VanCamp) entwines herself with several family members. Though relationships ebb and flow on a series of this kind, a large ensemble cast is always going to be a staple, and there are always going to be multiple storylines continuing to develop. For some, it’s too much, but for a large viewership, the storytelling was expertly handled every step of the way during the first season.

    The series got off to a rocky start even before the first episode aired when award-winning Broadway star Betty Buckley was replaced as Nora in the pilot by Oscar and Emmy-winner Sally Field. Field’s warm, embracing presence was a sensational match for this wide-ranging family, and from the reshot pilot on, the series seemed to be on solid ground. It features the most mature and unashamed handling of gay relationships ever seen on an American network television series, and its balance of conservative versus liberal viewpoints is always fair and solidly grounded. But it never takes itself too seriously either which is one of the great appeals of the show. There is humor and a great deal of heart (not to mention quite a few tears) to be found in the first season and an interesting gallery of superb characters which one is always eager to know more about.

    At the end of the first season, both Field and Griffiths received Emmy nominations for their gripping performances. But much of the rest of the cast was also deserving. Multiple Emmy-winner Patricia Wettig has a forcefulness and tenacity that rivets the attention, and both Matthew Rhys and Dave Annable balance an outer dominance with touching inner uncertainty and sensitivity. And Rob Lowe, often cast more for his looks than his acting talent, adds much needed glamour and charisma to the series as the senator Kitty falls for. Among the more notable guest stars in season one are Margot Kidder, Treat Williams, Robert Foxworth, Peter Coyote, and Marion Ross.

    Here’s the line-up of episodes from the series’ sterling first season. An asterisk (*) denotes an episode which contains a running commentary and its participants in parentheses::

    1 - Patriarchy
    2 - An Act of Will
    *3 - Affairs of State (Jon Robin Baitz, Craig Wright, Patricia Wettig, Matthew Rhys)
    4 - Family Portrait
    5 - Date Night
    6 - For the Children
    *7 - Northern Exposure (Jon Robin Baitz, David Marshall Grant, Molly Newman)
    8 - Mistakes Were Made - Part 1
    9 - Mistakes Were Made - Part 2
    10 - Light the Lights
    11 - Family Day
    12 - Sexual Politics
    13 - Something Ida This Way Comes
    14 - Valentine’s Day Massacre
    15 - Love Is Difficult
    *16 - The Other Walker (Alison Schapker, Marc Guggenheim, Monica Breen, Dave Annable, Emily VanCamp)
    17 - All in the Family
    18 - Three Parties
    19 - Game Night
    20 - Bad News
    21 - Grapes of Wrath
    22 - Favorite Son
    *23 - Matriarchy (Ken Olin, Sarah Caplan, Balthazar Getty)

    Video Quality


    The show is broadcast on ABC in 720p, and this down converted 480p set looks mostly wonderful with warm colors and good sharpness. There is edge enhancement on occasion, and occasional stock location shots are sometimes a bit blurry. There is some aliasing as well in a few scenes. Generally speaking, however, the set represents what’s seen on the broadcast version better than any of the other Buena Vista TV sets I’ve reviewed for the past month (Ugly Betty, Desperate Housewives, and Grey’s Anatomy.) Each episode has been divided into 8 chapters (except the first episode which had 6 chapters).

    Audio Quality


    The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is a solid achievement with music filtered to the surrounds and most of the ambient sounds in the front channels. More certainly could have been done with the rears in regard to channeling sound effects there (some are present), but as the show is dialog-centered, the center channel gets the stiffest workout, and the rest of the channels are used sparingly.

    Special Features


    Four episodes provide running commentaries (see episode listing above). The first three are all lively affairs with superb interaction and good information about the episode being imparted. The fourth is the least of the chats with more focus on how much actor Balthazar Getty wasn’t in the episode.

    A twenty-fourth episode for season one was shot and never aired. It was designed to be the second episode of the series, and then selected moments from it were used in the subsequent episode with the rest dropped. It was probably a wise move as the episode dealt mostly with the emotional aftermath of the funeral and didn’t really move the series forward very much. However, it’s wonderful having it as a bonus to see what was kept and what was discarded.

    “Walker Family Tree” is a 29-minute overview on the making of the first season. From conception through casting, writing, revolving directors, and reception by an audience, this featurette is part puff piece but also part heartfelt remembrance of an outstanding first season. It’s presented in anamorphic video.

    “Behind the Scenes with the Brothers” is an anamorphic 6-minute tour of the backstage and backlot shenanigans of Dave Annable, Matthew Rhys, and Balthazar Getty. It’s a totally forgettable and not very funny piece showing how the three actors have bonded into a trio of cut-ups. Still, nice to see the actors out of character having fun even if it isn’t something you’ll want to rewatch.

    “The Family Business” is 4½ minutes with the Olin family who casts a long shadow across the series. Ken Olin is a producer and director on the show, his wife Patricia Wettig plays Holly, his son Cliff is a staff writer, and his daughter Roxy guest starred in several episodes. The nepotism is acknowledged and seems appropriate in a series which is all about family. It’s presented in anamorphic widescreen.

    There are also 2½ minutes of bloopers and outtakes showing the actors stumbling across lines and losing balance while in character.

    Buena Vista trailers on the sixth disc include Ratatouille, The Game Plan, Ugly Betty, What About Brian, Desperate Housewives, and Lost.

    In Conclusion

    4.5/5 (not an average)

    Brothers & Sisters provides one of the most deeply emotional hours currently broadcast on national television. It’s exquisitely acted and beautifully produced and written, a very literate and sophisticated modern family drama. This DVD set is a wonderful remembrance of a very well done inaugural season.

    Matt Hough
    Charlotte, NC
  2. Southpaw

    Southpaw Supporting Actor

    Sep 2, 2006
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    Thanks for the review. Looks like some good extras for a first year drama. I'm a big fan of the show and I'll pick this one up sometime down the road.
  3. Jason_V

    Jason_V Producer

    May 7, 2001
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    Bothell, WA
    Real Name:
    Great! Grabbing this tomorrow in what is going to be a very expensive day.
  4. onecent

    onecent Agent

    Mar 1, 2007
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    Very good review Matt. I'm sorry I missed the first season when it aired but hopefully I can either rent it or buy it soon.
  5. Jake Lipson

    Jake Lipson Supporting Actor

    Dec 21, 2002
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    Thanks for this review. This was one of the most outstanding TV series last year and I can't wait to own it tomorrow. For those who have not seen it and may not have time to watch the whole set prior to the premire, this Sunday (9/23)'s episode is a clip show recapping the important points of the previous season. It won't give you the full experience that seeing all the episodes will, but the ABC's clip shows are usually pretty decent at covering the important bases considering they've only got 45 minutes to work with. So I'd suggest checking it out if you are at all interested. The season premire proper airs next Sunday, September 30th (10:00/9c.)

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