Saying goodbye to my Brothers & Sisters

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By Travis Mayfield

I remember the first time I saw Tom Skerritt in person here in Seattle.

He was sitting right in front of us at the Paramount Theatre on opening night of ‘Spring Awakening.’

As he sat down I had an overwhelming urge to tap him on the shoulder and scream at him.

“Why did you cheat on Nora and keep so many secrets from the family that loved and revered you so much???”

Luckily I neither tapped him on the shoulder nor screamed insanely at him about a character he once played in a schmaltzy TV show, instead I sat quietly in my seat and enjoy the play.

I thought of that moment yesterday when I heard that ABC had decided to cancel its Sunday night drama Brothers & Sisters.

The show debuted back in September of 2006. In the premier episode Skerritt played William Walker, patriarch to a large and seemingly traditional family. At the end of the debut episode Skerritt’s character is sitting by the pool when he suffers a heart attack and falls into the water dead. Thus began five seasons of secrets, lies and family drama slowly revealed to the family William Walker left behind.

I was a fan from that very first episode. I haven’t missed a single season or installment since. As any fan of a television show could say, I feel like I know the Walkers like a member of the family. I cried when Scotty and Kevin were married and when Kitty was diagnosed with cancer. I laughed when Nora began dishing out advice on the radio. I’ve been outraged with William since the moment the affair was revealed, the other child was discovered and most recently the cover up of Sarah’s actual parentage was uncovered. 

There was nothing truly groundbreaking about this show in its concept. It was a scripted family drama with traditional cliffhangers and story arcs. What set this show apart was the writing and the acting. This wasn’t trashy like ‘Desperate Housewives’, cheesy like ‘Glee’ or predictable like ‘Two-and-a-half Men.’

Sally Field won an Emmy for her portrayal of William’s long-suffering wife, now widow and matriarch Nora Walker. Nearly every other cast member was either nominated or deserved a nomination over the years. The plot lines were subtle and well crafted. They themselves were groundbreaking as well and timely. Here was a family fighting for its very soul in a time when the country was at war and everything they (and we) thought they knew had been turned on its head. 

There were no stereotypes allowed here. 

Calista Flockhart’s Kitty Walker was no cardboard cutout of a traditional conservative media pundit. Kitty was multidimensional, she was unpredictable and she was soulful. She was just as likely to stand up for gun rights as she was for gay rights.

Matthew Ryhs as the gay brother Kevin refused to camp it up, burst into showtunes or butch-it-up in the opposite direction for that matter. Ryhs’ portrayal of the trials of coming to terms with his own sexuality, of dating, marrying Scotty and then building a family together was as real as it gets. Watching their relationship each Sunday night often felt like looking in a mirror.

I grew up in a family of four with mom, dad and younger sister. Not having a large family I never really wanted for one. Yet watching this show allowed me to explore what it could be like to have a large and dynamic family constantly changing and growing. I must admit there was comfort in curling up Sunday night and having a glass (or a bottle) of wine with the Walker clan.

Brothers & Sisters came along for me during a time of change. At the superficial level I was in need of a television replacement for ‘Six Feet Under.’ The HBO hit remains one of the best shows I’ve ever watched and so when it was over there was a huge hole in my entertainment world. Brothers & Sisters allowed me to tangentially believe that Rachel Griffiths’ Brenda Chenowith had grown up and moved on. She had become Sarah Walker. There was some kind of continuity both spiritually and in my weekly television habit.

But Brothers & Sisters came along for me at a more important time in my personal life as well. The show started as I was in my late 20’s and beginning to tire of my nomadic television news career. I was growing weary of being a single party boy. I was beginning to envision a future that involved a family of my own. As the series developed and I grew to love the Walkers, I was able to see a multi-generational family embracing all genders, races, sexual orientations, faiths and political values.

As the series drew to a satisfying close earlier this month with the wedding of Sarah and Luke I was able to watch with my own small but growing family. My family of four had become a family of six with the addition of a significant other for both me and my sister. I am also able to look with clarity at the stability we have achieved. I am married, we own a home and we are planning to adopt a child as early as next year.

I won’t exaggerate the impact of Brothers & Sisters on helping any of that happen. Instead I will say the show provided an hour each week to see what a dynamic and chaotic growing family can look like. 

I am unapologetic about saying I will truly miss this television show. I will miss drinking wine with the Walkers and living vicariously through their drama while safely keeping my own growing family reasonably drama free. I will miss the catharsis of the peaks and valleys experienced each season by Nora, Saul, Sarah, Tommy, Kitty, Kevin and Justin.

What I will not miss is constantly biting my tongue and swallowing my outrage whenever I see Tom Skerritt in public.

Brothers & Sisters may you live in our hearts and in syndication forever.

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