In a TV season of serial overkill, among the few survivors were the continuing hit Grey’s Anatomy, the rookies Brothers & Sisters and the unlikely superheroes-in-plainclothes saga of NBC’s Heroes – a look at things might be if ordinary people around the world suddenly gained extraordinary abilities – and Charmed came to a much better than expected conclusion. The second season of Bones continued to produce standalone eps that featured continuing character arcs. One unexpected success: the unkempt sitcom, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, an unfunny collection of highly disreputable characters who offer little opportunity for an audience to relate to any one of them.
Grey’s Anatomy: Season Three
Season three wasn’t the best for Grey’s Anatomy as complications arose both in front of and behind the cameras. Probably the biggest success for the season was the introduction of Jane Doe [Elizabeth Reaser], a pregnant woman who had been injured in a ferry accident – and oddly enough, the two-parter that covered the ferry incident was as up and down as the season itself.
While the surgeons at Seattle Grace struggled to keep Meredith [Ellen Pompeo] alive, Dr. Alex Karev [Justin Chambers] was showing his bedside manner as he became wrapped up in helping the badly injured Jane Doe. Other problems included George’s [T.R. Knight] marriage to Callie [Sara Ramirez] – or rather Izzy Stevens’ [Katherine Heigl] perception that it was a Bad Idea; Head of surgery Dr. Webber’s [James Pickens Jr.] disintegrating marriage, and Dr. Addison Shepherd [Kate Walsh] discovering she was unable to have children. Not to mention the backdoor pilot for a spin-off starring Walsh…
And that doesn’t even take into consideration Christina’s [Sandra Oh] efforts to cover up her fiancée, Dr. Preston Burke’s [Isaiah Washington] bad hand; a girl [Abigail Breslin] who thinks she’s a superhero, and George’s dad’s battle with cancer. For all its ups and downs, the series had more going on than almost any other show on television [possibly excepting Heroes and Lost].
Despite uneven writing [Izzy’s oddly paced recovery from Denny’s death; Addison losing every ounce of her wit and charm in that backdoor pilot, etc.], the cast continued to shine – especially Chandra Wilson as Dr. Miranda “The Nazi” Bailey, whose efforts to become head of residents didn’t quite work out. Overall, the series’ twenty-five episodes still managed to average out more quality entertainment than most of the rest of the year’s network offerings.
Before we get into extras, it’s pet peeve time. Once again, Buena Vista has chosen to go with the unwieldly [cumbersome as hell] fold-out package. My review copy arrived with no fewer than three loose discs and it’s a miracle that they all play – though one was scuffed up pretty good]. Also, the enclosed booklet listed the eps, but did not say which ones had commentary tracks, or which ones were extended. And if I see the phrase “…and more!” on one of these booklets, I’m going to scream! The booklet is where ALL the details should be listed. Period!
Features: four Extended Episodes [Time Has Come Today, Wishin’ and Hopin’, and Desire] a mere three Audio Commentaries [Kate Walsh and Chandra Wilson on the extended time Has come Today; Ellen Pompeo and Kate Burton on the extended Wishin’ and Hopin’; Sandra Oh on Desire]; Making the Rounds With Patrick Dempsey [Dempsey discusses his love of auto racing]; Shades of Grey: One on One with Ellen Pompeo [Pompeo interview intercut with comments from cast and producers Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers]; Prescription For Success: Jane Doe Unmasked [Elizabeth Reaser interview inter cut with comments from cast and producers Rhimes & Beers]; Dissecting Grey’s Anatomy [nine deleted scenes]; Good Medicine [castmembers and producers choose their favorite episodes and give their reasons], and In Stitches [gag reel].
Grade: Grey’s Anatomy: The Complete Season Two – B
Grade: Features – A-
Final Grade: B+
Brothers & Sisters: The Complete First Season
This primetime soap opened with a pilot that was pretty average – though the cast took the various characters in the world of the Walker family and gave them enough extra pizzazz that they warranted further watching. The addition of Greg [Everwood] Berlanti as showrunner following the pilot, resulted in the show’s focus narrowing – dropping the TV political debate series and lessening emphasis on the family’s wine business to concentrate on the strong female characters.
With a cast that includes Sally Field [Nora Holden Walker], Calista Flockhart [Kitty Walker], Brenda Griffiths [Sara Walker Whedon], Ron Rifkin [Uncle Saul Holden], Dave Annable [Justin Walker], Balthazar Getty [Thomas Walker], Matthew Rhys [Kevin walker], Patricia Wettig [Holly Harper], Emily Van Camp [Rebecca Harper] and Rob Lowe [Senator Robert McCallister], the writing had to become great. Otherwise the cast would’ve been wasted.
