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Case Number 08095

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Once And Again: The Complete Second Season

Buena Vista // 2001 // 991 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Chris Claro (Retired) // November 30th, 2005

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All Rise...

Judge Chris Claro was impressed by this TV drama at least once, and possibly will be again.

Editor's Note

Our review of Once And Again: The Complete First Season, published August 10th, 2005, is also available.

The Charge

Love, the second time around.

Opening Statement

Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick made their bones on thirtysomething, the love-it-or-hate-it late '80s phenomenon that proffered self-obsession as a virtue. Chronicling the messy entanglements of love, marriage, and work among a bunch of upwardly mobile Philadelphians, some argued that thirtysomething made narcissism desirable, a commodity, like an SUV or a sofa from Restoration Hardware.

thirtysomething afforded Herskovitz and Zwick opportunities in feature films (Legends of the Fall, The Siege), but they kept coming back to the small screen, first with the short-lived Relativity, and later, the fondly remembered My So-Called Life. In 1999, TV beckoned once more and the result was Once and Again.

The series followed two newly single parents struggling to maintain their relationship while dealing with children, jobs, and exes. Once and Again manifested the wont Herskozwick established in thirtysomething and revisited in Relativity, of problems depicted against glossy backgrounds by pretty people. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

The first season of Once and Again focused on the budding romance between architect Rick (Billy Campbell, Enough) and Lily (Sela Ward, 54), returning to the workforce as assistant to a young magazine editor (Jennifer Crystal, 61*). With two children each, keeping them tethered uncomfortably to their exes, Rick and Lily spent a lot of Season One explaining rather than enjoying themselves.

As the second season begins, their relationship forces them to confront the realities of blending families and all the complications, resentments, and discoveries inherent in the process. Along the way, Rick and Lily each strive to preserve what they have built with their kids, while they tentatively pursue a new life.

Facts of the Case

When it first aired, Once and Again was dismissed by many as "fortysomething": the old narcissism you love, now with added angst and double the divorce! Such a comparison would be facile, as Once and Again was more textured, with a maturity that thirtysomething never achieved.

Herskovitz and Zwick took a novelistic approach to Once and Again, allowing stories to unfold over a number of episodes and contriving relationships among unexpected combinations of characters. In doing so, they created an environment that felt honest and real, even if they sometimes got a tad hamfisted with symbolism and metaphor.

Once and Again was peopled with impossibly attractive actors, most of whom more than measured up to the task. Sela Ward brought a vulnerability to Lily that manifested itself in shifting shades of sweetness, anger, and utter bemusement at the complexity of her life. In all her roles—mother, girlfriend, ex-wife, employee—Lily was confident, but clearly, as she says in episode 9, "making it up as (she) goes along."

Julia Whelan and Meredith Deane, as Lily's daughters, Grace and Zoe, displayed a heartbreaking precision in their performances. Grace's high school trials and her fractious relationship with her philandering father are even more poignant viewed through Whelan's sadly perceptive eyes. And Deane offers a startlingly self-aware performance as the younger daughter who feels ripped off because her sister got five extra years before divorce shattered their family.

Jeffrey Nordling plays Lily's ex-husband Jake (Turbulence 2: Fear of Flying) with savoir faire to spare. As the owner of a restaurant left to him by Lily's father, Jake is a good-looking, glad-handing, two-timing charmer. Nordling, who could be Greg Kinnear's even more handsome brother, makes Jake the Rake likeable while never letting you forget the ramifications of his selfish behavior.

As Lily's sister, Judy, Marin Hinkle (Two and a Half Men) has a thankless role, which she could have tossed off with just another unlucky-in-love sidekick shtick. Instead, she makes Judy's singleness her strength, powering through her life, as all of these characters are, in pursuit of happiness.

Unfortunately, one of the weaker links in the Once and Again acting chain is Billy Campbell, as Rick. Though he tries hard—and it shows—Campbell lacks the gravitas his role sometimes calls for. There simply doesn't seem to be much behind his eyes.

The same can be said for Shane West, as Rick's son, Eli. A conforming non-conformist who plays for the school basketball team even while fancying himself a rebellious rocker, West's performance as Eli rarely evokes anything but adolescent petulance. He appears outmatched by the other actors, particularly Evan Rachel Wood as his sister, Jessie.

Possibly the saddest character in the Once and Again universe, Jessie is the daughter of Rick and his ex-wife Karen. As Season Two opens, she is new to high school and alarms her parents by exhibiting evidence of an eating disorder. Wood (Thirteen) conveys the pain of dealing with a fractured family with a delicacy that is almost too painful to watch. Her tribulations, from not knowing where she fits in at school to enduring family therapy for her anorexia, are made that much more poignant through the exactitude of Wood's acting.

Susanna Thompson (The Ballad of Jack and Rose) brings similar colors to Karen, a public-interest lawyer. Guiding her kids through life, while still stinging from the failure of her marriage, Karen is tightly-wound and controlled, but aware that that isn't the easiest way to go through life, for herself or her children.

