Critic's Notebook: Strike and Life Goes On
Calista Flockhart, Dave Annable and Sally Field in Brothers & Sisters by Craig Sjodin/ABC
How's this for irony? All last week, trying not to get too depressed about what a protracted writers' strike might mean for the TV season and the industry at large, I was secretly looking forward to a weekend getaway: catching former
star Jennifer Garner's Broadway debut in a revival of
, opposite Kevin Kline and
's Daniel Sunjata. Unfortunately, my tickets were for Saturday night, by which time the stagehands' union had initiated their own sudden walkout and work stoppage.
At this rate, I might actually finish the book I've been reading since mid-October.
(Thankfully, I was lucky enough to catch Aaron Sorkin's new play,
The Farnsworth Invention
, before the strike. It was scheduled to have its official opening night later this week, but when it reopens, I predict a healthy run for this fascinating, entertaining play recounting the birth of television.)
While consumers of TV, movies and even theater wait for unions and producers to reach deals and get back to work (can it really be so hard?), we at least can lose ourselves in the fruits of the November sweeps, where nearly everything will remain fresh in first run for at least the next few weeks. Over the weekend, there was still plenty to enjoy. Among the highlights:
Brothers & Sisters
was a marvelous hour of confrontation, recrimination, revelation and healing. Intervention episodes in domestic dramas are often dynamite - remember the Salingers forcing a showdown with Bailey at the height of
Party of Five
? - and this was no exception, as drug-dependent Justin (the excellent Dave Annable) lashes out at all of his imperfect siblings, driving interlopers Rebecca and Holly out of the house, while mocking the wine-imbibing Walkers for their hypocrisy in ambushing him over his latest postwar-injury lapses. About 15 minutes into the episode, Justin finally caves, and the caretaking begins.
His brothers sit with him as he hits the first wall of detox. His mother Nora (the sublime Sally Field) puts a spot to his whining when he tries to manipulate her into letting him go outside for even a moment. And the morning after the all-nighter, Kitty (the quietly moving Calista Flockhart) realizes she can be warm and maternal as Justin finally falls asleep in her arms after she massages his scalp in a wonderfully big-sister way.
Justin's intervention becomes the catalyst for other major plot action. Tommy, exposed in his affair with his comely assistant, finally puts a stop to it, worried he was turning into a facsimile of his cheating father. Uncle Saul finally reveals to sister Nora that he'd been living a lie all of his life, that he had secretly been in love with a man.
The angst and drama ends with Justin and Nora sharing a quiet, funny moment while dangling their legs in the pool. I really hated for this hour to end.
Felt much the same way after Friday's episode of the seriously ratings-challenged
Friday Night Lights
, which is returning at last to top form as the major characters resettle in Dillon after ill-advised detours: Street and Riggins' Mexico adventure, Coach's college job. The coach is happy to be back home with his frazzled family (joined this week by the amusing Jessalyn Gilsig as Tami's free-spirited sister) but is now dealing most unhappily with very realistic financial pressures. He just found out he has returned to much less than his earlier salary, and now he's got to play athletic director at the school as well (his encounter with an indignant female coach was pricelessly funny;
glad Rosie O'Donnell passed on that one).
Meanwhile, Jason Street has an epiphany at his 19th-birthday party and decides to put old-football-hero Jason behind him and forge a new identity, even if it means quitting the coaching gig. The episode's biggest lump-in-the-throat moment comes as Jason levels with Coach Taylor and says he hoped he wasn't letting his mentor down. To which the Coach tells Jason, "You lift up everyone around you" and "I hope I didn't let you down."
In moments like these, you want to assure
Friday Night Lights
that it isn't letting us down either, even if we wish we'd never had to live through the whole Tyra-Landry murder affair. The way that was resolved this week, with Landry's dad (the powerful Glenn Morshower) torching Landry's car to destroy the evidence, again feels so at odds with the show's usual realism, but the genuine pain in the performances of Morshower and Jesse Plemons as Landry turns this sequence of a father risking everything to protect his son into searing drama.
Brothers & Sisters
, the final scene of
Friday Night Lights
was so touching and understated it reminds you just why so many of us continue to hold this show in such high regard. Riggins, currently banned from the team for his many lapses and absences, watches reformed juvy-delinquent Santiago haplessly practice football moves alone on the field. Riggins offers advice, at first peevishly but soon enthusiastically, as the love for the game once again kicks in. Before long, Smash and Saracen (not long ago at each other's throats, but life goes on) have plunged into this ad hoc practice, as Coach Taylor walks by, offering encouragement to the newbie while remaining firm that Riggins has a ways to go before he'll be back in uniform.
As Coach walks on, probably with more of a bounce in his step than he'd enjoyed all episode, a plane flies overhead, symbolizing the aching undercurrent of so many characters (including Tami and Jason Street in this episode alone) that a rich life awaits them outside of the stifling confines of Dillon, Texas. I figure our days are numbered when it comes to being invited back to the world of this show (and not just because of the strike), but for now the best news is that the sophomore-season hiccups appear to be mostly behind us.