The first season got off to a bang when the head of the Walker Clan, William Walker [Tom Skerritt] had a heart attack, fell into the pool and died right in front of granddaughter Paige [Kerris Lilla Dorsey]. That led to trauma on a number of fronts including at the Ojai Winery, where the pension fund seemed to have gone missing.
Then there was the revelation that William had been having an affair for the last twenty-three years [with Holly] and had a daughter by her [Rebecca]. When the missing pension fund turned up, it was in the form of apparently worthless land. And so on, and so forth…
Once the season got past the family business troubles and introduced Sen. McCallister to whick Kitty away from the TV show, the series blossomed. We learned about Kevin’s dependency problems [addicted to drugs while in Afghanistan – and ordered to return for another tour of duty]; Kitty’s commitment issues; problems that arose in Sarah’s marriage [to Joe, played by John Pyper-Ferguson]; Paige’s diabetes; Nora’s dating [including terrific guest stints by Treat Williams and Peter Coyote], and the proverbial much, much more.
The family dynamic was loud and unrestrained – leading to a hilarious scene in one of Kevin’s group therapy sessions – generally reminding most viewers of aspects of their own families. It was that identification [even though we don’t all come from rich, Southern California families] that boosted the show’s ratings to minor hit status.
Features include: four Audio Commentaries [Creator Jon robin Baitz, Craig Wright, Patricia Wettig and Matthew Rhys on Affairs of State; Baitz, David Marshall Grant and Molly Newman on Northern Exposure; Alison Shapker, Monica Breen, Dave Annable and Emily Van Camp on The Other Walker, and Ken Olin, Sarah Caplan and Balthazar Getty on Matriarchy]; The Walker Family Tree [the creation of the series]; Behind the Scenes With The Brothers [Annable, Getty and Rhys terrorize the set]; Missing Episode [the original second episode, with intro by Baitz], and Bloopers & Outtakes.
Grade: Brothers & Sisters: The Complete First Season – B
Grade: Features – A-
Final Grade: B+
Bones: Season Two
The second season of the procedural series, Bones, based on the mysteries by Kathy Reichs, carried on in pretty much the same way in season two – mysteries that required the attention of Dr, Temperance Brennan [Emily Deschanel], her partner, FBI Special Agent Seely Booth [David Boreanaz] and Brennan’s team of “squints” – Zack Addy [Eric Millegan], Dr. Jack Hodgins [T.J. Thyne] and Angela Montenegro [Michaela Conlon]. The big chance was the disappearance of boss, Dr. Daniel Goodman and the arrival of his successor, Dr. Camille Saroyan [Tamara Taylor].
Tempe and her new boss immediately clashed as each attempted to impose her operating procedures on the other. To make matters worse, Camille and Booth had a history – that flared up during the season! On the plus side of the ledger, the writers had noticed the chemistry between Conlin and Thyne and began writing a romance between Hodgins and Angela – a romance that helped compensate for the sexual tension between Tempe and Booth.
While the gang had their share of weird cases [bones that glowed in the dark in The bones That glowed in the Old Stone House; a pretty much dissolved body in The Truth in the Lye, and a serial killer who uses Tempe’s mysteries as the template for his kills in The bodies in the Book], as much attention was paid to the lives of the characters.
Zack’s thesis defense gained him his PhD; Tempe was romanced by a swashbuckling FBI Agent named Sully; Hodgins proposed to Angela [more than once], and Tempe’s father [Ryan O’Neal] reappeared – leading to a posthumous encounter with her mother! It would’ve probably been a successful season there, but a wedding that wasn’t and the return of a murderer from season one also added to the fun.
The series continued to excel at character while becoming one of the most accurate forensic shows on TV [even the Angelator – check out the series, I’m not explaining here – is real!]. The result was one of the best hours of pure entertainment [as long as you weren’t eating at the time] on TV.
Features include: two [!] Audio Commentaries [Deschanel, Director Caleb Deschanel and Executive Producer Stephen Nathan on The Glowing Bones in the Old Stone House, and Series Creator Hart Hanson and Executive Producers Barry Josephson and Stephen Nathan on Stargazer in a Puddle]; The Memories of the Season [favorite moments picked by cast and crew]; Visual Effects: The Digital Illusions of Bones; Deleted Scenes [with Optional Commentary by Josephson and Nathan], and a Gag Reel.
