STUDIO: Buena Vista Home Entertainment
MSRP: $59.99
RUNNING TIME: 991 Minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by the show creators

I wouldn’t be so vain as to refer to myself as a real man or some kind of he-man, but I’m just like most of you guys out there: I like movies and TV shows where things blow up, there’s a nice body count and a healthy amount of gore is always welcome. I don’t usually find myself watching HGTV, I’d be shot dead before I watched Lifetime or Oxygen and I avoid and Dr. Phil and Oprah like Farrakhan would a Klan rally. Generally speaking, I don’t consider myself to be that in touch with my tender side…although admittedly I do cry like a fat kid who dropped his ice cream every time I watch Mickey die in Rocky III. So no one was more surprised than me when, back in the ’99 I got hooked right away on a show about a divorced father and a divorce-pending mother who get a second chance at true love when they discover each other – Once & Again.

Ace detectives Nick Once and Lacey Again – subduing criminals with love and tenderness – this fall on the new, kindler, gentler ABC…

The Show

(Reviewer’s Note: Get a program folks, you’re gonna need it…)

Created by the excellent producing team of Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick and starring former Rocketeer, Bill Campbell and one of the former Sisters, Sela Ward, O&A featured a unique storytelling method that took you into the heads of the characters through black and white “sit-down” interviews where they got to riff on what they were feeling during a given situation. Sometimes they’d be solo, sometimes group efforts. They were nice additions to a surprisingly gripping storyline of these two single parents who were trying to cope with their respective family problems while unexpectedly being hot for each other. Sela Ward stars as Lily Manning, a 40-something mother of two daughters, Grace (Julia Whelan), 15 and Zoe (Meredith Deane), 10, who discovers that her restaurateur husband, Jake (Jeffrey Nordling), has been screwing around on her.

"Whoa momma! So that’s why they call you The Rocketeer!"

After kicking him out, Lily has to deal with the not only the emotional baggage, but also the financial as the restaurant that her father left her was failing under Jake’s management. One of the few people that Lily has to turn to is her sister, Judy (Marin Hinkle), who has her own problems trying to find a good man. Meanwhile, divorcee architect, Rick Sammler (Bill Campbell) is trying to deal with his slacker pothead son, Eli (Shane West), 16-ish and his daughter, Jessie (Evan Rachel Wood), 13-ish, who is developing an eating disorder. And Rick’s relationship with his ex-wife, Karen (a non-Borged Susanna Thompson), fluctuates between tolerable to not great to downright chilly at times.

Whereas Season 1 dealt with the developing relationship between Rick and Lily as they tried to balance a new romance with family life, Season 2 took their relationship on the permanent path as they made their way toward the subject of marriage. But along the way, they got into issues of integrating their families and dealing with their kids’ respective issues and also issues outside their relationship. Lily finds herself back into the work force for the first time since her marriage began and ends up becoming a secretary to a much younger and attractive ditz (Jennifer Crystal) at a local magazine. Meanwhile, Rick and his firm are struggling through a lucrative but problem-wrought design project called Atlantor. When an injunction is brought against the project, Karen’s law firm is the one heading the effort legally, which causes more problems.

"Hey you, the numbnuts working the camera! You wanna chill on the extreme closeup? I’m trying to be introspective here!"

Also, the subject of Rick moving his family into Lily’s house brings its own share of headaches, from living arrangements to the subject of who is going to pay for repairs and modifications: Jake or Rick and Lily. Lily also had a problem with Rick when he makes alterations to the house without first consulting her. In Rick’s house, Eli, who seems to be pulling further and further away from his parents, decides to move into the basement. And the subject of Eli going to college clashes with Eli’s desire to form a rock band instead. When the families get together for Thanksgiving, Rick has to deal with his ex-wife and current girlfriend getting along, which surprisingly, they do. Lily’s brother, Aaron (Patrick Dempsey), who is institutionalized, also joins them and brings his own issues to the holiday. Rick also has to deal with his mother, who doesn’t think his parenting of his kids is going well because of Eli’s slacking and Jessie’s not eating.

Normally this would be illegal, if the stars playing the kids weren’t both pushing forty…

As far as the kids go, Grace and Eli have developed a tenuously friendly relationship as Grace found herself tutoring Eli. Grace is also having problems with Zoe because she’s not wanting to be stuck babysitting her all the time, which leads Zoe to feel unwanted. And Jessie finds both her parents and her soon-to-be-siblings trying to deal with her anorexia, which makes everyone uncomfortable. Meanwhile Eli is also getting involved with a new girl, Carla, who he finds likes to get into trouble (and take him along for the ride). And midway through the season, a major family monkey wrench is thrown into the works when Lily thinks she might be pregnant and finds Rick not that thrilled with that possible situation staring him in the face considering the problems he’s currently having with the kids he already has. On the flipside, Jakes side tail, Tiffany (Ever Carradine), is pregnant, which isn’t good for Jake because he never wanted to truly commit to her. This later also causes further problems between not only him and Lily, but his kids as well. Things really hit the fan when Lily and Jake actually have a one night stand and Rick finds out about it.

