Bros and SissesBrothers and Sisters: The Complete Third Season (2009, ABC/Buena Vista)
purchase from Amazon: DVD

ABC’s durable drama Brothers and Sisters hit some road bumps in its third season. After a standout second year in which the characters shaped into interesting people I wanted to follow each week, season three saw most of them become narcissistic navel gazers that were no fun to be around. Adding to the series’ woes were the supposed behind the scenes issues with star Balthazar Getty, leading to his character’s departure from the show. Still, the ship seemed to right itself by the season finale, leaving hope for the fourth season, premiering this fall.

Brothers and Sisters follows the many exploits of the Walker family, a large, wealthy California unit whose patriarch, William (played in flashbacks by Tom Skerritt) not only ran his food distribution company nearly into bankruptcy, but cheated on his wife with more than one woman. Williams’ wife is Nora, played with great energy and emotion by Sally Field. Her ability to make you cry and laugh with one look is one of the reasons Field is a Hollywood legend. Unfortunately, she can also become histrionic at times, which happens a little too much in season three. Nora’s character arc here includes opening a center for families dealing with cancer (which leads to romance with the center’s architect) and trying to draw William’s illegitimate son, Ryan (Luke Grimes), into her large brood. Ryan’s story is integral to the entire third season, as his character weaves into the lives of everyone. Despite Ryan’s unfortunate circumstances, including discovering that his mother has lied to him for 21 years and that the man raising him was not his biological father, the guy is a difficult character to like. It doesn’t help that Grimes portrays him as kind of creepy and sinister. Perhaps that was the intent, so that you don’t really trust him. And perhaps there was some subtext on the part of the writers that Ryan, despite his protests that he’ll never be anything like William Walker, is actually very much like the man he never knew.

When Ryan is not readily accepted by the rest of his newfound brothers and sisters (especially Dave Annable’s Justin), he cozies up with Patricia Wettig’s nasty Holly, William’s bitter ex-lover who has taken over the Walker business. Ryan also begins a friendship with Holly’s daughter, Emily Van Camp’s Rebecca (which leads to romance). Rebecca is in an odd place personally as she finds herself with a new father. For nearly two years, Rebecca was thought to be William’s daughter. In truth, she is the daughter of one of Holly’s old lover’s, David, played by Ken Olin. David is film director who returns to California to reenter the lives of Rebecca and Holly (which leads to romance). Olin’s presence on Brothers and Sisters is a wonderful addition to the show. His is one of the most natural, understated performances on television. It is a pleasure to watch.

Elsewhere on the Walker front, Justin and Rebecca began dating, somehow overcoming the ick factor of the fact that as of last season everyone thought they were siblings. But their relationship took some major hits once Rebecca began working for the Walker family business and brother Tommy (Getty) decided to use illegal tactis to try and get te company away from Tommy. Justin and Rebecca were shoved in the middle of this battle and it did not go well for them. Add to this the fact that Justin becomes a sponsor to a hot young alcoholic in his AA group and Rebecca gets jealous and that Justin is the only doesn’t trust Rebecca and it seems as if the relationship is doomed. Don’t worry, it isn’t (which leads to romance between the sheets for Justin and Rebecca). Annable and Van Camp have a great chemistry. Their playfulness and loving looks are quite convincing and you can’t help rooting for their love to work out.

Meanwhile sister Kitty (Calista Flockhart) and her husband, Robert (a great Rob Lowe) find their marriage coming to a crushing halt. After a failed vice-presidential bid, Robert’s promise to settle back into his senate seat and start a new family with Kitty is cast aside when he secretly decides to run for California governor. Robert makes a sudden shift from open communicator to deceiving manipulator in just a few episodes. Whatever noble qualities he exhibited in season 2 were discarded in favor of making him a stereotypical power hungry politician. I was disappointed by the new direction as the relationship between Robert and Kitty was touching and now it has become shrill.

Sarah (the brilliant Rachel Griffiths) spends the season trying to adjust to life as a divorced mother of two and trying to find some kind of occupation to fill the void in her life left there after she quit the family business.  Sarah begins working with a start-up Internet company (which leads to potential/unrequited romance).

Finally, Kevin (Matthew Rhys) and Scotty (Luke Macfarlane) settle in as married couple. If you ask me, these two guys are the most stable relationship on the series. Time and again, I’ll turn to my wife and say that Scotty is the best spouse on the show. Moreover, the way these two treat each other and appreciate how lucky they are to have each other is an example the rest of the characters on the show could follow, but all of us. Unlike so many of the characters on Brothers and Sisters, Kevin and Scotty actually communicate with each other. You’d think that the other Walkers would learn from their father’s example and try to be better people.

That leaves Balthazar Getty’s Tommy, who screws up everything in an attempt to get Walker Foods back from under the clutches of Holly. His attempt to right things is noble, but his cheating and backstabbing seemed completely out of character with everything established for Tommy up to this point. Moreover, the way he flees the country and ditches family, especially, ESPECIALLY after everything he and his forgiving wife, Julia (Sarah Jane Morris), went through to have a child, were unforgivable (not to mention lacking in any romance). Everything about Tommy’s third season story felt heavy handed, forced; it’s as if the writers knew that Getty’s days were numbered and did their best to make him as unlikable as possible so that he wouldn’t be missed. I’ll be curious to see if/when Tommy shows up in future episodes.

After watching the entire season three, I may sound overly critical of the direction Brothers and Sisters took. However, I still believe in this show. Because I expected so much after season two this step back in dramatic quality was a letdown. Brothers and Sisters is still one of the finest hours on television on a weekly basis. My hopes are that the producers will look back at what was so exceptional about season 2 and come back in full force for season four.

The DVD box includes several bonus features like bloopers and outtakes, audio commentaries and deleted scenes. Most interesting of the three featurettes is the one that focuses of Sally Field and Patricia Wettig as they discuss their careers in television.

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