Culture > Television

Family feud

Television | Brothers & Sisters' rage does not a long-lasting drama make

Issue: "Can't run or hide," Oct. 14, 2006

Lack of cohesion means the new ABC drama, Brothers & Sisters (10:00 ET Sundays), lacks watchability except for certain scenes with Sally Field and Calista Flockhart. Campy nighttime soaps such as Dallas and Melrose Place were "destination" television for years, but Brothers & Sisters, if it fails to gel soon, probably won't last.

The show portrays a large family whose patriarch dies in the first episode. The shame-filled wife, sons, daughters, and grandchildren writhe in pain. Sally Field, as the mother/bereaved wife, bares shark-like fangs as she accuses her children of ungratefulness, wrongheaded politics, or whatever comes to mind whenever they fight. Which is nearly all the time.

A son who fought in Iraq comes back filled with rage. Within one night of his father's funeral, he's in jail. And when his mother, lawyer-brother, and conservative talk-show-host sister (Flockhart) drive there to spring him, he spews venom and ingratitude. When his mother and sister cry, he brightens and tells them not to be so serious. Within hours, he's confiding in Flockhart, as if he'd said none of the hateful things.

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The writers can't seem to decide what show they're crafting. It's hard to get a handle on what kind of people these characters might be. Is Sally Field's character meant to be a vindictive, fishwife mom? Or is she a sympathetic character when not grieving for her husband, dead only three weeks?

Will Flockhart's character morph into an Ann Coulter doppelgänger? So far her politics seem designed only to annoy her mother. Viewers will have to decide if the show is worth following to find out.


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