The only thing better than getting a blowjob from Lily once was getting it again…

Nevertheless, halfway through the season, Lily and Rick do end up reconciling and getting engaged; but the wedding plans don’t exactly go smoothly as both Karen and Judy aren’t thrilled about the idea – for different reasons. Rick later isn’t sure about the situation himself when he becomes embroiled in a legal dilemma over some shady dealings going on between his partner (who’s dying by the way) and the Atlantor project. This leads to Rick being grilled in front of a grand jury, and also being ambushed on a local talk show and having the cops search his house. Rick also has an issue with Grace when he finds her protesting against the project. Rick also has a major confrontation with Eli when Eli decides to go with Carla, who is leaving town, without telling anybody. And later, a major hullabaloo occurs at Jake’s restaurant when a busboy takes everyone hostage. The season mercifully ends when Rick and Lily, who had initially called off their wedding, finally get things straight and tie the knot.

For my performance tonight, I’ll be doing an interpretive dance of the Pussycat Dolls…

If you were able to follow half of that, you immediately see the pluses and minuses of this show. The pluses are that there’s more threads in this saga than on a pile of ratty old sweaters. The minus is that a show as serialized as this is nearly impossible to follow if you didn’t get in on the ground floor. It’s pretty much like trying to get a grasp on the
X-Files mythology for the first time starting around Season 3. I myself have never caught on to other such shows as The O.C. or Gilmore Girls and thus realize that I’ll probably never be watching them as a result. But I did get in on the ground floor of O&A and enjoyed the ride, though it only lasted three seasons. Ward and Campbell were fantastic in this show (Ward picked up her second Emmy for it in 2000) and I couldn’t believe how much it sucked me in from the pilot on. Following two 40-somethings’ relationship was one thing, but I actually found myself giving a damn about their kids, which I can tell you right now never happens. The show managed to juggle as much teen angst as you could stand but never devolved into 90210 territory.

Hi, my name is Jessie and I’m an alcoholic…

Herskovitz and Zwick, who previously produced the ‘80s family/relationship show thirtysomething really scored another, albeit brief, hit with Once & Again. Unfortunately, the show premiered against Judging Amy and was later moved to another timeslot. Amy just finished its run this past year, whereas O&A, which pretty much appealed to the same demographic, faded after only three seasons. Ward has since caught on to the Fox hit show, House, while Campbell has been spending time as one of The 4400. I’d say I’ve probably used up my touchy-feely lifetime quota with this show, but that’s cool. A real man isn’t afraid to talk about his feelings…

8.3 out of 10

"God I can’t believe I turned down Desperate Housewives! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!"

The Look

Excellent. The show was frequently shot in soft colors to emphasize its warm fuzziness. Producers Herskovitz and Zwick often got their hands dirty both in writing and directing; and with having helmed such projects as The Last Samurai, Courage Under Fire and Glory, Zwick is one of the best out there right now. Herskovitz has shot such projects as Dangerous Beauty, so he’s definitely no slouch himself and these two really knew how to put together a nice-looking show. Of course the signature look of the program were the black and white “asides” where you got into the characters’ heads. These are crisply shot also and simultaneously take you out of the show and draw you in, which is unique.

8.8 out of 10

"Before I begin, I’d just like to apologize again for that whole League of Extraordinary Gentleman thing…"

The Noise

If you can take the achingly touching music by composers such as W.G. Snuffy Walden, Christopher Nelson and Joey Newman usually featured in the show, then you’ll be fine. There really isn’t much in the way of bangs or booms to give your home system a workout, but the angst from all included comes through nicely in Dolby Digital.

8.1 out of 10

The Goodies

The only real disappointment of this box set. A good show deserves good features and all this set is sporting is a single commentary by Zwick and Herskovitz for the episode, "Food for Thought.” If you’re a fan of the show, it’s a major letdown not to get Ward’s and Campbell’s input into a project that I know from past interviews and features that both really enjoyed working on. And if you’re new to the show, a season overview for a show this densely serialized is almost a must. A gag reel and any deleted scenes would have also been nice. When compared to other box sets’ features, this one comes up way short and that’s a shame.

2.3 out of 10

"What are you wearing, baby? The pink panties? Oh yeah? And the black lace bra? That’s smokin’. Okay, daddy’s gotta go, put mommy back on the phone…"

The Artwork

It’s warm, fuzzy, touchy feely…and pretty apropos for the show. Ward in something slinky would have been a nice touch, though.

6.8 out of 10

Overall: 7.4 out of 10