The Evidence

The episodes included in Once and Again, Season Two:

• "Wake Up, Little Susie"
Season One closed with Grace and Zoe, the Manning kids, meeting the Sammlers, Eli and Jessie. This season opens with a second shot at unity, as the Rick and Lily once again gather their families gather for dinner. Meanwhile, Jessie is nervously starting high school and Grace is resentful of the demands placed on her by Rick and Lily's relationship. The performances by Evan Rachel Wood and Julia Whelan make their situations that much more affecting.

• "Booklovers"
Judy reopens My Sister's Bookstore as Booklovers, adding a component of community by making the store a haven for singles seeking mates. When Judy seeks Lily's help in promoting the venture, long-simmering tensions arise between them. Jennifer Crystal, as Lily's boss, Christie, stands out in this episode. As the founder of a local magazine and website, Christie's drive and ambition mask an insecurity that Lily recognizes, but doesn't exploit.

• "I Can't Stand Up (For Falling Down)"
One of the set's weaker chapters, this episode focuses on Eli in all his rocking glory and scholastic ignominy. As he sweats out the SAT and withstands pressure from his parents, Eli tries to further the fortunes of his "emo-tinged, pop chaos" band, Anti-Inflammatory (featuring Adam Brody of The O.C.). The father-son conflict in this one is tired and it lacks the buoyancy of many other episodes. It's notable, though, for the appearance of Mark Feuerstein, introduced in Season One as Karen's younger lover, Leo. One of the few caricatures in a show populated by actual humans, the music-loving Leo does nothing to stem the conflict between rocker Eli and his father.

• "Feast Or Famine"
Ladies and gentlemen, feast your eyes on the first substantial season two appearance of the one and only Miles Drentell! The Machiavellian schemer who made things so stressful for Michael and Elliot back in Philly on thirtysomething is in Chicago, enlisting Rick's firm to erect a building, or, as Miles puts it, "make a last stand in this edifice against the ravages of mortality." David Clennon's portrayal of Miles is pitch-perfect, a juicy brand of villainy wrapped up in an airtight, erudite package. Miles is a supporting character in this episode, which focuses on a stressful Thanksgiving with both Lily's mother (Bonnie Bartlett, St. Elsewhere) and Rick's (Barbara Barrie, Breaking Away).

• "Ozymandias"
Miles returns with a vengeance in this episode, in which he compels Rick to stage a dog-and-pony show for Atlantor, the investors backing Miles' dream building. Miles' testy relationship with Rick's partner, David (Todd Field, In the Bedroom), imbues their scenes with a palpable frisson that the actors really chew on. Miles' cunning versus David's no-bullshit style gives both actors a lot to work with and it makes for good drama. Their relationship harks back to the turbulent one that Miles shared with Elliot on thirtysomething.

• "Food For Thought"
Adolescent girl + high school x family crisis=eating disorder, or so Rick and Karen think about Jessie. Evan Rachel Wood shines in this episode with Jessie experiencing psychotherapy with an understanding doctor played by series co-creator Ed Zwick. As Karen prepares to represent the opposition to Rick's project for Miles, Jessie gets swept up in the conflict. Wood plays Jessie's pain with such perception, it's shocking that she didn't receive an Emmy nomination for this performance. The episode did, however, win Herskovitz and Zwick a Humanitas award for their script.

• "Learner's Permit"
From the episode title to Zoe's school-project volcano, this stanza is heavy on the symbolism. While learning to drive, Grace also gets educated in the ways of relationships, honesty, and manipulation. Julia Whelan, as Grace, is excellent as always and Ever Carradine's Tiffany, Jake's on-and-off girlfriend, has some lovely moments of perceptivity that belie her flibbertigibbet demeanor.

• "Life Out Of Balance"
A pregnancy scare makes Lily reexamine her relationship with Rick. If you thought that sentence was dull, just wait 'til you watch this episode. Eli's school troubles continue as he is kicked off the basketball team, much to Rick's chagrin. A rare shrug-inducing episode of a usually-compelling series.

• "Scribbling Rivalry"
Lily's workplace, Pages Alive, is the focus of this episode that finds Christie scrambling to maintain her vision with the money men breathing down her neck. When management consultant Graham (D.B. Sweeney, Eight Men Out) sends Lily mixed signals about his intentions, she finds herself in a bind with her boss and her sister. Friction between Grace and Zoe parallels that of Lily and Judy and the episode is noteworthy for Sela Ward's performance as a befuddled, overwhelmed, and self-deluding Lily. Also standing out is Meredith Deane, who gets her moment to display an amazing instinct and ability for such a young actor.

• "Love's Laborers Lost"
Judy's love life takes center stage in this effort, as she struggles, single at 35, to determine whether what she's looking for is actually out there. Marin Hinkle sensitively conveys Judy's uncertainty about the man she's with, the man she wants, and whether either of them is right for her. This episode also accents the subtle, yet noticeable elements of Lily's ambivalence toward her sister. As a mother, ex-wife, and girlfriend, Lily's responsibilities weigh mightily on her and Judy often bears the brunt of Lily's bitterness. Paradoxically, the upside of Lily's situation is depicted beautifully through Judy's eyes in the closing moments of this episode.

