Once and Again...Once Again
contributed by Elizabeth Eccher, Debbie Marshall and others
compiled by Sue Kaliski
This page contains current weekly articles/reviews/commentaries related to the show, cast, directors, etc. All similar writings from prior episodes will be found in Reviews Archives
Review of Once and Again second season DVD
by Lynette Rice
submitted by Brandon Ulman
ONCE AND AGAIN
THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON
Sela Ward, Billy Campbell
Unrated, 16 hrs., 31 mins.
2000-01 (Buena Vista)
As gorgeous as the first season was, "Once and Again" didn't really find its soul until the second year, when sexy divorces Lily (Ward) and Rick (Campbell) became engaged and began the delicate task of melding their two families. Ward, as usual, is luminescent, but it's the children -- played with extraordinary maturity by Evan Rachel Wood (Jessie), Julia Whelan (Grace), and Shane West (Eli) -- who best communicate the pain of divorce.
On the lone commentary (buried on disc 2), creators Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz talk about the episode "Food for Thought," which focuses on Jessie's eating disorder and costars Zwick as a shrink. Listening to the duo -- who, regrettably, have yet to put a new drama on the air since "Once" was canceled in 2002 -- articulate how "Once and Again" is a "show about discomfiture" is fun, but too often they reiterate what we already know: how lucky they were to assemble such an amazing cast. Perhaps they're saving up the bonus materials for the release of the third -- and, sadly, final -- season.
__Entertainment Weekly (August 26, 2005)
Thrills And Familiarity
By John C. Murray
CHANNEL Seven has been running the final series of Once and Again each weekday, buried at 2pm. The well is drying up and we're at the point of saying adieu to Chicago, the Manning and Semmler households and all who sailed in them.
We've seen much happen in the series' 63 episodes - the first hesitant contacts between separated Lily Manning (Sela Ward) and recently divorced Rick Semmler (Billy Campbell), the growth of their relationship and the ultimate blending of their lives into warm domesticity.
Producers Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick and their talented writers also peppered us with a swag of subplots along the way. Lily has to handle the irrational resentment of estranged husband Jake (Jeffrey Nordling) and Rick must deal with the cool, unforgiving attitude of ex-wife Karen (Susanna Thompson). There are the children, confused by their parents' behaviour: Lily's two daughters, Grace and Zoe (Julia Whelan and Meredith Deane); Rick's son and daughter, Eli and Jessie (Shane West and Evan Rachel Wood). And then there's Lily's unmarried sister, Judy Brooks (Marin Hinkle), and her on-again off- again affair with Sam Blue (Steven Weber), Rick's business partner.
It's a truism that popular culture depends on and gives pleasure through the warmth of the familiar and the thrill of novelty. This duality of the expected and the unexpected is the lifeblood of a domestic drama series such as Once and Again, whose writers exploit it with considerable skill. We take it as given, for instance, that the principals in the key narrative, Rick and Lily, love each other. Unless that's consistently true, the foundations of the series would collapse.
Yet against expectation, the episode titled "The Sex Show" focused on Rick's and Lily's uncertainty about their relationship - each believing that the other had lost interest and that their love was moribund. Inevitably, writer Emily Whitesell had to use the oh-so- American resolution "Can we talk about this?" But that's OK - drama needs speech to give public form to internal states; what counts is the quality of the speech created for the characters.
In this case, Rick and Lily opened their hearts - to their benefit and ours. An unexpected rift was identified and then repaired.
Once and Again regularly took banal situations (architect Rick's partner Sam finally committing himself to Judy Brooks, his paramour; the rivalry between Grace Manning and Jessie Semmler for the leading role in a school drama production); and through thoughtful writing and direction gave them substance.
For example, in the episode "Taking Sides" there was a striking sequence involving the most vulnerable character, Karen. Her emotional life is forever teetering on the edge, but something especially troubling is her conviction that she is losing a role in Eli's and particularly Jessie's lives.
