Brothers and Sisters feels like an amalgamation of numerous television shows all blended up and mixed into one huge hodgepodge story. With some parts Army Wives, West Wing, Arrested Development and many others, Brothers and Sisters captures a lot of their elements but rarely ever delivers the part that made them worthwhile. The show may fail in the ingenuity of its story and how it tells it, but in terms of casts few shows on right now can match its star power. It may not be the best thing you’ve ever watched, but it has crafted a deeply tangled mess for itself that the writers are clearly enjoying detangling and retangling (which isn’t even a word) all over again.
It’s not that the life of any one person in the Walker family is all that complicated, but just that there are so many people involved that even if they all led lives of simplicity, the sheer volume would be bound to create some conflict either way. So when you toss in Justin, a drug-addicted veteran (Dave Annable), and his new romantic interest (Emily VanCamp), who was until last season presumed to be the lovechild of his father by another woman (Patricia Wettig), things are bound to get interesting. Or maybe you’d prefer the addition of Kitty (Calista Flockheart) and her ex-presidential nominee husband (Rob Lowe) fighting hard for the Republican conservative agenda even after hiring Kitty’s gay brother (Matthew Rhys) whose dreams of partnership at his firm fell through, perhaps due to his relationship with his life partner (Luke Macfarlane)? You don’t think the show’s plot is burdened enough? Then let’s add some conflict in the family business as Sarah (Rachel Griffiths) resigns after firing her brother (Balthazar Getty) from his position as the company’s lead counsel. All of this happens as the matriarch Nora (Sally Field) struggles to find her calling after leaving the family business with the encouragement of the family’s last remaining sage Saul (Ron Rifkin), whose coming out of the closet hasn’t affected him professionally but rather personally in his family. The big seldom-happy family discover a few new surprises in the third season, but none so important as the identity of a new potential member of the Walker family.
The cast is simply a powerhouse. You have stars here who have headlined past programs and still others who lead healthy careers on the silver screen. Seeing them congregated in one place leads you to believe that they all saw something in Brothers and Sisters upon first reading the script – and they were right. For all its twists and turns there is a stark feeling of family pervading it all. Their conflicts and celebrations feel appropriately weighted with everything that’s come in seasons before and yet petty disputes can still occur unfettered. It isn’t bloated, but there is still a sense that the writers are grasping at too much and consequently some of the show’s story is being underdeveloped. With that said, for having so much going on at once, never does it feel like any one character is taking the spotlight or that any are being left out; everyone’s presence is felt, it’s just that none are really allowed to gain the momentum needed to become dramatic bulwarks to pad the series’ vitality.
DVD Bonus Features
You’ll find audio commentaries on a few episodes as well as deleted scenes, but neither is all that illuminating. As if to research the season’s new direction for the Ojai business, the cast takes a trip to a family-run vineyard for the grand tour. They laugh, they drink, they make merry – and you can live it vicariously through your TV set. There’s an introspective piece by the matrons of Brothers and Sisters (Field and Wettig) wherein they discuss their roles and how their characters have developed over the seasonal arcs. Finally, there’s a bit of dual-action blooper reel business going on: there’s the official gag reel for outtakes and then a second little featurette about the cast and the pranks they pull on the set.
The show has only gotten better by twisting itself into loops, but in doing so it sacrificed depth for content. For some the trade-off was a good one, for others not so much. Where do you fall?
"Brothers and Sisters: The Complete Third Season" is on sale September 1, 2009 and is rated NR. Drama, Television. Directed by Ken Olin, Michael Owen Morris, Michael Schultz, Gloria Muzio. Written by Jon Robin Baitz, David Marshall Grant, Molly Newman, Sherri Cooper. Starring Emily VanCamp, Rob Lowe, Sally Field, Calista Flockhart, Dave Annable, Ron Rifkin, Rachel Griffiths, Balthazar Getty, Matthew Rhys, Patricia Wettig.