Case Number 17965

BROTHERS AND SISTERS: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON

ABC Studios // 2008 // 1032 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // December 23rd, 2009

The Charge

Good times. Bad times. Through it all...they are family.

Opening Statement

Since I don't watch television on a regular basis, it must be stipulated I was egged on by several friends to watch and review Brothers And Sisters: The Complete Third Season. I've seen the show in passing a few times, but have never seen a full episode. To prepare for this assignment, I actually took the time to catch up with the first two seasons. Despite the soapy dynamics (which I expected), I warmed up to B&S fairly quickly.

Question is, does Season 3 live up to the first two? In many ways, it does. But it also suffers due to its own repetitive machinations. Like most family dramas, there is a heavy amount of secrets, lies, manipulation and gossip. The first two seasons incorporated those elements while developing the characters and storylines beautifully.

This latest season starts off on a strong note. Eventually, it kind of kicks into dull autopilot before revitalizing itself with an overwhelmingly emotional 2-part episode more than halfway through. It's definitely a step down, but what matters is this season is still compelling enough for me to look forward to the next one. If the first two seasons deserve A's (as my fellow judges rewarded), then this one rates about a B-.

Facts of the Case

For the uninitiated, B&S focuses on the upper-class Walker family in Los Angeles. In the beginning of Season 1, father William (Tom Skerritt, Contact) dies, his infidelity haunting the other family members. Matriarch Nora (Sally Field, Mrs. Doubtfire) attempts to keep everything under control as well as dealing with her husband's mistress Holly (Patricia Wettig, City Slickers).

The eldest daughter Sarah (Rachel Griffiths, Six Feet Under) is appointed as the head of Ojai Foods, the family business which William built from the ground up. Younger daughter Kitty (Calista Flockhart, Ally McBeal) is a conservative pundit who has been estranged from her mother for years due to her political views.

The sons include Tommy (Balthazar Getty, Lost Highway), Kevin (Matthew Rhys, The Edge Of Love), and Justin (Dave Annable, Julie and Julia). Tommy, once an executive at Ojai, becomes partner to Holly in the wine business. Kevin is a gay attorney who juggled several boyfriends before marrying chef Scotty Wandell (Luke MacFarlane, Kinsey). And Justin is an Army vet who fought in Iraq before returning home and becoming a pill-popper.

The numerous other characters include Saul (Ron Rifkin, Alias) as Nora's older brother who recently came out of the closet; Rebecca (Emily VanCamp, Everwood) is Holly's daughter who was once thought to be William's illegitimate child; Robert McAllister (Rob Lowe, Thank You For Smoking), is a Republican senator as well as Kitty's husband; and Julia (Sarah Jane Morris, Seven Pounds) is Tommy's wife. The major new character this season is Ryan Lafferty (Luke Grimes, Assassination Of A High School President), the real illegitimate child who introduces himself to the Walkers mid-way through.

All 24 episodes of the ABC show are roughly 43 minutes long and spread out over six discs. It must be noted also that before the episodes begin, there is an "ABC Toolkit" which gives a four-minute breakdown on what the show is about for newcomers.

* "Glass Houses"
Opens with Sarah composing a recommendation letter for Kitty to adopt a child; Kevin's boss gives him the keys to his Pacific beach house for the weekend, so he brings over the entire family; major arguments ensue over dangling story threads from previous season.

* "Book Burning"
Kitty writes a "tell-all" book about Robert's Presidential campaign and the Walker family.

* "Tug Of War"
Rebecca worries that Justin may be addicted again; questions arise over another illegitimate child in the family; Holly makes peace with Rebecca and hires her.

* "Everything Must Go"
Nora is determined to clean out all of William's stuff in the garage and sell it in a yard sale; Robert hires Kevin to be his new communications officer after Kitty retires to adopt.

* "You Get What You Need"
Nora starts to look for a job; Scotty's traditional parents visit for the weekend; Rebecca and Justin finally work up the nerve to have sex.

* "Bakersfield"
Kitty and Nora drive out of town to meet Ryan's father; Sarah goes for a job interview with two young Internet gurus.

* "Do You Believe In Magic?"
Ryan's father, George Lafferty, visits; Kevin is informed by a newspaper columnist over a possible affair between Robert and the Governor.