Rick and Karen have shared joint custody of the kids since the divorce, Eli and Jessie regularly shuttling between Rick's and Lily's home and Karen's. But as the children grow older, Jessie prefers staying at Rick's and Lily's place in the company of her father and step-sisters, Grace and Zoe. Troubled, Karen arranges to spend an evening ice-skating with Jessie, with takeaway food to follow.
They agree on the day and time, but as Karen is eagerly preparing everything the phone rings. It's Jessie calling from Rick's and Lily's, to beg off - she has a big school assignment due the next day that she hasn't quite finished.
Though feigning willing acceptance, Karen is devastated. For her that one small event encapsulates how empty her life had become - divorced after 14 years, no partner, few friends, and now a daughter to whom she is becoming invisible. Sobbing, head buried in her hands, Karen sinks to the floor.
There's nothing special about any of it. Disappointment is endemic in the plots of family dramas, but here the sequence was lifted out of the ordinary by the force of Susanna Thompson's acting and a decision by director Mark Piznarski.
As we see Karen centre-screen, locked in the foetal position, the camera slowly tracks to the right. Its movement takes in a partition, the indistinct blackness of which occupies half the screen, obscuring most of Karen's body from sight.
She is lost in the dark. The totality of the sequence - the narrative context and location (Karen's empty house), the visual palette of Thompson's acting, the lighting, the camera movement - all embody the misery of loneliness.
Once and Again always held one's interest and frequently had real power. Maybe there were too many shots of eyes welling with tears, too heavy a trawling of female sensibilities (at times males could feel as uncomfortable as the guy stranded in the Myer lingerie department), and I long for a narrative where no one ever says, "I love you, honey." "I love you too, Mom."
But, all things considered, I keenly regret the passing of Once and Again. __ The Age /Australia (March 20, 2003)
TV Guide's Best of 2002
by Matt Roush
Most Missed Show: "This really was the show too few were watching. Any claims about a current "golden age" of TV drama ring a little hollow after the premature demise of ABC's wrenching saga about the triumphs and travails of the modern family. No series looked as deeply or as lovingly into the resilient human heart.__ tvguide.com (December 16, 2002)
Once and Again DVD review
By Jennifer Greer
TV's 'Once and Again' on DVD; This is the ultimate box set for Lifetime, Oxygen, and WE channel devotes - 21 episodes of "Once and Again" without commercials and without the week wait in between. The six-disc set contains the first season plus the pilot. "Once and Again" is the kind of show, like "thirtysomething," that people either love or hate. Not surprising, as it was created by the team that created both "thirtysomething" and "My So-Called Life." For those that liked any of those shows, this set, which contains the entire first season, will be a delight. I popped in the first few discs the other night just to remind myself of what happened in the first season. (The show was cancelled by ABC last spring after the third season). As the TV Guide review quoted on the box promised, I found the set "addictively emotional." Four hours later, I had re-watched about a third of the episodes. In retrospect, the first season probably was the best, before the writers reached into suicidal depression, anorexia, lesbianism and student-teacher lust in attempts to give depth to the characters in the last two seasons. The series chronicles newly separated mom Lily Manning (Sela Ward) and divorcee dad Rick Sammler's (Billy Campbell) second try at domestic bliss. Each brings the baggage to the relationship. Rick is escaping from a controlling ex-wife and a career that hasn't quite reached its potential; Lily is freshly wounded by a philandering husband and has just realized that she's always relied on men to support her. Add to the mix four children of divorce, two exes, a sister, a few business colleagues and a variety of friends and lovers of each, and you have the cast of "Once and Again." One bonus for "thirtysomething" fans is the return of the delightfully creepy ad exec Miles Drintell (David Clennon). In one particularly outstanding episode, evil Drintell tries to sever Rick from his business partner David (played by Todd Field, who directed last year's "In the Bedroom"). In Rick, Drintell has found a new Michael and attempts to manipulate him into dumping his Elliott. In the heat of one argument, David asks Rick: "You slept with Miles Drintell?" That line is worth the price of the boxed set alone. DVD extras: The lack of extras are quite a disappointment for fans of the show - no outtakes, no quizzes, no casting tapes, no extra scenes. The DVDs only feature two interactive choices: 1) an option to choose one episode to play at a time or to play the two to four episodes on each disc straight through, and 2) captions in English or no captions. And these choices are accompanied by an annoying opening and closing curtain that takes entirely too long and the Enya-esque show theme song playing incessantly. Episodes grade: A; extras grade: F; overall grade: B; __ Reno Gazette-Journal (Nov. 8, 2002)
By Lou Gaul
Finding an insightful adult-oriented series on television is almost as hard as spotting an AARP member at a "Jackass the Movie" screening.
