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With the official start of the 2006-07 season less than three months away, the drumbeats have begun by the networks to tout their new comedies and dramas. What should you keep your eye out for? What should you avoid at all costs? While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we thought we'd spend the next month or so previewing what's in store for the upcoming season. Each day we'll look at one of the 39 new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot.
There's no particular order here, just whatever's next on the stack of tapes. So without further ado, here's today's entry:
BROTHERS & SISTERS (ABC)
(Sundays at 10:00/9:00c this fall)
The network's description: "The adult children of William Walker, along with their respective families, have gathered to celebrate Kitty's birthday. Little do they know that, on this day, their lives will take a dramatic turn. Kitty's radio success has led to a TV pundit job in Los Angeles, but her New York boyfriend just proposed. Down to earth Thomas has joined forces with his sister, Sarah, a high powered executive and mother of three, in an effort to fix the family business. Kevin's well-ordered life is shaken by the news that his ex-wife is moving his adolescent son to Texas. Justin, a Gulf War vet, has kicked nicotine, but other addictions keep him from moving forward in his career and love life. These siblings are about to find out that underneath the idyllic family fagade lie many secrets that threaten to either tear the family apart or bring them closer together. As told through the insightful eyes of the family's most outspoken and public sibling, Calista Flockhart ("Ally McBeal") stars alongside Rachel Griffiths ("Six Feet Under") and Ron Rifkin ("Alias") in this warm, humorous and relatable drama from producer Ken Olin ("Alias") and Jon Robin Baitz, one of Broadway's most prominent playwrights ("The Substance of Fire")."
What did they leave out: Betty Buckley, who played the clan's matriarch in the original pilot, has been replaced by Sally Field while Jonathan LaPaglia, originally one of the Walker children, has been bumped in favor of Matthew Rhys. The version screened featured the original actors.
The plot in a nutshell: New York-based conservative radio talk show host Kitty Walker (Calista Flockhart) is heading back to Los Angeles - home to her family's specialty foods business - for her birthday. And as she signs off before her break she gives us the rundown on the Walker clan - William (Tom Skerritt) is the mythical dad of times past, the conservative block whom Kitty is a chip off of; Nora (Betty Buckley) is William's steadfast wife; Thomas (Balthazar Getty) is the golden boy son who never left the family business; Sarah is the workaholic mom (Rachel Griffiths), fresh from the Fortune 500 world; Kevin (Jonathan LaPaglia) is an ambitious U.S. attorney and "the most outted man in the government"; and Justin (Dave Annable) is the troubled runt, still dealing with his time as a soldier in Afghanistan. Together for the first time in what seems like ages, their various troubles start to come to light. William and his brother-in-law Saul (Ron Rifkin) are having trouble keeping the business afloat; Kitty has been offered a TV pundit job (opposite a guesting Peter Horton) in Los Angeles while boyfriend Jonathan (Dan Futterman) has proposed and wants her to stay in New York; Thomas struggles with hiding a loan he took to help save his wife's (Sarah Jane Morris) company; Sarah's marriage to Joe (John Pyper-Ferguson) has hit a rough patch as they deal with their autistic son (Jimmy "Jax" Pinchak); Kevin's son from his pre-coming out days is about to move to Texas and likely out of his life forever; and Justin can't seem to get on the path to normalcy. All of said foibles however take a back seat when William dies of a heart attack shortly after Kitty's birthday dinner. A bittersweet funeral later - which is attended by a mysterious woman (Patricia Wettig) - life must go on for the Walker family. Sarah starts to sniff around the company's shady dealings - much to Thomas and Saul's chagrin; Kevin decides he's going to fight for his son; and Justin makes an effort to restart his life. The biggest change however comes from Kitty who - thanks to a birthday note from dad - decides to make the leap and come home for good.
What works: It's about as impressively cast and lovingly shot as any pilot this season but...
What doesn't: ...damn is this show depressing. Nearly every character operates with the world on their shoulders and rarely does anyone crack a smile. Even before William's death there's just a black cloud hovering over everyone, as only during Kitty's birthday dinner - in which they share cute stories about her youth - do you get the sense that there's any room for happiness inside them. And while said tone is certainly realistic, one can't help as a TV viewer but be turned off by such doom and gloom. It also makes one wonder why ABC scheduled it after "Desperate Housewives," which is about as tonally opposite as you can get from this show. The decision to recast Buckley and LaPaglia is also somewhat head scratching - the latter in particular. Kevin is by far the most likeable character on the show, in no small part due to LaPaglia's performance. Overall, there's no doubt this is a well-done show - just not my ideal way of spending a Sunday evening.
The challenges ahead: Can ABC retain its Sunday crown without "Grey's Anatomy" and against a transplanted "Without a Trace?"