"Sisters," the NBC drama co-created by Pikesville high graduate Daniel Lipman, makes its local debut Saturday night at 10 o'clock on Channel 2 (WMAR).
Though Baltimoreans, who were shown an Orioles game by Channel 2 last Saturday instead of the "Sisters" pilot, will miss all the fuss about the multiple-orgasm talk snipped from that show's opening scene at the last minute by a skittish network, we will see all the basic ingredients that were on display in the first episode -- a top-notch cast and a premise that careens between the tried-and-true and uncharted waters.
As one might surmise from the title, "Sisters" is about a gaggle of female siblings -- four to be exact. Last week, they were moving their now-widowed Mom out of the cavernous family house to a small condominium, a move that came with all the mixed emotions and roller-coaster memories.
The plot came and went -- at one moment a bit too nebulous, the next hitting you over the head with its message -- but the characters seemed intriguing enough to tune in for another go-round.
The eldest is Alex (as is the trend in TV these days, all these women have men's names, though at least that was acknowledged in a reference to the father's desire for a son), played by the immensely talented Swoosie Kurtz as a shopaholic, married-to-money type. Saturday night, we meet her plastic-surgeon husband, played by David Dukes, whose presence doesn't diminish the talent level one bit.
Next is line is Georgie, played by Patricia Kalember straight from her run as Gary's widow, Susannah, on "thirtysomething." Georgie is the levelheaded one, married, with a couple of kids and a decent job. Kalember, by the way, got her professional start at Center Stage.
The only monkey wrench in Georgie's life is husband John, played by Garrett Brown. John's mid-life crisis has him quitting his job and embarking on a singing career. As a result, he hangs around the house in a baseball cap and bathrobe, crooning standards into a microphone.
Last week, the peripatetic third sister Teddy, played by Sela Ward, showed up after years away, with teen-age daughter Cat in tow and a drinking problem allegedly behind her. Complicating that homecoming was the youngest sister, Porsche-driving financial analyst Frankie, played by Springsteen-ex Julianne Phillips. Frankie has taken up with Teddy's ex, Mitch, played by "Hill Street Blues" alumnus Ed Marinaro.
Actors often like to talk about taking on a part that gives them a stretch, makes them work in ways they don't usually. At times, that's what "Sisters" does to the hour
long dramatic form. That's both good news and bad news -- good because it indicates a high level of creativity, bad because it sometimes stretches to the breaking point.
Oh, there are a certain number of fairly standard film tricks, like having one of the sisters suddenly turn into herself as a little girl, showing how those decades-old insecurities still dictate life in the adult years.
What separates "Sisters" are its attempts to combine serious drama and outright farce. "St. Elsewhere" did this on occasion, but only after a few years of establishing its characters and track record, and then usually in situations that bordered on the surreal.
The excellent "Northern Exposure," created by the same people that created "St. Elsewhere," is also attempting this, but in that show it's easier to accept because of its setting in a small Alaskan town where nothing is supposed to be quite as it seems.
"Sisters," however, is very much rooted in a recognizable, identifiable, almost cliched, domestic situation, making the farce/drama juxtaposition somewhat jarring. It's a bit off-putting to see a garden-variety family crisis taking place in front of a guy in a baseball cap and bathrobe who's singing "My Way."
When it doesn't work, it can be seat-squirming time. But when it does, it can be a remarkable moment, poignant and sad, funny and touching, all at the same time.
"Sisters" might have a tough time getting an audience to follow its characters and plot as it bounces around the confines of this oddly shaped ballpark. Certainly it has its failings, but they are usually of the right variety, those that come from trying something different. The show's a little awkward and immature right now, but given a chance to grow, it could turn into something special.
"Sisters" *** The life and time of four sisters -- one married to money, one solid as a rock, one a Porsche-driving yuppie, one a wandering hippie -- as they sort out their various lives.
CAST: Swoosie Kurtz, Patricia Kalember, Julianne Phillips, Sela Ward
TIME: Saturdays at 10 p.m.
CHANNEL: NBC Channel 2 (WMAR)