When the talented team of Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick brought the 60-minute show "Now [ed. note--Once] and Again" (1999-2002) to ABC, they saw it as a sophisticated show that dealt with important issues--ranging from divorce to bulimia--faced by contemporary families. The critically acclaimed series, starring Sela Ward and Billy Campbell as two divorcees who forge a relationship and deal with the stresses and strains of having children and spouses from previous marriages, lacked ratings high enough to satisfy ABC executives, and the plugged was pulled.
Fortunately, "Once and Again" (Buena Vista; $59.99, DVD only) still lives thanks to a six-disc boxed set that contains the pilot episode and the complete first season. Although happy it exists in the DVD format, Herskovitz remains disappointed that "Once and Again" didn't continue so the writers could have tackled more complicated issues facing couples.
We always described 'Once and Again' as a series about blended families, which is something happening more and more in America," the 50-year-old writer/producer/director said during a telephone interview from his Los Angeles office. "When people get divorced, they don't suddenly lose contact with their ex-spouses and others who were previously parts of their lives."
"We took a year to get to the wedding (between Ward and Campbell's characters) just so we could lay a dramatic groundwork and allow viewers to fall in love with the main characters and the people around them."
"Once and Again" went off the air just a few months ago, but Herskovitz jumped at the opportunity to release the first season as quickly as possible on DVD.
"My feeling is why wait? The quicker we could get out "Once and Again" the better, because there's a lot of passion about this show from people who didn't want it to go off the air," he said. "We were very touched by all of the calls and letters, and one person even stopped Ed Zwick in a restaurant and said how an episode in which Karen (Susanna Thompson, who played Campbell's ex-wife) was hit by a car saved her daughter's life."
"The daughter was on the verge of suicide when she saw the episode, and the mother said that it affected her so much that she decided to speak with her parents and get into treatment for depression."
"When a show communicates with people on that level, it's very strong."
Herskovitz and Zwick previously enjoyed success with 'thirtysomething' (ABC; 1987-91), a timely series about young professionals--then dubbed "yuppies"-- adjusting to life as adults.
"People also were passionate about 'thirtysomething,' and I think that can be attributed to the fact that viewers had never seen a series that showed how people really spoke, dressed, adjusted to life as married people and handled troubled relationships," he said. "Like 'Once and Again,' that was a very personal show about life as I know it and see it."
"There have been discussions about a 'thirtysomething' reunion show, but the time for it seems to have passed us by. I'd like to see the series on DVD, but it's frustrating because the studio that owns the rights to 'thirtysomething' is reluctant to release it." __ www.phillyburbs.com (November 21, 2002)
Acclaimed TV lives again
"Sports Night," "Once and Again" and "Felicity" rescued from oblivion for old and new fans.BY BOB CURTRIGHT
Quality television is coming back to television -- in the form of DVDs, that is -- but I'll take it any way I can for three of my favorites in recent past years.
Out now are the complete series of the seriously under-rated "Sports Night" and the first seasons of both "Once and Again" and "Felicity" (Buena Vista: 6 discs each, $59.99 each).
[snip to O&A mention]
"Once and Again," which just ended its run last spring after five years, could have been called "fortysomething" or "My So- Called Second Time Around."
