Friday, April 07, 2006

Sons & Daughters, Season 1

I've written so much about Sons & Daughters (so it feels). In fact, I wasn't going to do a season review like I normally do until the show's last episode aired (it seems it may be burned off in the summer). But since creator/writer/actor/ director/producer Fred Goss (in the picture at right) says that episode has yet to be scheduled and may be saved for the DVD release (should such a thing ever materialize), I guess I'll do this anyway.

Since the show's odds of returning seem to be about 30/70 in the favor of the show NOT returning, I may as well write this, which may prove to be a slightly early obituary. If the show DOES make it back for a second season, so much the better. But it needs ABC more than ABC needs it. Especially if Scrubs gets canceled and ABC can just pick that up. Ah, network politics and machinations.

I haven't liked a young, flawed sitcom as much as I liked Sons & Daughters in quite some time. I'm not going to say that the show was ever perfect. It had too many variations on the idiot plot. Some of the character machinations were a bit calculated. And the improvisatory method could leave some dead, awkward spots.

But here's what I liked about Sons & Daughters: At its best, you could see the raw spirit of something like a Robert Altman film peaking through the facade. As Altman takes overdone film genres and situations and works them into something vital and new, Sons & Daughters takes worn-out sitcom plots and tries to find kernels of truth in them. On paper, the idea of a family secret getting out at a cookout has me yawning already, but on screen, it worked because the show never went for cheap or easy laughs. It wasn't afraid to play its dramatic moments for simple drama, but it never overplayed them either. It didn't TRY to tug at your heart, and because of that, it did more often than not.

Too often on television, improvisation as treated as a tool for more wackiness (see: Free Ride). We (and most network execs, I'd imagine) have this idea that improv is a tool for comedy only. And, to be fair, a really good improviser can get you every time. There's something about an improvised joke that can bend in a direction you wouldn't expect from years of setup-punchline training. But within a sitcom setting, improvisation can get truly overbearing. Even more than people don't talk in setup-punchline conversations, they don't go on weird flights of fancy in discussions in large groups of people. MAYBE with your spouse or significant other. But even that can be a stretch.

What's more, improvisation in television comedy is often something where the tone shifts wildly all over the place. Individual scenes may be funny, but their styles of humor may not add up to create a cohesive whole (I thought Significant Others, Goss' previous series, occasionally suffered from this problem).

Sons & Daughters, a few scenes aside, was different. In the show, the sprawling ensemble cast (another callback to Altman) used its improvisation to get at truth. The credit for that probably should go to the show's editors, who trimmed hours and hours of footage into a cohesive whole that never strayed too far off the path (or too far from the characters). The show, I believe, would sacrifice a good joke for emotional truth.

And that may be what ultimately killed it. The jokes were funny, but so many of them were spoiled in the promos that audiences expected a hugely funny type of show. What they got was a much smaller show than the one they were sold. And they tuned out.

But I'll buy the DVD. I'll remember the show. It wasn't afraid to take TRUE chances. In an age where sitcoms offer up pat resolutions, Sons & Daughters was often fond of tiny resolutions or even no resolutions at all. And it understood that love is complicated, that love takes time.

It was a great, rambling jam of a sitcom. The fact that the Dead started every episode couldn't have been more appropriate.

I hope the independent, improvisatory spirit of Sons & Daughters lives on. I hope I see more work from everyone involved with this show. And I hope the networks can find a place for tiny gems like this one still in the future.

1 comment:

Jacob said...

Ugh. I do not want this to go away!

"I decided to name you Jeff, cause it's sporty."