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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents
Once and Again: The Complete Second Season (2000)

"Sometimes I feel like everyone else in the world is living... and I'm just watching it happen."
- Grace (Julia Whelan)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer  
Published: September 29, 2005

Stars: Sela Ward, Billy Campbell, Jeffrey Nordling, Susanna Thompson, Shane West, Julia Whelan, Evan Rachel Wood, Meredith Deane, Marin Hinkle
Other Stars: Jennifer Crystal Foley, Ever Carradine, James Eckhouse, Dennison Samaroo, Marco Gould, Audrey Anderson, David Clennon, Victoria Fang, Edward Zwick, Bonnie Bartlett, Paul Mazursky, Michael Tucci, Mark Valley, Patrick Dempsey, Samantha MacLachlan, D.B. Sweeney, Riley Smith, Michael B. Silver, Devon Gummersall, Devon Odessa, Julie Berman, Mark Feuerstein, Steve Tyrell, Barbara Barrie, Winnie Holzman, Don McManus
Director: Marshall Herskovitz, Edward Zwick, various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for mature themes
Run Time: 16h:31m:39s
Release Date: August 23, 2005
UPC: 786936289688
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A+B+A C+

DVD Review

Every now and then, a television series comes along in which everything gels. Once and Again is one such series, although it is hardly surprising considering the producers, Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, were also responsible for thirtysomething, My So-Called Life and Relativity, each of which focused on the lives of a particular generation. Once and Again is an exceptional family drama, immersing the viewer in the world of two families that are about to combine. Sela Ward, who won an Emmy for the role, is Lily Manning, a fortysomething mother of two daughters, Grace (Julia Whelan) and Zoe (Meredith Deane), separated from her husband Jake (Jeffrey Nordling). Divorcé Rick Sammler has a daughter, Jessie (Evan Rachel Wood) and his son Eli (Shane West) attends the same high school as Grace, which is where Lily and Rick first met, initiating a relationship that would set their respective families into the complications of a blended family.

The first season introduced the characters, and the building of Lily and Rick's partnership, and the effect it had on their kids and former spouses, culminating in a cliffhanger as the two families meet for dinner for the first time. Somewhat frustratingly, the second season picks up a few weeks after this encounter, as new challenges for the families are laid out. Rick's architecture firm is in the middle of designing an expansive new development, a project that will cause considerable conflict throughout the season, especially when his ex-wife, Karen (Susanna Thompson), and stepdaughter-to-be, Grace, get involved. Lily is facing her own situation at work, as the company she works for goes through a major upheaval, opening the door for personality conflicts and the risk of unemployment. The kids continue to deal with the ramifications of their parents' new relationship, as well as their own maturation and the many stresses of adolescence.

The show works on many levels, examining the complex extended family structure, and how the changes in the lives of two people affect the rest of their family, and is all about the relationships between the collection of personalities that make up the Sammler and Manning families. The writing on all fronts is exceptional, creating a rich collection of characters, none of whom are marginalized. There are no heroes here—everyone has their faults and strengths—and can be likeable or not depending on the situation. The depth and dimension of the characters continues to grow, in part by using an interesting device which comes to fruition in this season, by exposing the inner thoughts of the characters through black-and-white inserts, which come off as personal interviews or thought bubbles. In this way we see all sides of the current situation, and how the characters are dealing with their own histories. The stories build on the previous episodes, expanding the universe and highlighting each member of the cast along the way.

The casting (which earned an Emmy nomination) of this show is impeccable, and the format allows everyone their moment to shine. Ward and Campbell have great chemistry, and are given a nice dynamic in their relationship, with some unexpected reactions to the situations they face. Although the couple are trying to settle into a new partnership, they have conflicting interests that must be resolved, while dealing with the pressures of their extended family. Nordling and Thompson make perfect ex-spouses, and both are given plenty of time to reveal their views on the new family that is emerging from the ashes of their failed marriages. There is some great conflict set up, both in the parenting roles and through their businesses. Jake's continued money problems with the restaurant, and Karen's part in obstructing Rick's pet project are central to the second season story arc. Sister Judy's (Marin Hinkle) bookstore gets a new gimmick, which plays an important role over the course of the season, while also allowing her character's handling of relationships to contrast with Lily's.

While it is not unexpected to have great leading roles with adult actors, the kids in this series are also excellent. Eli faces the indecision of a high school senior, under pressure from his parents to perform well on his SATs, he is distracted by a new girlfriend (who also happens to be Grace's best friend) and his new band. West makes the most of his performances, aptly conveying his character's struggle for identity. Grace has her own causes to pursue, one of which is in direct conflict with her stepfather, while another questions her relationship to Eli. Here, Whelan is brilliant, reminding me of the accomplished performances of Claire Daines in My So-Called Life. Jesse is having a hard time adjusting to high school and her new siblings, resulting in an eating disorder. While some aspects of the show are a bit of a stretch, and there are some topical inclusions that might not be completely necessary, there is a realistic atmosphere created, enhanced by the natural performances of this outstanding group of performers.

There are a few notable guest stars that fans may recognize from previous Herskovitz and Zwick series (including Zwick himself, who has a recurring role as a psychiatrist). David Clennon returns to his thirtysomething role as Miles Cantrell, the arrogant developer at the heart of the Atlantor project. In addition to My So-Called Life creator/writer, Winnie Holzman, (who cameos as Lily's brother's caregiver, Shelly), this second season features MSCL alumni Devon Gummersall as disgruntled restaurant employee, Benny, in The Other End of the Telescope (which also spotlights Nordling's Jake), and Devon Odessa makes an appearance as Noelle Platt Forgive Us Our Trespasses as a temp who attracts the attentions of one of Lily's coworkers.

Like the lives and situations it presents, Once and Again covers the gamut of emotions. Humorous, heartwrenching, uplifting, endearing, this is a wonderful, wonderful series, and I know I am not alone in finally welcoming this middle season to my shelves.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Image quality is quite good throughout. Colors are saturated, and the source is clean. Blacks are solid, but the lighting style, which is fairly high contrast, causes a tendency for the image to be on the dark side, and there is a lack of low level detail. Grain is moderate, and the image is reasonably sharp without any noticible artificial enhancement. There is also a bit of aliasing in places.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Stereo surround audio is well balanced, with good use of the soundstage. Dialogue is easy to discern, and musical cues fill things out nicely. No technical anomalies were oserved.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 0 cues and remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Chronicles of Narnia, A Lot Like Love, TV on DVD promo
1 Feature/Episode commentary by producers Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick
Packaging: Digipak
Picture Disc
5 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The lone extra is a commentary track by producers Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick on Food for Thought. The two concentrate mostly on the current episode, but briefly touch on the entire cast and production. They also extend a ray of hope for fans by announcing that they have done commentary and that the third season is in the works.

Forced previews for The Chronicles of Narnia, A Lot Like Love and a TV on DVD promo featuring Scrubs, Home Improvement, The Golden Girls, Desperate Housewives, Alias and Lost open the first disc.

Each episode has seven internal chapter stops, and each disc has a "Play All" feature.

The original release came as three boxed keepcases, and while I'm not a huge fan of Digipak packaging, especially the stacked variety, the design here is very nice, and features a laminated cover and sturdy outer box.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Once and Again fans can finally breath a sigh of relief, after many had all but given up hope that there would be any further seasons released following the fall 2003 release of the first season. Not only is the arrival of this second season welcomed, but there is strong evidence to suggest that the third and (unfortunately) final season is not that far off either. Very highly recommended!


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