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Brothers and Sisters: The Complete Second Season (2007-2008)

ABC Studios
DVD Released: 9/23/2008

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/15/2008

Soap operas have been a staple of television from the get-go. While there were TV dramas shown at night, true soaps were usually relegated to the daytime. This all changed in 1978 with a little show called Dallas, which totally changed the rules. Dallas and Dynasty, which came along three years later, incorporated the standard soap opera stories of scandal and intrigue, but took it to a new level of depravity and insanity. These shows have persisted over the years, and we've reached a point to where there are shows which intentionally heighten the shenanigans, such as Desperate Housewives. Have we reached a point where there can't be serious dramatic shows? The answer is no, as proven by the prime-time drama, Brothers and Sisters.

Brothers and Sisters tells the story of the Walker family, who live in Los Angeles. William Walker (Tom Skerritt) has built a successful food distribution company, known as Ojai Foods, and he has a great life with his wife, Nora (Sally Field). They have five children; Sarah (Rachel Griffiths) and Tommy (Balthazar Getty), both of whom work at Ojai; Kevin (Matthew Rhys), who is a lawyer; Kitty (Calista Flockhart), who works in politics; and Justin (Dave Annable), who has a history of substance abuse, and who has served in Iraq. William runs Ojai with Nora's brother, Saul (Ron Rifkin), serving as a financial advisor. Yes, the Walker's are the epitome of the American family, until tragedy strikes. When William dies unexpectedly, the Walkers learn that all isn't as it seemed. Not only does Nora learn that Ojai is in financial trouble, she discovers that William had an affair with an actress named Holly Harper (Patricia Wettig). As if this weren't enough, Nora also learns that William may be the father of Holly's daughter, Rebecca (Emily VanCamp). These events could have destroyed The Walkers, but instead, it brings them closer together. Kitty, who has been away in New York (following a fight with Nora) comes home, and Nora even goes as far as attempting to make Rebecca part of the group.

Season 2 sees a continuation of this American saga. Kitty began working for Senatorial candidate Robert McAllister (Rob Lowe), and their business relationship turned into a personal one. They are now engaged, and Kitty is planning the wedding and thinking about having kids. Justin was forced to return to Iraq, and upon returning home, fights to avoid old habits. Tommy makes the radical decision to leave Ojai and start a winery with Holly, leaving Sarah, who is dealing with a divorce, to save the company. Kevin, who finds himself trying to solve everyone else's problems, tries to find time for a relationship with Scotty (Luke Macfarlane). When another of Holly's old flames shows up, Rebecca becomes determined to learn who her real father is. And Nora, who is still struggling to keep the family together, realizes that she's being wooed by Robert's campaign advisor, Isaac.

Reading that overview of Seasons 1 and 2 of Brothers and Sisters, and seeing plotlines related to relationships, infidelity, and business dealings, one could easily assume that the show is just like any other prime-time soap. However, Brothers and Sisters has found a way to tell these stories in what I like to think of as a quiet way, and it's this subtle approach to the material which makes the show appealing.

The makers of Brothers and Sisters, which include Executive producer and thirtysomething vet Ken Olin, have taken all of the conventions of the prime-time drama and found a way to tell the stories in a more sophisticated way. Looking over the sub-plots for the series we have the stories set at Ojai Foods (which mirror the likes of Ewing Oil from Dallas or the winery from Falcon Crest), marriages falling apart, substance abuse, sexual orientation issues, back-stabbing, lying, and adultery. These are the basic tenets of the prime-time soap. But with Brothers and Sisters' low-key approach, we don't get overly steamy love scenes, explosions, cat-fights, or gun-play -- everything is nicely rooted in the real world, no matter how extreme the circumstances.

And it's this realistic approach which makes the show work. No matter what is happening on the show, the powers-that-be at Brothers and Sisters have wisely chosen to keep The Walker Family (and Nora) at the center of everything. While we may not be able to relate to being a part of a wealthy family which owns its own business, we can relate to the trials and tribulations of being a family and the importance of knowing that there is someone there upon whom you can rely. This stems from the fact that the show often puts the storylines in the background so that the characters have a chance to grow. Despite the fact that I always forget Tommy's name (I don't know why), I have a firm hold on what is happening with each character.

It's rare to find a show today which feels as if it's aimed at a mature (not old, but mature) audience. Brothers and Sisters eschews theatrics to focus on story and character. However, the show contains just enough spice to keep things from getting stale or boring.

Brothers and Sisters: The Complete Second Season has a family reunion on DVD courtesy of ABC Studios (which is distributed by Disney). This five-disc set contains all sixteen episodes from the show's second season. The episodes have been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image here is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. For some reason (atmosphere?), Brothers and Sisters is a very dark show, but the image is never overly dark here. The colors look fine and there's no video noise. The transfer rivals digital broadcast quality. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a quiet drama, this track doesn't feature any audio acrobatics. We get solid and audible dialogue from the center channel, some sporadic stereo effects, and the score sounds fine.

The Brothers and Sisters: The Complete Second Season DVD set contains a family of extras. There are AUDIO COMMENTARIES for three episodes; "Home Front" with Executive Producer Ken Olin and actors Patricia Wettig and Matthew Rhys (Disc 1); "36 Hours" with actors Dave Annable, Sarah Jane Morris and Emily VanCamp (Disc 2); and "Prior Commitments" with Executive Producer Monica Owusu-Breen and actors Matthew Rhys and Luke Macfarlane (Disc 4).

The remainder of the extras are found on Disc 5. The DVD contains seven DELETED SCENES which come from various episodes. "Guest Book" (14 minutes) examines the unique cast of guest stars who visited the shows like Danny Glover, Chevy Chase, Garry Marshall, and Steven Weber. Food stylist Jesse Sieben shows us how the food for the show is prepared in "TV Dinners: Food from Season 2" (6 minutes). The cast & crew also comment on how food is used for the show. "Open House: Designing the Brothers & Sisters Set" (10 minutes) allows production designer Denny Dugally and set decorator Bryan John Venegas an opportunity to explore and describe the sets for the Walker home, the winery, and the offices. The finale extra is a 4-minute reel of "Blooper & Outtakes".

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long