It's an intelligent, thoughtful, realistic, utterly romantic relationship drama with Emmy-winning Sela Ward and Billy Campbell as divorced single parents trying to dip their toes back into the dating pool.
They seem perfect for each other but life's little problems, including mouthy kids who are grossed out by the idea of old people enjoying themselves, conspire to keep them from happily ever after.
The series allows the blended families to grow emotionally as the kids grow physically, tackling difficult but everyday subjects from infidelity to death to homosexuality.
The beauty is that the show remains believable and human-scale rather than slipping into soap opera or burgeoning out of emotional control. It's a peek into real people's souls.__Wichita Eagle (November 15, 2002)
MY EMMY ADVICE Most nominations are well-deserved, but why ignore the 'Gilmore Girls'?
By Rick Kushman
[snipped to Once and Again mentions] "Six Feet Under," by the way, led all shows with 23 nominations, which, frankly, are too many. The series about a family in the funeral business is original, challenging and at times a clever look at human emotions. But it's also benefited from the HBO halo - HBO led all networks with 93 nominations.
"Six Feet Under" is a very good series, meticulously produced, terrifically acted and occasionally surprising. But you can feel the writers sweating to be quirky and you can see them pulling strings to manipulate viewers, which may be one reason the show did not get a writing nomination (voted on by academy members who write for TV).
Contrast it with ABC's softly spectacular "Once and Again," which was virtually ignored by Emmy voters, but is a much more real, much deeper and honest look at what makes families and people tick. Sadly, however, the now-canceled "Once and Again" was never showy, or show- offy as "Six Feet Under" can sometimes be, and Hollywood voters tend to go for big over subtle in all their awards. ...
Supporting actors and actress were generally predictable - lots of "Six Feet Under," lots of "The West Wing," too much "Will and Grace." But it was good to see voters recognize "Alias'" Victor Garber and "Malcolm in the Middle's" Bryan Cranston, one of the funniest men on TV. However, another strong contender for that title, "Scrubs'" brilliant John C. McGinley, was somehow ignored.
It's also hard to fathom how Emmy voters couldn't squeeze in "Once and Again's" Susanna Thompson or "ER's" Maura Tierney somewhere, or any cast members from HBO's stunning mini-series "Band of Brothers," although it did get 19 other nominations __ Sacramento Bee (July 22, 2002)
Missing the mark by a lot
HBO gets an outlandish 93 Emmy nominations, while excellent work elsewhere goes ignored. What's the television academy thinking?By David Hiltbrand
Who's been stuffing the Emmy ballot box?
Do the letters HBO ring a gong? How else do you explain the pay cable service's getting 93 nominations this week, more than ABC and Fox combined?
Don't get me wrong: I shell out for the service every month. But only so my teenage daughter can watch Miss Congeniality and Sister Act II to her heart's content. Yes, HBO has the best show on television, but The Sopranos isn't eligible for Emmy consideration this year because it hasn't had a fresh episode since Survivor was in Australia.
After that, the pickings at HBO get awfully irritating and precious, none more so than Six Feet Under. Somehow, this irksome chronicle of a dysfunctional family mortuary garnered 23 nominations, nearly eclipsing the Emmy record of 26 bestowed on Hill Street Blues in 1994.
Talk about overkill. Six Feet has two dogs in both of the hunts for lead drama-series actor and actress. You have to wonder if a certain voting bloc has been sniffing formaldehyde.
Meanwhile, the poor WB might as well be broadcasting in the Canary Islands. Gilmore Girls, Reba, 7th Heaven, Felicity and Smallville don't have a single significant nomination among them.
At least by pruning the perennials, the Emmys are trying to shake things up, to remove the stale aura of rerun that hangs over the annual shindig. Come Sept. 22, you won't see all the same old faces trotted out in the same categories. But Mr. Magoo could have done a better job of picking talent by throwing darts at a wall covered with actors' photos.
