Open Mic

Where Have All the Family Dramas Gone?

Vlada Gelman Posted June 15, 2009 at 12:54 PM

Tags: Brothers & Sisters, Everwood, Friday Night Lights, Medium, My So-Called Life, Once and Again, The WB

It's been three years since “Everwood” signed off the air and almost five years since the first season was released on DVD. While fans of the show will finally be able to buy season 2 on DVD Tuesday, they may have to wait even longer for another show like “Everwood” to come along.

everwooddvd2.jpg

When The WB network turned off the lights on Sept. 17, 2006, it was like saying goodbye to a dear friend that had helped to shape and define my early, formative years. I still can't listen to “Crawl” by This Way, which was used in one of the network's early promotional campaigns, without getting nostalgic and melancholy.

And when “Everwood” signed off a few months earlier on June 5, I had a feeling that I was watching the last of its kind. Because when the residents of “Everwood” said goodbye, TV was saying goodbye to the type of show “Everwood” was: a multi-generational, family drama that was smart and insightful without being saccharine or preachy, that had heart and guts. An ensemble in which every generation was richly written and integral to the storytelling. A place where grandparents existed and not just during Thanksgiving episodes.

Before “Everwood,” there were smart, poignant family dramas like “My So-Called Life” and “Once and Again,” both not-so-coincidentally from producers Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick. They gave each generation of characters their due. The kids were real. The parents were even realer and then turned into teenagers themselves when their own parents stepped into the picture. They had messy, complicated relationships that couldn't be easily resolved. And both shows, like “Everwood,” were canceled. I guess it's easier to just stick a bunch of doctors in a room together and watch them cut people up and have sex with each other.

everwooddvd.jpg

When I learned that “Everwood's” second season was finally coming to DVD (check out the beautiful inside art to the left), I started to wonder if any show had filled its place in the history of great, multi-generational family dramas. The pickings were slim.

“Brothers & Sisters” sounds like a worthy successor based on its title alone and both shows do start off with the death of a parent. It's also executive produced by Greg Berlanti, the creator of “Everwood.” But the ABC series is more of a soapy concoction about frothy fun and romantic entanglements than depression and abortion, both topics “Everwood” gracefully handled. Plus, if it weren't for Sarah's whining, who would even remember that she has two children? Not much of a family drama when a whole chunk of family is constantly MIA.

My mind then went to NBC's “Medium,” a paranormal procedural with a good helping of family drama. The show presents an honest picture of family life, filled with mortgage payments, carpools and all the pain and joy of raising three psychically-inclined daughters. But as great as the family dynamic is on the show, it's a procedural first and foremost.

“Medium” reminded me of another great family on NBC: “Friday Night Lights'” Taylor clan. Like “Everwood,” “My So-Called Life” and “Once and Again,” the series balances the journey from high school to adulthood with parental figures that have their own hopes and flaws. It's a thoughtfully written and acted family drama in the guise of a football show, which comes close to filling the void. I just have one bone to pick: Grandma Saracen doesn't really get to have her own separate storylines outside of her grandson Matt like Edna and Irv did on “Everwood.” It's perfectly understandable for a character with dementia, but it will cost “Lights” the cigar.

Perhaps NBC's new fall drama “Parenthood,” from “Lights” producer Jason Katims, will be up to the task.

Until then, I'm just going to break out the pilot of “Everwood” and rewatch the scene that convinced me this show was something special:

Buy “Everwood” season 2 on DVD at Amazon. Among the familiar TV faces you'll see in the guest cast are Marcia Cross (“Desperate Housewives”), Tim DeKay (“Tell Me You Love Me”), Paul Wesley (“The Vampire Diaries”), Kristen Bell (“Veronica Mars”), Sarah Lancaster (“Chuck”), Kelly Carlson (“Nip/Tuck”), Betty White (“Golden Girls”), Beau Bridges (“My Name Is Earl”), Dylan Walsh (“Nip/Tuck”) and Darth Vader himself James Earl Jones. That's on top of a regular cast that features Treat Williams, Gregory Smith, Emily VanCamp, Chris Pratt, Debra Mooney and Tom Amandes.