Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Certain shows you have to catch from the very first episode in order to get a handle on the plot. Others, you just need to hear the basic outline and you can hit the ground running.

'Supernatural' - two brothers go cross-country investigating the paranormal
'Law & Order' - murder is committed, cops investigate, ADAs prosecute

I think 'Runaway', one of the only new offerings on the new CW network, falls into that category. A guy is framed for a murder and he goes on the run with his family while he tries to clear his name.

David Bianculli of the New York Daily News had the greatest description for the show, pure Toobworld:

"The Fugitive... With Children"

And that's all I need to know about the show. I can now catch it at my leisure.

Sometimes you need to watch from the very beginning to get the best introduction to the characters, and I knew 'Brothers & Sisters' would be that type of show. I didn't have any real interest in watching it on a regular basis - soon enough 'The Dead Zone' and 'Entourage' would be back in that 10 PM Sunday timeslot. But as a caretaker for Toobworld, I want to try to at least sample every one of the new shows.

So I went into the pilot episode with no expectations, good or bad.

Boy, was I surprised by how involved I became with the Walker family in just one hour!

By the way, there will be a major spoiler discussed here by the end. Usually I just blather on with my discourse without regard to this, figuring that you'll know to stop reading. But this time it was a big surprise, so bleep off if you Tivo'd it for later.....

The one thing I did expect was that the hour would be given over to introductions to the five adult Walker siblings - 3 men and 2 women.

The guys got short-shrifted, I think. Kevin's a lawyer, and gay. Thomas is married (engaged?) and working in the family business (Ojai Foods, a produce distributor). He may also know more about his father's personal... affairs than he lets on. And the youngest brother is a drug and booze addled bleep-up who served in Afghanistan a few years ago and has been screwing up ever since. (Of the three, I think Justin was the best served of the brothers, intro-wise.)

I'm sure that as the series progresses, we'll learn more about the three sons.

This first time out, we learned more about the two sisters, Kitty in particular. She is the prodigal Walker, who had been living in NYC where she spouted her conservative views on her own satellite radio show. But now she was back in L.A. with a chance to work on national TV.

Calista Flockhart is playing Kitty, and Rachel Griffiths is playing her sister. It's nice to see that Griffiths' character will not be taking a back seat to Flockhart's when it comes to screen time. Although Kitty's relationship with their Mom (as played by Sally Field) has the emotional impact (and quite a wallop it is!), Griffiths has more irons in the fire when it comes to plotlines. She's having "marital problems", to the point where she and her husband are seeking counseling; she's found bookkeeping discrepancies at the family business; and she may revive an interracial affair that she once had with a former business associate. (Nice to see Michael Beach back in Toobworld.)

I think it says something about her character, however, that of the five kids, her name is the only one I can't remember. (I've since looked it up - it's Sarah.)

Jon Robin Baitz is the writer and executive producer (with Ken Olin), and where he's involved, you're sure to find Ron Rifkin as well, something of a lucky charm in Baitz's productions. And here he shows up as the brother to Sally Field's Nora Walker. (If I'm reading that family dynamic right - Griffiths calls him "Mister Uncle Saul", so the term "uncle" might be an honorific.) Saul Holden is deeply involved in the mystery of the missing funds at the family business, but he might have just been trying to cover up for the transgressions by William Walker, the patriarch of the family.

I mentioned Sally Field earlier. She was a last-minute replacement, as Betty Buckley played Nora Walker in the original version of the pilot. The re-shoot on her scenes gives the episode a choppy feel at some points, but they don't overshadow Ms. Fields' work in the role. Her big confrontation with Kitty is emotionally overwhelming, and as in real life nothing is resolved by the confrontation. It promises to rip out a few hearts in the audience in the coming episodes. (And credit must also go to Baitz for writing such a powerful scene as that.)

Okay, hereof comes it that I discuss the big spoiler. Flee if you must and abandon all hope of being surprised later ye who enter here.

