Ally in the family

In this saga of a California family going to pieces, the emphasis is on more star power, but more is unfortunately not necessarily better.

ally 298 (photo credit: )
ally 298
(photo credit: )
If you're still recovering from what your sister let spill about your husband's business trip to Italy and that horrible thing your brother did with the matzot up his nose at the Seder, you might want to skip Xtra HOT's new Brothers and Sisters (Thursdays, 22:00), the family drama that's heavy on stars but low on excitement. Skip it, that is, unless you're a fan of (take your pick) Calista Flockhart, Sally Field, Rachel Griffiths, Ron Rifkin, or a few others thrown in for good measure. For in this saga of a California family going to pieces, the emphasis is on more star power, but that more is unfortunately not necessarily better. Flockhart, making her first real return to series work since the demise of Ally McBeal, plays Kitty Walker, a New York-based, right-wing political commentator who's got a gorgeous boyfriend, a great apartment, but can't cook for beans. That doesn't matter, though, cuz the series is more interested in other aspects of Flockhart's abilities, like her leg, which is practically the first thing we see of her as she shaves it in the tub to get ready for her big romantic night with beau Jonathan. Poor Kitty has no privacy, however, thanks to her bevy of siblings, in this case sister Sarah (Griffiths of Six Feet Under), a former ad exec who gave it up to work in her father's fruit business in LA; her gay brother Kevin, the firm's lawyer; Tommy, the serious one; and Justin, the former soldier who we learn has lingering drug problems caused by his recovery from wounds suffered in Afghanistan, where he went off to serve on Kitty's urging. Oh yes, there are more skeletons than hangers in the Walker family closet, and more keep popping up throughout the slow-moving pilot, which simply doesn't grab you despite the valiant efforts of all those stars. Instead former thirtysomething star Ken Olin, who executive produced and directed the series after doing similar work on Alias, has fallen back on some of the heavy, family interrelationship focus of life with the Steadmans, while leaving out that series's occasional frothy moments which are sorely lacking here. To get the whole fam-damily together, we get a reunion for Kitty's birthday at the family mansion in the LA region, with Kitty flying out to also consider an offer to be the right-wing talking head on a political head-butting TV show. Hmm - wonder if she'll take the job or marry hunky Jonathan, who flies out to meet her and drops an engagement ring in her martini. But wait - there's that hunky liberal talking head she'd be up against on TV. Then there's poor ol' Tom Skerritt, a great actor who once starred in the lovely Picket Fences, but who's lately been reduced to playing ne'er do well fathers. After playing the part in Huff, Skerritt's back playing the cad dad, this time hiding more than he'll tell about the family business, meeting the mysterious Holly Harper (Olin's wife Patricia Wettig, whom he found a role for in Alias, too, and was Nancy on thirtysomething), before conveniently getting a heart attack at the end of the first episode and slipping into the family pool. Meanwhile, The Flying Nun, AKA Field, is stuck playing the put-upon matriarch who's had an ongoing feud with daughter Kitty for the past few years. "You're the one who chose to be virtually out of my life for three years," says Kitty to her mother, who blames her for encouraging Justin to go off to war. But when it's time to blow out the candles, there's ma raising a toast "to Kitty, who I will never stop disagreeing with, but whom I never stopped loving, not for one moment of her 38 years." Groan. Griffiths's character Sarah has some depth - she walked away from a fling with her old boss; she and her husband are going through counseling; she refers to being a working woman as "like being a currency that never has enough value" - but ultimately it's about her moving the plot along by discovering when she just HAPPENS to open dad's laptop that the company accountant Sol (Rifkin, the evil genius from Alias, badly underused in the pilot) and her dad have been cooking the books. Oh, and yes, we were slightly insulted that the obvious Jew is the accountant in the company, and a crooked one at that. So what do we have? A great ensemble cast but a plodding plot that's neither fresh nor particularly grabbing. Sure it's fun to see Flockhart do her thing, though the more comedic Ally did her more justice. And we'd watch Griffiths and Field in practically anything. But ultimately, Brothers and Sisters - at least, the pilot - didn't win us over or make us look forward to a return to the Walkers for another family gathering. After all, if we want overdramatic family relationships, we can invite our own gang over for Shabbos. Just wait till we tell mom what our brother did back in college!