For drama-series actor, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences selected Peter Krause and Michael C. Hall of Six Feet Under, Michael Chiklis of The Shield, Martin Sheen of The West Wing, and Kiefer Sutherland of 24. Not bad. Except it manages to overlook all of the year's best performances: William Petersen (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation), Billy Campbell (Once and Again), Vincent D'Onofrio (Law & Order: Criminal Intent), Richard Dreyfuss (The Education of Max Bickford), and Simon Baker (The Guardian).
By what logic does Allison Janney get promoted to the category of lead drama-series actress? She won as a supporting actress the last two years, and her West Wing role was no bigger or more impressive in the most recent season. (Was anyone buying that romance with Mark Harmon's character?) And it's nice to see a fresh face like Jennifer Garner of Alias in this category, but not when it means leaving out Marg Helgenberger (CSI) and Sela Ward (Once and Again).
As far as comedy-series lead actor, Bernie Mac is a solid addition, and I'm glad to see Friends boys Matthew Perry and Matt LeBlanc, after years of supporting status, get bumped up to the adults' table. (How bad, by the way, must odd-man-out David Schwimmer be feeling? What is he - chopped liver?) And it's one thing to drop last year's winner, Eric McCormack of Will & Grace, but he was recruited to announce the nominees. In other words, he had to get up at 5 a.m. to reveal his own snubbing on national television. That's cold.
And if Sex and the City's Sarah Jessica Parker is a more deserving comic actress than Gilmore Girls' Lauren Graham, then duck and cover, because here come those flying pigs.
Usually this would be a forum to rail about Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Sarah Michelle Gellar being neglected by the Emmys yet again. Except Buffy had such a dull, dismal and dark season. Hey, wait a minute. Maybe Gellar got ripped off worse than usual. After all, that approach just vaulted Six Feet Under to the top of the heap. __ Philadelphia Inquirer (July 20, 2002)
Emmy Awards dig up some new nominees
BY MIKE DUFFY
Sidebar: OVERSIGHTS & OBSERVATIONS
Either "Alias" or the deeply compelling and now canceled ABC family drama "Once and Again" would have been a far better drama series nominee than "Law & Order," which has dropped off in consistent quality. The eleventh consecutive series nomination for "L&O" ties a record held by "Cheers" and "M*A*S*H." __ Detroit Free Press (July 19, 2002)
Welcome to the world, Emmy
By Robert Bianco, USA TODAY
It took the Emmys a while, but they've finally joined us in the new century. After years of churning out the same pro-forma list of nominees--ignoring new shows, rewarding shows that were long past their prime--the Emmy voters have suddenly awoken to a new world. Maybe instead of just sending them tapes, the networks finally sent them televisions, and a few of them actually watched.
Seldom has the list of nominees seen more shifts at the top. There are no best-series nods this year for former winners and perennial Emmy favorites The Practice, Frasier and ER — which couldn't even force out a nomination for Anthony Edwards, despite giving him a death scene that lasted longer than most series.
Before you give the voters too much credit, many of the changes result from two corresponding HBO factors. The ineligibility of The Sopranos cleared a lot of space, much of it filled by the vastly overrated and over-nominated Six Feet Under. Indeed, it says something about Hollywood taste that the quietly moving naturalism of the once-again snubbed Once and Again, a show exquisitely grounded in real life and real families, can't hope to compete with Under's gothic excess.
Still, let's hand it to the academy for getting some changes right. Friends finally got its just rewards, with nominations for Jennifer Aniston, Matt LeBlanc and (one of the list's biggest surprises) Matthew Perry. And it's simply good for television to see so many first-year shows break into the list, with series nominations for 24 and Curb Your Enthusiasm, and nods to such actors as Kiefer Sutherland, Bernie Mac, Jennifer Garner, Michael Chiklis and Victor Garber.
Not all of the changes were good. Dennis Franz is still one of the best actors on TV and Frasier one of the best sitcoms-- even in its less-than-peak state. And only the Emmys could snub Will & Grace's Eric McCormack when he's giving the show's one restrained performance. Next year, he might as well join his castmates and chomp on the scenery.