* "Going Once...Going Twice"
Scotty gets promoted to head chef, so Nora celebrates by throwing a dinner party; Kevin decides to buy a house for Scotty; Justin invites a friend from his addiction meetings to meet Saul. Dave Foley (The Kids In The Hall) turns in a memorable cameo.

* "Unfinished Business"
Nora prepares to move into a new house; Sarah makes a business deal with a former Ojai partner; Rebecca gets a promotion at work.

* "Just A Sliver"
Tommy & Julia's daughter Elizabeth goes to the hospital in need of a liver transplant just before Thanksgiving; since Kevin is the real father, he volunteers for surgery.

* "A Father Dreams"
Kevin has weird nightmares after surgery, including one where he makes out with Julia (!); Saul tries to get Nora to hire an old family friend to be her personal architect.

* "Sibling Rivalry"
Kitty does a book signing and appears on Live With Regis & Kelly.

* "It's Not Easy Being Green"
One of Sarah's business partners declares her a cougar; Kevin goes quail hunting with some Republicans to assist Robert in his bid to run for State Governor.

* "Owning It"
Kitty garners a dream job in broadcast journalism right after Nora throws a baby shower; Nora discovers her architect is married, throwing a monkey wrench into their relationship.

* "Lost And Found"
Ryan contacts Nora and meets with her; Tommy commits embezzlement in a desperate effort to take Holly's control of Ojai away; Rebecca visits her real father David (Ken Olin, thirtysomething after she and Justin fight.

* "Troubled Waters, Part I"
Kitty's surrogate mother goes into labor; Rebecca brings David home; Robert has a heart attack while on his way to the hospital.

* "Troubled Waters, Part II"
Ryan arrives soon after Robert has open heart surgery; Tommy is interrogated and faces prison time.

* "Taking Sides"
Nora introduces Ryan to the whole family; Kelly looks after Robert as he recovers; Rebecca and Justin have a painful breakup.

* "Spring Broken"
Justin & Kevin take Tommy to Mexico to discuss his predicament; they discover their favorite beach overrun with Spring Breakers; Ryan sees Rebecca more.

* "Missing"
Tommy disappears while in Mexico; Justin attempts to reconnect with Rebecca; Sarah takes Tommy's position at Ojai.

* ">S3X"
Kitty meets a single father named Alec (Matt Letscher, The Mask Of Zorro) who makes her forget the pain at home; Sarah drools over a red-hot Ojai temp.

* "Julia"
Julia has made up her mind to take her daughter and move away; Kitty gets closer to Alec while Robert takes care of the kids; Holly asks Ryan to work at Ojai.

* "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off"
Robert goes back to work as Kitty generates feelings for Alec; Justin and Rebecca get back together; Nora turns to Robert to get information on Tommy's whereabouts.

* "Mexico"
The entire Walker family (sans Ryan) journeys down to Mexico to see Tommy; Justin proposes to Rebecca.

The Evidence

There are many memorable moments in this season, with most weighted in the final nine episodes. It takes time to get to them, but they are well worth it in the end. The show is ripe with confrontations and disagreements, and it's the characters which command our attention throughout. We buy them as real people in a real family, and the bickering can get emotionally wrenching at times.

Refreshingly, gossip and lies are not the only things which permeate the proceedings. There is also the clashing of political beliefs. When Robert hires Kevin, it opens the door for several disagreements between the former's devotion to the Republican Party and the latter's liberal slant. They come to respect each other, but their showdowns can indeed be brutally passionate.

Not all the story arcs click, but many of them are compulsively watchable nonetheless. The growing romance between Rebecca and Justin is tangible without being clichéd. All of the scenes featuring gay characters are realistic and extremely well-written, allowing them to be presented as human beings rather than stereotypes. There's also much to savor in the scenes with Sarah and her two new employers, which offer more than a few laughs.

What makes B&S standout from the usual soap fare, however, is the terrific cast. Two-time Oscar winner Sally Field dominates practically every scene she's in as the constantly-worrying mother who only wants the best for her children. It's great to see her again after virtually disappearing from the film scene; her last big-screen venture was in 2003's Legally Blonde 2. As for Patricia Wettig, she can be deliciously nasty while harboring a heart underneath her tough-as-nails exterior.

