For your perusal pleasure, perspicacious Judge Lacey Worrell ponders the preeminent points of the prematurely pulled Providence.
Sometimes you can go home…again.
Like Dr. Syd Hansen, most of us can go home again, but do we really want to? Many a film, novel, and television series has been based on this premise. Providence is one of the better ones.
Facts of the Case
This four-disc set of the much-beloved Emmy and People's Choice award-winning series features 12 definitive must-have episodes, including the pilot and the series finale. When viewers are first introduced to Syd, she is a high-powered L.A. plastic surgeon who, through a series of unfortunate incidents—notably the death of her highly critical mother—finds herself back in her hometown of Providence, Rhode Island. Syd is quickly hired on at a clinic for the disadvantaged, a sharp contrast to her work in L.A.
Syd's life is complicated by a flighty sister, a manipulative younger brother, and a veterinarian father who relates exceptionally well to his furry patients but lacks the ability to connect with his children. Syd's late mother provides some comic relief by making appearances in Syd's dreams, adding to the already manic atmosphere that creates chaos in Syd's life.
This release includes an insert with a written introduction by series creator John Masius as well as episode summaries and air dates for the ones that are included in the collection. Each episode runs approximately 40 minutes. If you're a fan of one-hour dramas, it kind of makes you wonder how many hours of your life have been spent sitting through commercials, doesn't it?
When Providence was still on the air I only took an interest in it once it was well under way, because cutie-pie Rob Estes (Silk Stalkings) guest-starred in several episodes in the year 2000. Watching the terrific pilot episode of Providence, I realized how much I had missed. Providence is refreshingly strong.
It is quite common to see pilots with awkward kinks that need to be worked out and characterization that is refined or changed completely. Look at the first episode of The Golden Girls, which turned into a laudable series with great writing and acting; in the pilot there was a flamboyant male housekeeper who was never to be seen again, and Blanche's southern-girl-on-fire persona was surprisingly tame; even her accent was less exaggerated. The pilot of the critically acclaimed L.A. Law was superb, but the character of Grace Van Owen was noticeably absent, just as the character of Dylan was absent from the pilot of Beverly Hills 90210. A pilot that gets revamped is not a predictor of instant doom, but a strong one can do wonders for a series. What makes Providence stand out is the careful thought given to time, place, and casting; it firmly establishes the characters and the central conflict(s).
The unusual setting of Rhode Island's capital city is a nice contrast to the tendency of one-hour dramas to take place in glitzier places, like Las Vegas or Los Angeles, or gritty ones, like New York. Providence, as interpreted by this show, is cosmopolitan but manages to cling to its hometown charm and values, and it provides a visually appealing backdrop for the various story lines.
The series is at once quirky and…dare I say it…heartwarming. It has its flaws, namely the tendency to become overwrought with melodrama, especially when it comes to Syd's patients, who often come across as a distraction from the central theme of Syd's family issues. The patients' often catastrophic problems are cleared up a bit too tidily thanks to Syd's interventions. Fans will nonetheless be pleased with the bonus features because they feature outtakes, a look back at the series with present-day cast and crew interviews, and audio commentaries with the principals, including Melina Kanakaredes, Paula Cale, Mike Farrell, and Concetta Tomei.
This show gained a serious following despite its dreaded Friday night time slot. NBC has killed many a fine series this way, including the stellar I'll Fly Away, a family drama set in the racially charged mid-20th-century South. It would be nice for that series to get the same treatment as Providence (hint hint).
Look for Tom Verica as Syd's initial love interest; he can currently be seen playing the stern dad on another great NBC drama, American Dreams. You will also recognize George Newbern from the 1990s Father of the Bride updates, M*A*S*H*'s Mike Farrell, and Ed's Tom Cavanagh. Melina Kanakaredes will be back on the one-hour drama trail this fall when she stars on CSI: New York.
Fans of the show may be disappointed that this series is not being given the full treatment, but the 12 episodes included in this set are sure to please. While it may be more common for already established fans of a series to buy its DVD release, Providence is a quality drama worthy of anyone's attention.
Fine treatment for a fine series that ended way before its time.
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• Retrospective Documentary
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