Grade: Bones: Season Two – B+
Grade: Features: B
Final Grade: B
Charmed: The Final Season
The eighth and final season of Charmed had two huge obstacles before a sec of footage was shot: the budget had been cut drastically, and the network had ordered the show’s producers to add some new characters. Given that show had been slowly sinking into the mire of the terminally camp ever since the introduction of The Evil Three [brothers who were the Charmed Ones’ evil counterparts] late in season two, one might have thought the show could had finally gotten its proverbial last straw.
Oddly enough, The introduction of Billie Jenkins [Kaley Cuoco] as a young witch whom the Halliwell sisters mentored and helped to find her missing sister [Christy, played by Marnette Patterson] was one of surprising drama – even almost recapturing that dark undercurrent that made the first two season so good.
Over the course of the season, the Jenkins sisters were manipulated by the demon Dumain [Witchblade’s Anthony Cistaro] into believing that the Halliwell sisters had gone over to the dark side and had to be killed. A number of elements were introduced that might have resulted in a spin-off [like the Halliwell boys, Chris and Wyatt], but there was no doubt – ratings-wise – that it was time to go. Thus, the machinations of Dumain and The Triad [the triple personification of evil] finally led to a showdown between the Jenkins and Halliwell sisters with explosive results.
Probably the best season since season two, the final season of Charmed was darker, deeper and, at the same, more fun than many of the previous seasons. The writing, if not spectacular, was above average; the performances were surprisingly good [though Cuoco let the side down a few times – especially in the finale], and the effects didn’t look any less expensive [though they were used a good deal more judiciously].
And after a good, solid final season, the series’ writers showed that they understood what “a Valentine to our fans” meant, with an episode that tied up loose ends and gave pretty everyone who deserved it their happy ending [yeah, it got a bit cloying, but it was earned!].
Features include: three Audio Commentaries [Executive Producers Brad Kern and James L. Conway and Kaley Cuoco on Still charmed and Kicking; Kern, Co-Producer/Writer Cameron Litvack and Brian Krause on Vaya Con Leos, and Kern and Conway on Forever Charmed]; The Making of Charmed; The Story of Charmed: Genesis; The Story of Charmed: Charmed Again; To The Manor Born, and Forever Charmed.
Grade: Charmed: The Final Season – B-
Grade: Features – B
Final Grade: B–
Heroes: Season 1
Not many series can carry a regular and recurring cast that numbers a dozen or more. Lost has done it, but in a far different setting than Heroes. Where the Losties are stuck on a mysterious island, the characters of Heroes span the globe and bringing them together at the right time took an unusual new form of storytelling – a kind of inverse spiraling of character arcs that began in a wide swoop at the beginning until the spiral closed in on itself for the first season’s bang-up finale.
The conceit of the series – which was created by Crossing Jordan’s Tim Kring, a non-comics fan – was that ordinary people [a politician, a cheerleader, a male nurse, a junkie artist, etc.] would discover that they had incredible powers. Even cooler, the powers were related to the their personalities and situations. Thus, the teenaged cheerleader becomes indestructible [and what kid doesn’t think they’re immortal?]; a politician with lofty ambitions gains the power of flight; a beat cop who really wants to become a detective discovers that he can read minds; a bored-to-tears Japanese salaryman gains control over space and time, and so on.
Naturally, if you’re going to give random people superpowers, then you’re pretty much obliged to give them a super nemesis – an archenemy – and Kring and his creative team came up with a beauty. Sylar [Zachary Quinto] is a serial killer who takes the brains of his superpowered victims and, in some unknown way, assimilates their abilities. Then, just to really spice things up, we are given glimpses into his life that explain [to some degree] why he is the way he is.
Tying everything together is an Indian university professor, Dr. Mohinder Suresh [Sendhil Ramamurthy], a genetics specialist who is following in his father’s footsteps after he learns his father has been murdered. The senior Suresh had found a way to plot where certain genetic changes might have taken place, which leads the young Suresh to New York to begin his search.
Over the course of the season, Hiro Nakamura [Masi Oka], the Japanese salaryman, Claire Bennet [Hayden Panetierre], the Odessa, Texas cheerleader, Matt Parkman [Greg Grunberg], the telepathic beat cop, Niki Sanders [Ali Larter], the single mom who needs a lot of strength to get through the day, and the rest come together – aided by Suresh and their own need to figure out why they’ve got these unusual abilities.