Aussie actress Rachel Griffiths has long been one of my favorites. I've loved her in everything from Muriel's Wedding to Six Feet Under. She's given a juicy and complex role here as a woman who reaches several crossroads in her life soon after turning 40. As for Flockhart, she is wholly believable as a conservative woman who fights for what she believes in. Her character can get irritating at times, especially when she constantly second-guesses herself; thankfully, it's not a fatal flaw.

Wandell and Rhys are superb as the gay couple whose relationship is constantly tested. In one episode, a former flame of Kevin's shows up which leads to some exciting twists. Getty isn't around much this season, but he also does a fine job. VanCamp always brightens up every scene she's in as the smart, beautiful Rebecca. And as for Rob Lowe, it's awesome to see himÑfor onceÑplay a decent guy and not a complete slimeball.

ABC Studios once again delivers the goods when it comes to the technical details. All of the episodes are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colors are crisp, black levels appropriately deep, and flesh tones are natural and warm. The flashback scenes have nice sepia tones to them. The 5.1 Surround tracks give full attention to the dialogue and music. As for subtitles, we have English (in SDH and CC), French and Spanish.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

If I can single out significant flaw in Season 3, it would be the Ryan storyline. It feels like the writers were simply flipping a pancake which had been created when Rebecca was introduced in Season 1. It's a subplot which has no purpose, and it doesn't help when the character is awkwardly introduced as well as being unlikeable.

On the other hand, with Ryan not showing up until the season is half over, we have a lot of filler to deal with. Some of the conflicts in the first half of the season feel contrived, manufactured, and, on occasion, recycled from the first two seasons. I particularly got tired of the rivalry between Holly and the Walkers, which reverts continuously to the family vs. business battles which had been exhausted already.

In addition, some of the characters seemed to be wandering in dramatic circles. Several of them never really change or grow, but instead play the same card tricks we've seen dozens of times. After awhile, I got so sick of characters saying "I'm sorry" to each other; it really gets excessive by Episode 14. The numerous misunderstandings pile up so much the show becomes almost like a dramatic version of Three's Company. Evidently, all of these people tend to assume the worst, making them come off like a bunch of drama queens.

Another disappointment comes in the selection of bonus features. The first two seasons boasted excellent extras, but there really isn't anything special this time around. To start, we have three audio commentaries. Lowe, Rhys, and executive producer Monica Owusu-Breen team up for both Troubled Waters episodes. Lowe does introductions and Rhys is engaging, but the silence evident in the second episode almost makes you feel like you're watching it without the commentary. As for executive producers Alison Schapker and Ken Olin (also joined by Owusu-Breen), they don't have much to say either.

All six discs contain deleted scenes, totaling about 18.5 minutes. Many of them are simply extensions, with a couple nothing more than reaction shots. Disc Two has 6.5 minutes of "in-between scenes," which feature the actors having fun during shoots. One segment has several of the actors doing pull-ups while Lowe and Rhys play toys. An extended interview with Dave Foley is the only real highlight of the piece.

Finally, there are two featurettes, the only extras to avoid negligence. "The Mothers of Brothers And Sisters" (10:18) rounds up Sally Field, Patricia Wettig and some of the other actors to discuss the matriarch roles on the show. The second featurette, "The Ojai Experience" (13:01) has several of the actors and producers visit a real winery and talk about some of the shots. Both are interesting and informative.

Closing Statement

I certainly don't blame the cast for this season's missteps. It's clear the writers need to come up with some fresh ideas for the currently-running Season 4, because the drama drags here more times than expected. Still, fans of the show should be satisfied enough.

The Verdict

The Walkers are free to go, but the writers are issued a warning to improve their scripts for next season.

Review content copyright © 2009 Christopher Kulik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 90
Audio: 90
Extras: 70
Acting: 92
Story: 79
Judgment: 81

Perp Profile
Studio: ABC Studios
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)

Subtitles:
* English
* English (SDH)
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 1032 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Episode Commentaries
* Deleted Scenes
* Featurettes
* Bloopers/Outtakes
* In-Between Scenes

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0758737/combined

* Official Site
http://abc.go.com/shows/brothers-and-sisters

* Wikipedia: Brothers & Sisters (TV Series)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brothers_%26_Sisters_%282006_TV_series%29