Buena Vista // 2006 // 988 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kent Dixon (Retired) // September 26th, 2007
Nora Walker (Sally Field): Looks like I'm always apologizing for my
David (Treat Williams): You have nothing to apologize for.
Nora: Oh please. If they're not falling out of trees, then they're killing each other over sperm. (both laugh)
David: It sure beats my family. We barely even talk to each other.
It's been a while since we've had a strong family-centric ensemble drama on network TV, and with the renewed trend towards ensemble shows, Brothers and Sisters: The Complete First Season was bound to come under close scrutiny.
Political intrigue, lies and deception, addiction, a family's long and proud history being shaken to its foundations -- a remake of the first Godfather film you say? Although the plot line may sound familiar, I'm talking about Brothers and Sisters, a new TV drama from ABC. Join the Walker family as they deal with personal struggles, skeletons in their closets, and the challenges that come from being adult siblings closely involved in each other's lives.
Brothers and Sisters: The Complete First Season introduces viewers to the Walker family: parents William (Tom Skerritt) and Nora (Sally Field) and their adult children Sarah (Rachel Griffiths), Kitty (Calista Flockhart), Tommy (Balthazar Getty) Justin (Dave Annable), and Kevin (Matthew Rhys). In many ways the typical American family, the Walkers remain strong and loving as they face more than their fair share of struggles and obstacles.
"Patriarchy" Kitty Walker (Calista Flockhart) returns home to California after having been estranged from her mother (Sally Field) for three years. Meanwhile, William Walker (Tom Skerritt) brings Sarah (Rachel Griffiths) into the family business, where she soon discovers some glaring financial discrepancies that could undermine the Walker family's way of life.
"An Act of Will" The Walker family is forced to deal with the shock of William's death and the reading of William Walker's will, which threatens to cause a rift in the family.
"Affairs of State" William Walker's indiscretions are made painfully public, and Nora reveals that she's not as naive as her family has always believed. Meanwhile, the Walker siblings all feel the burden of their own secrets.
"Family Portrait" Kitty finds herself torn between two men, Justin's new job is more than he bargained for, and Sarah and Joe face their greatest challenge yet as parents.
"Date Night" Nora makes an embarrassing attempt to move on with her life, and her date with a younger man is marred by several surprises. Meanwhile, Kitty initiates a very awkward double date.
"For the Children" The most private personal and business struggles of the Walker family are exposed in a very embarrassing public forum.
Kitty and Warren's quiet weekend in the country turns out to be anything but quiet, while Tommy and Julia, unable to conceive, consider unorthodox alternatives.
"Mistakes Were Made, Part 1"
Justin is shaken to the core and his resolve to stay clean is weakened by a disturbing letter that could dramatically alter his future.
"Mistakes Were Made, Part 2"
Sarah, Tommy and Kevin hit the road in search of William's lost treasure and discover his most shocking secret, and Justin returns from the hospital and makes a startling revelation about his enlistment.
"Light the Lights"
Sarah, Tommy and Saul make a crucial misstep in their approach to retrieve funds to save the family's business, and Nora overcompensates for the family's loss for the holidays.
The Walker family airs its dirty laundry in Justin's rehab group therapy session, and Kitty considers a tantalizing proposition from Senator McCallister.
Kevin falls for a soap opera actor (guest starring Jason Lewis as Chad Berry) who is confused about his own sexuality. Meanwhile, Kitty and Nora dearly regret being sucked in by the sales pitch of an executive matchmaker.
"Something Ida This Way Comes"
Nora and Saul's not-so-loving mother, Ida (guest starring Marion Ross), makes an unwelcome visit to celebrate a milestone in her daughter's life.
"Valentine's Day Massacre"
Nora has a Valentine's Day dinner with a friend and takes a risky ride that could land her in trouble. Margot Kidder guest stars as Emily Craft.
"Love is Difficult"
Some intel from the office staff may sway Kitty's vote about her future with Senator McCallister. Meanwhile, Sarah and Joe dive further into therapy (guest starring Joel Gray as Dr. Jude Bar-Shalom), and Tommy has a chance encounter with a distant relative that will change everything for the Walker family.
"The Other Walker"
News of William Walker and Holly Harper's illegitimate daughter, Rebecca, shakes the Walker family to the core.
"All in the Family"
In an effort to restore life to normalcy, Nora invites her deceased husband's illegitimate daughter to a family dinner and has a romantic encounter with her college professor (guest starring Peter Coyote as Mark August). Meanwhile, Senator McCallister makes a surprising introduction.
