The emotionally manipulative appeal of Brothers & Sisters

I’ll confess: I’m a serial TV watcher. I’ve seen every episode of Buffy at least three times; Veronica Mars, probably four or five. And Arrested Development, Party Down, and Archer? Can’t even count. I love television series because they’re so comforting—it’s like a standing phone date with an old friend every week, and while you might not always be happy with what that friend has to say, it’s always satisfying to talk to her. With the advent of Netflix streaming—and that handy little “next” button that gets you to the next episode—means it’s possible for me to discover new shows and get hooked on them in record time. I’m always on the lookout for fresh ones, preferably with more than two seasons available on demand. Hence my recent foray into the extreme soapiness of Brothers & Sisters.

Now, this is not a good show. I know this. I mean, it is really bad: utterly unfeasible plot points (the first season alone included three deaths, a secret mistress AND an illegitimate love child who also turns out to be a drug-taking, marriage-wrecking liar, a food fight, a blackmailing, an outing, a premature double birth, and enough “events for the sake of getting all the characters together in fancy outfits” to fill the Grand Canyon. It also contains one of my least favorite plot contrivances in the entire universe of them: The one where a main character—in this case, Sally Field’s Nora—in an effort to express the Deep and Meaningful and Entirely Original Thoughts he or she has contained in the depths of his or her soul, enrolls in a creative writing class…and proceeds to prove how entirely unoriginal he or she is by immediately penning what basically amounts to the Cliff’s Notes version of the season’s scripts thus far, a work of “fiction” so thinly veiled that all the characters practically share names with the show’s characters on which they’re based. Nora’s protagonist, for example, is named “Dora” and is a frustrated California housewife whose husband has just died, leaving behind a fortune in secrets and ingeniously negotiated land deals. See? No resemblance to real life at all. I could write a whole post on just this, but we’ll save that for another time. (Gossip Girl is also guilty of using this awful, awful device, if Vulture’s recaps are any indication; I gave up on that train wreck several seasons ago.)

So why, you ask (I ask, too!), am I still watching this dreck? The answer, I guess, is that I don’t really know. There are certain factors that appeal to me; the show in its lighter moments shares the same breakneck rhythms and zany family dynamic of The O.C. (yes, I own the box set), and while I often find myself surfing the interwebs during the extremely melodramatic moments, it is an interesting study of a post-9/11family. And, okay, on a less sophisticated note, it’s a portrait of the kind of family I, and I’m sure many people, dream of: a big one, affluent and educated, good-natured and attractive, who love each other supportively and unconditionally despite endless squabbling and silliness. There’s something primitively satisfying, and again, comforting, about that idea. It’s the American Dream with excellent lighting and a tearjerking soundtrack. Do I sound cynical? Probably. But will I be watching the first episode of season two as soon as I publish this? To quote another vendor of the American Dream: You betcha.

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