Brothers and Sisters: Season 4
Maybe we’re tired of watching one self-involved backstabber after another and wondering “why are they on my TV screen?” The reality shows that dominate primetime lineups have done their best to prove that schadenfreude (an emotion we really should label in English) is a good reason to turn on the television. But sometimes good ol’ fashioned escapism is what we’re after when we watch TV, even if we need unrealistic, maudlin storylines to get us there.
Though it’s a guilty pleasure in its own right, ABC’s hour-long drama Brothers and Sisters is up to the task. Maybe it’s a little embarrassing to admit that we sought out the fourth season on DVD and watched with marathon-like intensity, but there’s something about this star-studded show that still makes us go to bed at night thinking that everything will be okay.
Brothers and Sisters revolves around the lives of five siblings, their families and their matriarch. Rob Lowe shines as Robert, a workaholic senator whose deteriorating relationship with his wife, Kitty (Calista Flockhart), does a 180 after she is diagnosed with cancer. Rachel Griffiths plays Sarah, who isn’t in the least bit conflicted about her devotion to her family, unlike the acerbic mom she played in Six Feet Under. Rob Rifkin has an opportunity to throw a little bit of refreshing comedy into his role as Saul, which he gracefully accomplishes. And Sally Field’s acting is brilliant, even if her character, the family’s mother, is meddlesome and often annoying.
The show’s fourth season focuses on Kitty, a political author and pundit who has just started a family with Robert and is struggling to handle their failing marriage. She is diagnosed with Stage III lymphoma at the end of the season premiere, and the rest of the season examines the shock waves that reverberate through the entire family as each immediate and extended member (and, damn, there are a lot of them) copes with the new development. Most of these scenes are supposed to be touching, but end up being unnatural, precious, belabored, and overacted.
What makes Brothers and Sisters attractive is also what makes it repellent. Let’s face it—nobody grew up in this family, where siblings are not competitive or self-serving, nobody has a chip on his or her shoulder, the “family business” is successful enough that money is only an issue until the hidden funds are found, and, of course, mom never played favorites. Of course, nobody’s perfect—dear old dad had his infidelities, but the writers made sure to kill off his character in the show’s infancy so he couldn’t sabotage the wholesomeness of the project.
If I had grown up in their family, perhaps I would hold myself to the same standards of graciousness and maturity these characters adeptly master. These standards would involve adopting the following characteristics: a) wanting what’s best for everyone else more than myself; b) accepting everyone’s personality differences and thinking their flaws are quirky and adorable; c) getting into arguments that have the cordiality of political debates but are peppered with assurances of love; d) always telling everyone they “don’t have to do that”; e) loving my in-laws as much as my immediate family; f) drinking fancy red wine out of oversized glasses; g) engaging in tickle fights and bed-jumping because I can’t help but still feel childlike and frivolous around my family.
There’s something endearing about the characters in Brothers and Sisters, even though they take everything to melodramatic extremes. The program is designed to be predictable—it’s a primetime soap opera and a source of escapism. Problems and conflicts are solved at the end of each episode, and the show is chock full of gentle heart-to-hearts with soft music playing in the background.
The DVD set’s extra features include just over two minutes of bloopers and outtakes, which is not quite enough to satisfy. However, every disc has ample deleted scenes, most of which seem to have been omitted for good reason. Cast assistant Scott Scherick lets us glimpse how everyone kicks back when he goes behind the scenes to interview the cast and crew for the Season 4 premiere party. In “Off the Clock,” co-producer Sparky Hawes showcases the unexpected latent talents and alternate professions some members of the crew have—from painting to glass blowing. She also talks about the softball team the cast and crew formed, and their weekly games. It’s usually the same people who hog the camera in these extra features, and we never see the big names and faces we’ve come to enjoy on the show. The “extras” features, like Brothers and Sisters itself, might want to find ways to be edgier and better utilize the talents at its disposal.