Nora's romantic life takes an upturn when her troublemaking friend convinces her to take a chance with her professor. Meanwhile, Chad comes to terms with his sexuality at Kevin's expense and Justin steps up to protect his half-sister.
The Walkers challenge their all-too-perfect lifelong nemesis family, the Jones, to a long overdue game night rematch and cautiously begin to embrace Rebecca as their sister. Meanwhile, Kitty soon regrets introducing Kevin to the Senator's brother.
Sarah finds it very difficult to get past her husband's alleged indiscretions with another woman, and Kitty and Robert reach an impasse as the shock of the tragic accident sinks in.
"Grapes of Wrath"
A celebration of Tommy's new business venture turns to chaos, and Nora takes Holly to task when she gets just a bit too close.
Tommy and Julia have to make a life and death decision for their newborn twins, while Sarah and Joe come to grips with the fate of their marriage, and an unlikely candidate helps Justin face his impending future as he prepares to leave his family to go off to war.
As Justin counts the days and hours until his return to active duty in the army and readies himself to go to war, he reaches out to everyone in the family individually, trying to spend time with all of them. Nora plans an engagement party for Kitty, who announces her plans to move out of the house. At the engagement party we meet more McCallister relatives and learn more about Saul's secret romantic life, as Sarah tries to come to terms with her marriage and where it's headed.
"Dysfunctional family" is the term used to describe a family where conflict, bad behavior and possibly even abuse take place on an ongoing basis, and in which the children live with the impression that their family environment is normal. Brothers and Sisters gives us a close and intimate look at a proud closely-knit family with above-average success, but that success, pride and close connection don't come without conflict. The Walkers argue, bicker and at times even come to blows, but there is never a question that they deeply love and respect each other.
There have been many successful ensemble shows in recent years, from The West Wing, to 24, Grey's Anatomy, and Prison Break, but only Brothers and Sisters puts a single family under the microscope. There is something for everyone here, ranging from issues of sexuality and fidelity, to addiction and political affiliation. It is also interesting to note, without revealing important plot points, that a character can be fiercely patriotic while struggling with addiction, or appear to be the pinnacle of loyalty while hiding an affair. These are flawed characters, but no more so than we all are, both as members of unique families and as people with our own struggles and baggage.
Perhaps the strongest message Brothers and Sisters: The Complete First Season conveys is that family is what matters most, providing a safe place where you can feel loved and respected when the world shuns you. These characters deeply love each other and though they may not always agree with each other's decisions or lifestyle choices, they recognize they are at heart a family, and that is what counts.
I must confess that I've never been a big fan of either Sally Field or Calista Flockhart, though I acknowledge they are both talented actors. It has taken Brothers and Sisters: The Complete First Season to get me to really appreciate their abilities as they really do anchor the show. Kitty is the sympathetic ear for all of her siblings, whether because she has no significant life commitments beyond her TV show, or because she has the insight to see the solutions to other people's problems -- it works! Nora is the strong mother figure who has no qualms about calling a spade a spade and being both blunt and direct with her children.
Flockhart and Field aren't the only recognizable faces in Brothers and Sisters: The Complete First Season -- Balthazar Getty, who first appeared in Lord of the Flies and Young Guns II; Ron Rifkin and Patricia Wetting, who both appeared in Alias; Rob Lowe -- who is, well, Rob Lowe; and Rachel Griffiths from Six Feet Under, all serve the show well in their roles as either family or extended family members.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the controversy that seems to have surrounded the show, not after the show finished its first season, like the issues that have surfaced with the Grey's Anatomy cast, but before shooting even began. After the pilot was shot, the family name was changed from "March" to "Walker," three of the main roles were recast -- Sally Field replaced Betty Buckley as the matriarch of the family, the gay character of Kevin was made single instead of married and the original actor was replaced by Matthew Rhys, and Kitty's love interest Jonathan was recast with actor Matthew Settle. The last-minute changes generated some advance controversy and cynicism amongst critics, but the show has since received award nominations and accolades for its realistic portrayal of a gay man on TV.
The buzz is already building for Season Two, as Danny Glover, who has not done any TV work since his ER appearance in 2005, has been added to the cast. And on the awards front, both Sally Field and Rachel Griffiths received Emmy Award nominations for their first season work, so that bodes well for the quality future seasons.
Not only does Brothers and Sisters: The Complete First Season introduce us to the Walker family, we also get a fairly intimate understanding of what makes these people tick and what matters most to each of them. And the strong character development doesn't stop there, but also ranges to Nora's brother Saul (Ron Rifkin), Tommy's wife Julia (Sarah Jane Morris), Sarah's husband Joe (John Pyper-Ferguson) and even to someone's mistress -- to remain unnamed in this review.