Of course, what would the Emmys be without odd omissions? Among series actors, the two worst oversights were Susanna Thompson from Once and Again (whose performance ranked with the best in any category) and Denis Leary of The Job. I also would have preferred to see some recognition for the casts of Gilmore Girls and Scrubs.
As for the long-form categories, Emmy's slavish fondness for movie stars left no room for anyone in the terrific ensemble of Band of Brothers or, inexcusably, for Hank Azaria of Uprising. For that matter, how anyone could vote for a laughable snooze like Dinotopia over Uprising is one of the year's great mysteries.
Still, when it comes to bad decisions, you have to give the voters credit for finding yet another way to snub Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We knew creator Joss Whedon's musical episode was a long shot in the writing categories, but who knew the voters also could avoid nominating it in the musical categories? It was a musical, people.
Oh, well. Maybe next century. __ USA Today (July 18, 2002)
By KEN PARISH PERKINS
Like any critic, I'm acutely aware of the subjective nature of my job. Unlike covering sports, where there are clear-cut winners (unless it's the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, I suppose), picking the best of TV is a matter of personal preference.
Take the Emmy Awards, for instance, whose nominees will be announced tomorrow. Emmy voters usually prefer to maintain the status quo, voting for the same old, same old. TV critics berate them for it, griping about who is nominated, who isn't, who should have been and who shouldn't have been.
I feel safe predicting that the durable but obviously faltering dramas ER, Law & Order and NYPD Blue will be among the nominees in the best drama category. And we ought to boycott, well, somebody, because a number of never-nominated shows and actors turned in to-die-for performances this season -- and that's no pun hinting that Six Feet Under ought to be a shoo-in as best drama. Or that Michael Chiklis turned in one of the top performances of any dramatic actor while romping through the FX rogue-cop drama The Shield.
Ballots for the Emmy Awards are being tallied as you read this. So it's too late to lobby for your favorites. But I do have my suggestions/predictions/pleas for shows and actors in the major categories.
This is a list of the shows and actors I'd nominate if I were king of the Emmys.
Clip this. And have a good laugh at my expense when Law & Order and ER and David Hyde Pierce show up on the list of nominees on Thursday morning.
[snip to Once and Again mentions]
Rachel Griffiths, Six Feet Under, HBO
Annie Potts, Any Day Now, Lifetime
Allison Janney, The West Wing, NBC
Sela Ward, Once and Again, ABC
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, NBC
Ken's two cents: My impulse is to add Sarah Michelle Gellar of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I'd be doing exactly what I've long criticized Emmy voters of doing: giving payback awards. It was only a so-so season for Gellar. Hargitay, Ward and Janney all had terrific seasons, while Griffiths was outstanding, pulling off perhaps the most intriguing female role on TV.
Lauren Ambrose, Six Feet Under, HBO
Leslie Hope, 24, Fox
Susanna Thompson, Once and Again, ABC
Evan Rachel Wood, Once and Again, ABC
Tyne Daly, Judging Amy, CBS
Ken's two cents: Tough field. Ambrose and Wood were consistently magnificent. Daly was, well, Daly, and Hope managed to make her character believable despite some implausible situations. As for Thompson, her subtle and emotionally wrenching performance as Karen breathed life into the dearly departed series.
Six Feet Under, HBO
The Shield, FX
Once and Again, ABC
Ken's two cents: Don't dismiss Six Feet Under because it's on HBO. While it may appear to be riding the wave of The Sopranos, it stands alone as a thoughtful, humorous and powerful piece of work. It was, by far, the best drama this season. 24 was calculated but made good use of its gimmicks, as did CSI. Once and Again had enough powerful episodes to be a step or two ahead of any other drama. The Shield is good but needs another year to get up to cruising altitude. __ Ft. Worth Star-Telegram (July 17, 2002)
I Can Recall Movies, but TV Series?
By NEAL GABLER
THIS past month, several long-running television series bade farewell and retired to the pasture of syndication, cable and DVD.