• "Thieves Like Us"
Secrets and lies figure heavily in this episode that is one of the strongest as far as employing virtually every character in the series. The loss—or possible theft—of Jessie's jar of glitter makeup reveals the level of duplicity exercised by Rick, Karen, Jessie, and Grace in their efforts to make their voices heard. While the script is more contrived than "O&A" usually is—glitter, glitter, who's got the glitter?—the myriad revelations and surprising behavior by the characters make this a particularly strong episode.

• "Suspicion"
Two relationships come to a head as Karen confronts her future with Leo and Lily finally deciphers Graham's signals. This episode is another example of how the female characters almost always outshone the men on Once and Again. Leo and Graham are painted with broad strokes of wishy-washy sensitivity and underwritten loneliness while the respective women in their lives approach their crises with clearer motivation and resolve.

• "Edifice Wrecked"
The issue is partnership, both professional and personal, as Valentine's Day looms. Rick and David deal with the legal fallout from the Atlantor project, Eli addresses his growing relationship with Carla, and Lily questions Rick's intentions. Todd Field stands out in this episode, beautifully depicting David's conflict between conscience and commercialism.

• "The Other End Of The Telescope"
One of the strangest, most atonal episodes of this series is set almost completely at Jake's restaurant, Phil's, where a disgruntled busboy takes a brunch crowd hostage at gunpoint, with Jake, Grace, and Tiffany among those being held. Full of the usual revelations and discoveries typical to Once and Again, the hostage situation feels more like it belongs in a cop show. Coincidentally, the presiding police officer is played by Bruce Weitz, remembered as Belker on Hill Street Blues.

• "Standing Room Only"
Rick and Lily ponder "buyer's remorse" in advance of their nuptials, and Jake confronts his future with Tiffany. This episode emphasizes one of the strongest elements of Once and Again, its ability to bring together characters into each other's orbits. From Judy's relationship with Karen to David's flirtation with Christie, the show was at its best when it showed just how intimate its world was. Here, a lovely interaction between Rick and Jake depicts their connection, and shows just what Lily would see in both of them.

• "Aaron's Getting Better"
Patrick Dempsey is powerful as Lily and Judy's schizophrenic brother, Aaron. His presence at Lily's brings out simmering resentments between his sisters, even as Aaron lends Grace some much-needed understanding. Dempsey was nominated for an Emmy award for his moving portrayal of Aaron.

• "Forgive Us Our Trespasses"
The delicacy of Once and Again periodically slipped into contrivance, as in this episode where Judy has a stalker, Graham has a new office relationship, and Jake is…being Jake. Accusations and revelations combine for an episode that's long on talk but doesn't measure up to the best of this series.

• "Best Of Enemies"
Jessie's therapy is at the forefront of this episode that boasts another subtle, moving performance from Evan Rachel Wood. Struggling to regain her parents' trust and maintain her independence, Jessie finds an unlikely ally in Judy, who finds herself also dealing with her ambivalence toward her sister's fiancé.

• "Armageddon" / "Won't Someone Please Help George Bailey Tonight"
This two-episode story sees the Atlantor project come to a head, with Rick facing indictment for the backroom deals that put the project in motion. These two stories also represent Miles' swan song and even in the throes of life-threatening illness, he maintains his Machiavellian mask, leaving Rick to twist in the wind.

• "Moving On"
A strangely unfocused episode that focuses primarily on…well, it doesn't focus "primarily" on anything. Rick and the kids are moving to Lily's. Lily is making wedding preparations. And in the middle of it all, Eli's girlfriend, Carla, is whirling through the lives of the Mannings and the Sammlers, adding an element of chaos to an already overstuffed episode.

• "The Second Time Around"
The moment we've all been waiting for: the wedding. Is it on? Is it off? Will there be hot hors d'oeuvres? Money woes and uncertainty cause Rick and Lily to reevaluate their relationship and question their motivation for matrimony.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

The recurring device of characters addressing an unseen interviewer in black-and-white cutaways was one of the most notable elements of Once and Again. It was an obvious and heavy-handed method of conveying the thoughts of the characters. Its lack of subtlety was surprising, considering the generally measured and understated tone of the series. Though the scripting of the black and white segments was as thoughtful as the rest of the writing in the series, the cutaways often had the effect of an elbow to the ribs, making sure that audiences picked up on what the characters were thinking.

Closing Statement

Endowed with sensitive acting and truly literate scripts, Once and Again: The Complete Second Season represents an entertaining and thoughtful series hitting its stride.

The Verdict

Once and Again is found not guilty by reason of being one of television's most well-produced dramas of the early 21st century. However, Messrs. Campbell and West are sentenced to probation for second-rate characterization.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 90
Audio: 90
Extras: 80
Acting: 100
Story: 95
Judgment: 91

Perp Profile

Studio: Buena Vista
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 991 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Drama
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Audio Commentary by Series Creators Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick on Episode 6, "Food For Thought"


• IMDb

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