Premierewatch: 'Brothers & Sisters'

Sallyfield_brothersandsisters_s2_24Welcome to another season of America's Chattiest WASPs, or as ABC insists on calling it, Brothers & Sisters.

My appreciation for this series grew by leaps over the course of last season; by the end of the year it was one of the more confident and consistently watchable dramas on network TV. But one thing has always really puzzled me.

Wikipedia tells me that the Walker family is of "Irish-Jewish heritage," but I've never read them as anything but WASPs. Between the passive-aggressiveness (see Kitty's reaction to Rebecca taking her room in Sunday's premiere) and the old-money suburban L.A. setting (and, frankly, because I'm one too), it just seemed to fit.

But my people, descended as they are from the ascetic Puritans, are also known for their reticence to talk about intimate matters. It's one of those things that is Simply Not Done. And yet Sunday, we see Sarah telling her brother about washing-machine sex and Kitty and Nora blowing up at one another in the bridal salon. What would the Junior League ladies say?

Of course, if they were more buttoned-up, the show wouldn't be nearly as interesting to watch. And as usual Sunday, that tendency toward too much information let Brothers & Sisters ping from comedy to pettiness to some genuine drama without straining.

(Preamble now finished, here come the spoilers).

We begin this season a year after the pilot, with Kitty about to celebrate a birthday, which also coincides with the anniversary of her father's death. The birthday brings the family together, with all the attendant chaos that entails, but there's something else hanging over the family, and especially Nora -- Justin's status in Iraq.

Now, in at least one respect Justin's fate is false drama -- Dave Annable is still a regular on the series, and the producers have talked some about their plans for the character. Yet by leaving him offscreen for the entire episode and offering only sketchy accounts -- via some string-pulling by Sen. McCallister -- of his fate near episode's end, the show has opened up a number of potential avenues to explore: Was Justin wounded? What kind of toll will it take on him mentally? Justin will be back, but it's a safe bet he won't be the same.

Calistaflockhart2_brothersandsisterAs for the rest of the family: Kitty, on the campaign trail with her fiance, is annoyed that she's getting lobbed wedding-dress questions instead of being asked about policy matters. Nora's angry at Kitty for (as she perceives) talking about Justin when reporters bring it up. Sarah and Joe are still dealing with their separation, and she with the catty moms at the park, when they break some of the tension on the washing machine.

Tommy is trying to be superdad for Julia, who's sunk into depression after the death of one of their twins at the end of last season. Kevin, self-absorbed as usual, is angry at Jason for accepting a role on Viva Laughlin a missionary post to Malaysia. Rebecca has moved in with Nora and stayed out of contact with her own mother, Holly, and Saul is still quietly grappling with issues of his own identity (Ron Rifkin had a quiet but very effective scene with Michael Nouri's Milo tonight).

As tends to happen with the Walkers, everything comes to a head, first with Kitty and Nora while Kitty's trying on wedding dresses. Their fight ends up on YouTube (and, of course, the scene does too), meaning more campaign agita for Kitty and presaging the full-on family meltdown at Kitty's birthday party, where a well-meaning Rebecca gets hosed by a flaky restaurant-hostess friend. Overheard conversations lead to hurt feelings and recriminations and lots of snapped-off dialogue, which the show has always done well and at which it continues to excel (Sally Field and Calista Flockhart knocked it out with their overtalking argument in the store).

And yet the show is also able to bring out a moment of real pathos, with Nora not wanting to stop moving after hearing that Justin's unit was hit and Kitty finally opening her father's last birthday gift. (I have to say, too, that Emily VanCamp is really holding her own with this cast. Really liked her closing video e-mail to Justin.)

It's good to see the show back in form right off the bat this season. I'm looking forward to Justin's return and seeing how America's most over-sharing family handles whatever else gets thrown their way.

How about you? What did you think of the season premiere?

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