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TV Review: Brothers & Sisters – “Olivia’s Choice; Never Say Never”

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Last night, ABC’s Brothers & Sisters returned for a two hour special broadcast. Like much of this uneven season, there were good scenes and bad scenes, with the second hour definitely being much stronger than the first. Still, both were better than a lot of other episodes, and hopefully they continue to improve. Especially if this is their last season, which is a possibility, as the show has not been renewed for next year yet.

First, the weak points, since most of them happened first. Just as Olivia (Isabella Rae Thomas) is getting settled into her new home, her biological brother Brian (Douglas Spain, Band of Brothers) shows up and wants custody of her. She hasn’t seen him in years and barely remembers him, but he is determined to have her in his home. This elicits a groan, and a thought of, is this really necessary? Scotty (Luke Macfarlane) and Kevin (Matthew Rhys) have been struggling to get a child for what seems like a very long time at this point, and now she’ll be taken away? After all, the court will likely rule for the blood relative over the adopted parents, right? It is easy to assume this is the end of the Olivia story.
Happily, because we don’t need more Scotty and Kevin pining over a child drama, it is not. Unhappily, this is accomplished by introduing Brian as a homophobic bigot.

The second this fact came to light, soon after we meet him, all tension goes away. Brothers & Sisters has been honored by gay rights organizations for good reason, and they cannot possibly slap their fans in the face by allowing a sweet little girl, who has had such a rough life, to end up in this idiot’s home. Once Brian tells Olivia he wants her to have no further contact with Kevin and Scotty, even though the Walkers are willing to include him in their family, despite his obvious flaws, for Olivia’s sake, Olivia’s decision is an easy one. She tells the judge, and Kevin and Scott get to keep their child.

Yes, this is a drama program, and so, by definition, there must be constant drama. But the show didn’t have to resort to such ugly, corny, unrealistic measures to keep things interesting before. The best dramas don’t let things seemed forced, as much of this season of Brothers & Sisters has. Making Olivia choose when things are almost finalized for her dads, and making the choice such an easy one, is an example of just how far the show has fallen.

Almost equally ridiculous is Sarah’s (Rachel Griffiths) attempts to get Seth (Ryan Devlin) back with Kitty (Calista Flockhart). Presumably, the characters on this show are smart. Sarah has run a business, and Kitty has been a pundit and a writer. They also have had to show great social skills in their jobs, so it’s more than just book smarts. Yet, neither seems to realize that Kitty should just come clean to Ryan, apologize, and see if he’s still interested in her. Instead, Sarah makes Kitty go to outrageous lengths to discredit Ryan’s new girlfriend, Berklee (Stephanie Lemelin, Young Justice, The Whole Truth), which makes as much a fool out of Kitty as it does Berklee.

An essential element of the show has always been that the Walkers get involved in each other’s lives, so that is not the complaint. It just seems like the writers are more willing to make the adults in the family childish in ways they didn’t used to be. It rings hollow, and makes them less likable and relatable. Instead of enjoying the story, it’s rough to get through. To save this series, take the characters back to who they used to be.

Berklee, herself, is ridiculous. The name, and its spelling, tell you everything you need to know about her. Considering that Seth was so recently with a woman like Kitty, it doesn’t seem at all in line with who he is that he would even waste time with Berklee. She is completely wrong for him, and Seth should have lost patience with her pretty quickly. True, he comes around by the end of the episode, but there, again, isn’t any tension that that’s what will happen. It would have been better to put Seth with a girl that he actually would have dated, and then there would be some threat to Kitty.

It’s worth wondering if the second hour is much better because of the absence of Olivia’s brother and Kitty, both weak primary stories in the first hour. Flockhart is on a reduced schedule this year, so she only does a certain number of episodes, and apparently the second part is one of her weeks to sit out. Olivia appears, but with no mention of her brother.

What is really frustrating is seeing Patricia Wettig’s name in the opening credits, and then not seeing her. It’s not hard to be a fan of Holly Harper, and she left the series recently. When her name ran across the screen, I hoped she’d returned, at least temporarily, but sadly, she has not. Just cleanup not yet done on the credits.

Now, the good story. It’s really nice to see Nora (Sally Field) have a love interest again. She’s had a number of great actors come in and out of her life, but none end up staying very long. Hopefully, that will not be the case with her latest, Brody (Beau Bridges). A high school sweetheart, he is the one that drifted away when her life went down another path. Brody really showed his feelings, sticking around to try to find ways to help Nora through the death of her mother.

The whole plot involving Ida’s (Marion Ross, not seen in this episode) death is handled very well. Each member of the family has different reactions owing to who they are and their relationship with the deceased. Appropriately, Nora and Saul (Ron Rifkin), Ida’s children, are affectected more stongly than her grandchildren. Both have major issues with their critical mother, yet, losing a parent is never easy. Nora copes by throwing herself into planning an event, the way she always does. Saul pulls away, regretting never telling his mother he is gay.

It seems like Saul has been held back by this secret for some time. Perhaps he cannot fully accept who he is until everyone in his life knows. While he never told Ida, a note she leaves him reveals she knew his secret, and accepted him. Soon after, Saul is able to more fully embrace his relationship with Jonathan (Richard Chamberlain), even talking about buying a house together. Saul’s acknowledgement of who he is has been a gradual process, but it seems like now that he is fully out, even his dead mother knowing, he can move forward a bit faster.

Justin (Dave Annable) is the lone grandchild that takes Ida’s death hard, but that is because he is in a retrospective mood about his own life. About to turn thirty, divorced, Justin is seeking direction.

While his career is going well, he feels lacking. As Ida never remarried, despite long out living her husband, Justin worries he won’t be able to move on either. It’s easy to overread into things in such a situation, and Justin does. Luckily, Justin has siblings to get him back on track. In this instance, their involvement is a good thing.

The show also stars Gilles Marini as Luc, who is consistently the best written character currently on the show. He feels real, and doesn’t manufacture drama where there shouldn’t be any.

Brothers & Sisters continues, through at least the rest of this year, and airs Sunday nights at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.
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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com