Among them were "The X-Files" after nine seasons, "Ally McBeal" after five, "Felicity" after four and "Once and Again" after three. No doubt their fans will miss them terribly. But there is something more poignant than their passing. If my experience and those of many people I've talked to are any guide, it is that even their most devoted followers are not likely to remember much about them once they're gone.
Oh, sure, they will remember characters and the plots of certain episodes, maybe occasional moments. But where movies, even bad ones, remain in our consciousness years after we have seen them, television programs seem to evanesce, leaving generalities but seldom details. Do you remember who killed J. R.?
I am willing to concede that this is my own problem, though I cannot count the times my wife or children have been watching a show and asked, "Have we seen this one?" I was an inveterate "St. Elsewhere" fan. To this day I consider it one of the finest dramatic series ever. But while I remember elements from the show, I am astounded, when I happen to catch an episode on cable, to discover how little I actually recall. I feel like one of those amnesiacs in the movies who gets only glimmers of something he once knew. And lest one attribute this to the passage of time, I can watch a rerun of "E.R.," another of my addictions, just months after its original broadcast and scarcely recall the story, while I can recite speeches from old movies line by line.
Some would say that the persistence of movies and the transience of television are basically functions of technology. Movies are literally bigger, and the moviegoing experience more intense. By comparison, television is often like wallpaper. It is just sort of there. But at least two generations have seen "The Wizard of Oz" only on television, and the experience seems no less intense or memorable for it. In fact, most of us nowadays are just as likely to have seen the movies we love and remember on television as at a theater.
The real reason television seems to evaporate into the ether and movies don't may be the way television uses narrative. Movies last two hours, maybe three. They are a medium of narrative compression and heightened reality, essentially giving the audience a larger-than- life experience, whether it is Humphrey Bogart romancing Ingrid Bergman in "Casablanca" or Tobey Maguire confronting Willem Dafoe in "Spider-Man." Just about the last thing most people want from their movies is real life.
Television has come to operate in an entirely different way. Series, which are the medium's staple, rely on extension rather than compression, on the ebb and flow of quotidian reality rather than the peaks of heightened reality. You go to the movies, but you live with a television series week after week, and what most viewers of these shows seem to want is not an adrenaline jolt but the warm comfort of the incremental dispensed over 22 weeks.
This is especially true of dramatic series. Sit-coms, like "Spin City," which also ended its run last month, enjoy a license of exaggeration that plants them a little more firmly in our minds. A dramatic series, on the other hand, may actually be the closest that art gets to what Henry James called "felt life," the feeling that one is experiencing life itself. Indeed, when you do get heightened reality on television, it usually seems phony - a violation of the contract between a series and its audience.
As series meander through their seasons, they convey the desultory rhythm of life. Characters come and go. Events arrive and then quickly pass. One small crisis is superseded by the next small crisis. Instead of the clean endings of most movies, in which everything is neatly resolved, there is never anything but provisional closure for a series until it is finally pulled off the air. It is Teflon narrative, never sticking, which makes the soap opera one of the most durable genres on television. Soap operas just keep on going.
But if television series convey the ambling rhythms and loose plot lines of life, they also have the effect of life. You come to think of a series much the way you think of your own family and friends. It is part of the architecture of daily existence. You know and like the characters and aren't likely to forget them when they go, but there are simply too many details to remember them vividly, especially since television, like life, keeps generating new characters and stories. What you tend to remember are the broader strokes that emerge over time, which is what you also most often remember about deceased relatives and friends. The specifics glom together. The essence remains.
When they end, series often take notice of this special relationship, providing reassurance doesn't really mean finality. "The X-Files" chose to emphasize that its protagonists, Mulder and Scully, would continue to fight for the cause, letting the audience believe that the characters would survive even if the series didn't. "Felicity" chose to rearrange its own reality by letting its central character magically go back in time and take a course different from the one the series had already followed, letting the audience believe that even apparent closure isn't really closure. "Once and Again" chose, movingly, to emphasize the continuity between the family of characters on-screen and the family of actors off-screen. But however they conclude and however much they will be mourned, all terminated series have one thing in common: they will leave only the vaguest of memories behind. __ New York Times (June 2, 2002)
All the season's best, and worst
By Robert Bianco, USA TODAY
In reality, it was not the season the networks imagined.