Through the paintings of Isaac Mendez [Santiago Cabrera], and a mistaken trip into the future by Hiro, we learn that New York is going to be destroyed by a nuclear explosion in just a few months. Tied into the story from the New York end are brothers Nathan [Adrian Pasdar] and Peter Petrelli [Milo Ventimiglia] – Nathan being the flight capable politician and Peter something else, again. And we haven’t gotten to D.L. Hawkins [Leonard Roberts], the prison inmate who develops the ability to pass through solid objects [like prison walls], or Micah Sanders [Noah Gray-Cabey], Niki’s son – and a computer whiz kid who can persuade machinery to do as he asks.
Then there’s the layer created by The Company, which has a plan to create world peace – a plan that requires New York be nuked! Their most noticeable agent is Claire’s father, referred to throughout as either Mr. Bennet [Jack Coleman], or HRG [for his horn-rimmed glasses]. Another Company man is The Haitian [Jimmy Jean-Louis], who has two powers that work together.
Yet another layer is added by friends and family members – like Hiro’s friend Ando [James Kyson Lee] and the Bennet family, mom Sandra [Ashley Crow], who breeds show dogs, and younger son Lyle [Randall Bentley], the thorn in Claire’s side. As the season progresses, each plays their part and the result is that every character on the show becomes fully realized.
Heroes is a wildly imagined series, whose detailed characters set the stage for their powers, not the other way around. Because the series is about character first, the powers become just one aspect of the Heroes. Even in the battle royale in the season finale, the use of their powers comes from the characters, as a part of who they are and the events and choices that have brought them to that point in their lives. It really is masterful storytelling.
Features include: the 73-minute Unaired Pilot; Audi Commentaries on the Unaired Pilot and the last twelve episodes of the season; 50 Deleted Scenes; Mind Reader Game [can you beat the game?]; Making Of [a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Heroes]; Special Effects [various CG artists show us how various cool effects were done]; The Stunts; Profile of Artist Tim Sale [how the colorblind comics artist create those wonderful paintings]; The Score [created by the same Wendy and Lisa who played in Prince’s band in the eighties].
Grade: Heroes: Season 1 – A
Grade: Features – A+
Final Grade: A
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Seasons 1 & 2
When Married… with Children was running, it drew a large audience because the dysfunctional Bundy family really loved each somewhere under all that mess. Even so, they were a pretty repulsive lot; maybe the most repulsive cast of series regulars until It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia came upon the scene.
The series is about four friends who run a [very] seedy bar, Paddy’s Pub, in a less-than-savory part of the city of Brotherly Love. Mac [Rob McElhenny], Charlie [Charlie Day], Dennis Glenn Howerton], and his sister, Sweet Dee [Kaitlin Olson] are, collectively, twice as rude as the Bundys on their all-time worst day.
If Charlie isn’t scamming sympathy [and goodies] by pretending to have cancer [Charlie Has Cancer], then Mac is banging Dennis’ mom [Mac Bangs Dennis’ Mom]. If Dennis isn’t being forced to take a beautiful girl to her prom – or she’ll tell the cops he’s serving minors at Paddy’s [Underage Drinking: A National Concern], then Mac and Dennis are paying a cute waitress from a deli down the street to have sex with Charlie [the b-plot for Charlie Has Cancer].
When Danny DeVito’s Frank [Dennis and Dee’s dad] joins the show in season two, things go from bad to worse. He puts Charlie in charge of the pub and Dennis and Dee are forced to do reprehensible things to get the situation back to normal.
Frank also fancies himself a bit of a ladies’ man – and has sex with that waitress – who does it to punish Dennis for not finding her hotter than a couple of much older women [she’s totally misread the situation, of course, but she still stoops to nasty behavior, rather than thinking about… oh, say… talking to Dennis]. So even the recurring characters are despicable –there is not one character who can even charitably be related to.
Sadly, the show is getting decent enough ratings to survive. I would have thought it to be even below the lowest common denominator. Apparently, I was wrong.
Features [if you want to call them that]: Audio Commentaries [Mac Bangs Dennis’ Mom, Hundred Dollar Baby]; Scenes From the Original Pilot; Sunny Side Up [Making Of featurette]; Kaitlin Audition Featurette; The Gang F*#!S Up [Gag Reel], and Fox Movie Channel Presents Making a Scene: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
Grade: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – D
Grade: Features – B
Final Grade: D+
Review Posted by Sheldon Wiebe
Originally Posted on 09/26/07