As I said in my review for Grey's Anatomy: The Complete Third Season I have seen a lot of television over the years, making me a bit of a skeptic, and I have little time to invest in viewing, making me selective. Brothers and Sisters has my attention, both for the stellar ensemble cast -- Ron Rifkin, Tom Skerritt, Sally Field to name a few -- but also for creating stories and developing characters that I actually find myself caring about.
Eyes and Ears
Let me say this right from the start -- not only are the concept, writing and acting great on Brothers and Sisters: The Complete First Season, but the visual presentation on this DVD set is near perfect. Colors are vibrant and true and there is no distortion or any other visible elements to mar the enjoyment of the visual presentation. Unless you watched the show in HD when it originally aired, this is likely the best you are ever going to see this show looking. It's really that good!
Music plays an important role on Brothers and Sisters -- whimsical at times and mournful at others, acting as the perfect complement to the action on-screen. The audio presentation on this set faithfully reproduces the musical strengths of the show, employing the surround channels when appropriate, but never allowing the score to overpower the all-important dialogue.
I'm a sucker for extras -- director or writer commentaries, bloopers, deleted scenes, or even archival footage or documentaries -- I enjoy taking a peek behind the curtain at what goes into making a TV show or film. I was already a fan and faithful watcher of the show, but after watching the extra features on Brothers and sisters: The Complete First Season, I can honestly say that I am an even bigger fan now.
On the "I wouldn't miss them if they weren't there" end of the scale, disc six includes "Sneak Peeks" at The Game Plan, Grey's Anatomy: The Complete Third Season, Ugly Betty : The Complete First Season, Lost: The Complete Third Season, What About Brian: The Complete Series, Desperate Housewives: The Complete Third Season, a promo for the release of Ratatouille on DVD, and teaser spots for both the new season of Brothers and Sisters and Soap Net.
Individual episode commentary tracks accompany "Affairs of State" (disc one), "Northern Exposure" (disc two), "The Other Walker" (disc 4), and "Matriarchy" (disc six). Each commentary track includes a nice creative counterpoint of creator/writer and actor, as they share their insights and experience both in front of the camera and behind, bringing Brothers and Sisters to life. These commentaries are not to be missed.
Now we come to the real meat of the extras, with the group of short features included on disc six. "Creating the Walker Family Tree" follows the show from development to shooting, and nearly every stage and key element in between; "Behind the Scenes With the Brothers" follows actors Dave Annable, Balthazar Getty and Matthew Rhys as they take an irreverent look behind the scenes; "Bloopers and Outtakes" gives viewers a small idea of how fun the show must be to work on; "The Deleted Episode: State of the Parties" shares an episode from the beginning of the season that was ultimately removed from the airing schedule due to pacing, even though it would have made a strong contribution to the season; and finally, "The Family Business" takes a closer look at the Olin family, the real-life actor/writer/director family behind Brothers and Sisters.
Family pictures lining the staircase of the family home, serve as the menu backdrop on each disc, while familiar pieces of the show's music play in the background. These tastefully executed, easy to navigate menus are truly the icing on a very tasty cake. Buena Vista has done an excellent job in presenting this set, from the audio and video presentation to the extras and packaging. Full season TV series DVD releases are expensive, but this set is worth your money.
How interesting can a show be based strictly on the lives of a single California family? I have good news -- comedic moments aside, Brothers and Sisters: The Complete First Season is filled with brilliant dramatic plot lines, from affairs with political leaders and struggles with addiction, to dealing with the loss of a beloved family member and the revelation of shocking family secrets. If you missed Brothers and Sisters so far, I definitely recommend picking up Brothers and Sisters: The Complete First Season and clearing your Sunday night viewing schedule for next season.
With its joys and pain, laughter and tears, Brothers and Sisters: The Complete First Season delivers an ensemble family drama in spades. Alright you Walkers -- get out of our courtroom, the whole lot of you! Case dismissed, pending good behavior in Season Two!
Review content copyright © 2007 Kent Dixon; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Buena Vista
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (For hearing imparied)
Running Time: 988 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Audio Commentaries
* "Creating the Walker Family Tree" â€" development of the show from concept to production
* "Behind the Scenes With the Brothers"
* "Bloopers and Outtakes"
* "The Deleted Episode: State of the Parties" (with introduction)
* "The Family Business" - Meet the Olins, The Real Family Behind The Success of this All-New Popular TV Family
* Official Site
* Wikipedia: Brothers and Sisters