[I've said it before and I'll say it again: These capsules aren't meant as reviews. Most of these pilots will undergo at least minor -- and possibly major -- alterations, tweaks and recastings before they make it on air in the fall. These are, however, my first impressions:]
Show: "Brother & Sisters"
The Pitch: The title kinda says it all.
Quick Response: Among the basic plots that writers of all stripes are addicted to is the prodigal son or daughter returning to the family fold, facing past demons and gaining a new sense of responsibilities. That's about all that many months of retooling have yielded ABC in the case of the star-studded "Brothers & Sisters." In this case, the prodigal daughter is play by Calista Flockhart, whose character is a radio host, a conservative radio host. How do I know that? The first character to mention her refers to the "bile" she spews. The second calls her a "right-wing conservative." Really? Both? Then she refers to crack as "so blue state." I'm gonna stop here, but rest assured that for 44 minutes, Flockhart's character is defined as nothing but a conservative in a family of liberals. That's not uninteresting, particularly since Flockhart is playing the character straight-forward-human as opposed to Ann Coulter-Evil, but I like people who are more than just one thing. Unfortunately, in 44 minutes, there isn't time for any of the characters -- all played by excellent actors -- to be defined as anything more than broad outlines. There's the Gay Brother, the Sister-Mother, the Veteran Brother and a couple siblings who aren't even that definable. That's what happens with ensembles of this kind and it's probably unavoidable. This side of maybe "Smith" and "The Nine," "Brothers & Sisters" has the fall's deepest ensemble cast, with Flockhart, Sally Field, Rachel Griffiths, Tom Skerritt and Patricia Wettig, who have many Emmy nominations and wins between them, along with the very recognizable Ron Rifkin and Balthazar Getty, who don't have any Emmy nominations between them. I can see the appeal of working with a cast this good and of playing one part of a big puzzle and having days off for movies or other TV cameos, but nothing in this pilot feels clearly fresh enough to have attracted any of these actors.
Desire To Watch Again: The pilot was such a struggle, with recasting, rewriting and reshooting that it seems unfair not to give "Brothers & Sisters" a second episode, particularly given that I don't watch anything else in its time slot and that Greg Berlanti ("Everwood") has come in to right the ship.
Possible Role For Eric Balfour: Producers, have you no shame? There are at least three or four parts for males of Balfour's age, minimum. And he totally would fit in perfectly with the "Six Feet Under"-lite tone of the piece. This was a missed opportunity for all and sundry and I hope everybody involved with this show is embarrassed.
And Speaking Of Balfour-Esque Show-Killers: The "B&S" producers should also be embarrassed about being the third new show in less than six months to feature Josh Hopkins. It's not that he's a bad actor, but nothing he does in "Brothers & Sisters" makes his appeal any more clear than his work in "Pepper Dennis" or "Vanished" (where, as my colleague Rick reminded me, his Boston accent "vanished" in this week's episode). If "Vanished" and "Brothers & Sisters" fail to make it into the new year, Hopkins would have a killing rate that even Balfour can't match.