I put off watching ABC’s Brothers & Sisters when it first returned to the air this fall. I didn’t do that because I don’t like the show. On the contrary, I love it. But the events that unfolded at the end of last season, combined with known casting changes, made the thought of what the new episodes would be tough to stomach. I finally watched the first four hours, and it was as hard as I thought it would be.
I was fully invested in Rebecca (Emily VanCamp) and Justin (Dave Annable) as a couple. They thought they were siblings for awhile, but ever since then, I didn’t understand why their romantic plot had to be so rocky. They were perfect for each other, the attraction was obvious, and it took far too long for them to walk down the aisle. I was mad as hell that VanCamp decided to quit the show then, effectively forcing the writers to end something that had been so long in building. Rebecca’s recent two-episode return helped with some closure, and certainly, her leaving for a job in New York to help her grow that way that Justin had makes sense. It was tied up as nicely as possible. However, I would feel much better about the whole thing if VanCamp remained in the cast, with a promise that she would return and they would end up together. I won’t rule it out, especially if the show ends in the next season or two, but it is far from a sure thing.
Similarly, I loved Kitty (Calista Flockhart) and Robert (Rob Lowe) as a couple. Between his heart attack, her cancer, and her emotional affair, I was livid with all of the troubles their marriage kept going through. Yes, I know to keep TV interesting, things have to happen. But for the McCallisters, it just seemed so much more than necessary. Lowe’s decision to leave the series, coming after Flockhart’s desire for a limited number of episodes this year, pushed them apart permanently. In this case, the writers chose death. Why, I do not know, as if Kitty would only appear every so often anyway, Robert could appear even less. He could leave the show, but still be her husband. I’m happy that Lowe has already signed on full-time for the upcoming season of Parks and Recreation, but he couldn’t even come back and lie in the bed for the first episode, until Kitty pulled the plug? It left his death a much-less emotionally moving thing than it should have been. Not to mention, with both of their prior health problems, death felt like a huge cheat.
Also, Tommy Walker (Balthazar Getty), who had appeared so infrequently, was dropped from the cast. I wish I could say that his gradual fading out made it easier, but it didn’t. It’s not the same to have the Walker family down a sibling. Sure, plenty of families have their black sheep, but the Walkers would want to keep theirs close, not let him leave.
Can the show recover from such monumental shifts? I’m sure it can, if these past weeks are any indication. I found it physically painful to watch, especially the season premiere. My gut ached. However, the characters that remain still shine. I remember how furious I was that Sarah’s (Rachel Griffiths) husband Joe (John Pyper-Ferguson) was gone after season one, but I’m glad that she is now in a long-term relationship with Luc (Gilles Marini, the only new full-time cast member). It will be an adjustment, and I can’t remember a show that dropped such a heavy burden on the viewer all at once before. That may have been why a shortened season was ordered this year. But additional episodes have already been picked up, as the Walkers slowly go back to normal, so will the show.
As I mentioned, Luc is now a main character. I wish they would do the same for David (Ken Olin). Obviously he is going to be in the picture for awhile to come with his position as Holly’s (Patricia Wettig) condition. I hoped awfully hard all summer that Holly would return full-time, and I am gratified to see that it is so, though she’s worse for the wear. I understand why Rebecca leaving might help her, but hopefully Justin will maintain what he is building with his now ex-mother-in-law, as it’s such a moving story. I think that he will, based on the characters.
The silver lining I see in all of this is perhaps Saul (Ron Rifkin) will finally get more screen time. As the uncle, he was always pushed into the background, and for four years hasn’t had a great deal to do. He’d get expanded plot for a few weeks, and then fade into the background again. His dating life has been front and center lately, though I’m still just waiting for that to be it from him for awhile. I sincerely hope it is not, and his opening a restaurant with Scotty (Luke Macfarlane) may be a sign that the producers are also leaning in that direction.
Brothers & Sisters airs Sunday nights on ABC at 10pm.