I will admit that I might have given this show a pass entirely - the last time this type of series kept me hooked was when I caught 'thirtySOMETHING' in daily reruns on A&E back in the early 90s. (And the connection between that landmark series and 'Brothers & Sisters' extends beyond the involvement of Ken Olin as an exec producer. Olin's wife Patricia Wettig is in the cast as Holly Harper, a... friend of William Walker.)

But it was the promise of seeing Tom Skerritt as William Walker that got me to watch the pilot, so kudos to the producers on hiring him as a lure. I've been a big fan of Skerritt's since "M*A*S*H" and always felt he slipped off the radar between that and 'Alien'. I love the chance to see him in old TV shows like 'My Favorite Martian' and 'Picket Fences' remains one of my top five favorite shows from the 1990s.

As the debut of the series approached, I was puzzled by the lack of attention his involvement was getting. Rarely was there the print ad which featured him in the collection of cast pictures.

Now I know why.

According to the New York Times this morning, the re-shot opening of the episode was the big surprise to the TV critics who had seen the earlier version, and that doesn't even take into account the recasting of the mother character. But for the average audience member (which - at least in this respect - includes me), it was the ending that was the big surprise.

Here we go......

While William Walker is sitting with his young granddaughter by the pool to look at the constellations and planets (She sees him as Ares, the warrior.), he's slowly stricken with a heart attack and then falls into the pool after sending the little girl for help. Two of his sons dive in to retrieve him, but the previews for next Sunday give it all away - they were too late. William Walker passes away.

Let me just say at this point, God bless Tom Skerritt and I hope that in real life he's with us for quite some time. It's a testament to how well he keeps himself that I didn't believe it possible that a heart attack could fell his character, because he's such a robust man. Although I knew he had to be up there in age after watching his career all these years, it bowled me over to check his stats at the IMDb.com to find out that he's 73 years old!

Murray Slaughter: I hope I look that good when I'm his age.
Lou Grant: You kidding? You don't look that good now!
('The Mary Tyler Moore Show')

At first I was stunned that they would let such a vital, central character go like that. I could see how his recuperation from the heart attack could have led to so many different storylines, especially as his two main transgressions in life - the financial troubles and his extramarital affair - came out into the open. Another show would have probably gone for the difficulties between the Walker parents as they tried to confront and reconcile themselves to the revealed Truths.

But this show is 'Brothers & Sisters' and such a storyline doesn't belong in such a dynamic. This plot development will better serve the evolution of these five characters over the coming season.

And now, since this is "Inner Toob", here's the Toobworld aspect for the show.......

What a pleasant diversion this show is from all the forensic crime procedurals, the conspiracy-laden serials, the lawyer shows, and the medical dramas with over-the-top showstoppers (like bombs inside humans and cameras that climb inside the body). And it's not a cloying, feel-good family dynamic like 'Everwood' and '7th Heaven'. These people feel "real", as much as they can be in the TV Universe.

Sometimes it's just nice to have a show that you know fits into the TV Universe just as it is, without worrying about whether or not you have to shift it over to some other dimension because they have a different President in the Oval Office, or because the moon blew up.

So far, I see only two possibilities for specific attempts to link this show to others. First would be Ojai Foods, the family business. Perhaps at some point, the producers from some other show on ABC might allow an Ojai Foods delivery truck to be seen in the background of a scene in their show.

Secondly would be the TV network where it looks like Kitty Walker will be taking a job as their Ann Coulter (but without as much venom in her veins). I may have missed it in the dialogue (and I don't think it showed up on the placard that was created to trumpet her future employment there), but I don't think the name of the network was given. Personally, I'd like it to be ZNN, which would link the show to 'JAG', 'NCIS', 'First Monday', and '7 Days'.

I'm not sure how long I will stay with this series. As much as I enjoyed the pilot, it could be that the big dramatic conclusion for the hour is what hopped me up on coming back to visit the Walkers again in the future. I'll have to see how it goes.

But in the meantime, I think all concerned did a pretty good job in overcoming the bad buzz the show got, from reports of production hurdles during filming. We'll have to see if it pays off.....


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