Drunk with the success of Survivor and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, the networks loaded the fall 2001 TV schedule with reality/game shows. The result was the collapse of the genre, done in by excess and by a post-9/11 embrace of community that made the genre's squabbling and back-stabbing seem unacceptably out of sync.
That means, I suppose, the midseason success of NBC's loathsomely mean-spirited Fear Factor can be taken as a sign of the return to normalcy.
Nor was reality the only failure in the season that has just ended, in which the networks often seemed at a loss to divine the national mood. In a year that failed to produce any breakout hits along the lines of last season's CSI, disappointments abounded, from the twin Seinfeld alumni duds (Bob Patterson, Watching Ellie), to NBC's continued failure to find a suitable companion for Friends, to the less-than-stellar seasons posted by such favorites as The West Wing, ER, The Practice and Ally McBeal.
Yet in any TV season, all is never lost. We had promising first seasons from Alias, 24, The Shield and Andy Richter Controls the Universe; a much-discussed novelty in The Osbournes; and a wonderful farewell season from Once and Again. Friends reasserted itself as TV's most popular comedy and staked a claim as its best.
With any luck, some of those shows will get their just due when the Emmy nominations are announced in July - though it's just as likely that the voters, who begin receiving their nomination ballots next week, will vote by rote for the same old boring and often no longer deserving names.
But why should we wait for the Emmys, when we can hand out our own end-of-season awards?
What follows is a catalog of prizes for the best and worst achievements of the TV year, all in categories the TV academy doesn't recognize, just to avoid any overlap. Think of it as an alternative reality, which is something the season certainly could have used.
Best series, drama or comedy: 24 (Fox). The Emmys no longer give a "best program" award, because it made the best drama and best comedy statues seem meaningless. But let's do it anyway. No series gave more people more pleasure than Friends, and no show was as flawlessly acted as Once and Again. But my pick for the year's top series goes to 24 for daring to wager that it could make an audience follow its complicated story for 24 hours, and that it could fend off cancellation or interruption by Fox. The bet paid off, for all of us.
Worst cancellation: The Tick (Fox). I hated to see Once and Again go, but at least it was given a shot. Fox never showed much confidence in this extremely funny but ill-scheduled superhero spoof before it premiered, and showed even less after.
Best proof that kids can be a blessing: The young cast of Once and Again (ABC). The award goes to the young stars, who allowed the show to explore areas that would have been impossible with less gifted actors. And an honorable mention to Blue 's Austin Majors as Theo, who retains his title as the most adorable child on TV. __ USA Today (May 29, 2002)
Five deserving actors
By Robert Bianco, USA TODAY
Surely, five new nominees are not so much to ask.
No one expects wholesale changes on the Emmy list - but it would be nice to see a few, small steps in a fresh direction. So as voters start marking their ballots next week, here are five performers - all would-be newcomers to the series list - to keep in mind.
Karen Sammler/Once and Again
There's hardly an actor in this ensemble who doesn't deserve Emmy recognition, but if one must be singled out, make it Thompson. Her performance as a depressed divorcee, bitter over losing her ex-husband's love and terrified that she may lose the love of her children, was the season's most heartbreaking.__ USA Today (May 29, 2002)
TVGal's Top Ten Television Moments of the 2001-2002 season
by Amy Amantangelo
I set one rule -- only one moment per show. Thanks to everyone who sent in their suggestions.
6. Karen recalls reasons to live after her car accident on "Once and Again": Karen lays in a hospital bed repeating the phrase "Jesse's face" as one of the reasons she wants to live. Susanna Thompson's delicate portrayal of the fragile yet simultaneously strong Karen has never been finer.
__ Zap2it.com (May 27, 2002)
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