Starring Patricia Arquette, Jake Weber, Miguel Sandoval, David Cubitt, Sofia Vassilieva, Maria Lark
Created by Glenn Gordon Caron
Distributed by Paramount Home Video
With horror’s recent resurgence in popularity both at the box office and on DVD, it’s no wonder that over the past couple of years we’ve seen an influx of genre shows on the small screen as well. For whatever reason, the sci-fi flavored entries like Surface and Invasion didn’t strike much of a chord with viewers, but those with a more paranormal or creepy vibe like Supernatural and Carnivale found themselves with quite a loyal following. In the latter group can also be found one of this reviewer’s favorites: Medium.
Launched with a nice measure of fanfare by NBC as a midseason replacement in January of 2005, Medium quickly became a ratings leader for the network. Starring Patricia Arquette as wife and mother Allison DuBois, it details Allison’s struggle to balance her family life with her career. Not exactly the type of show you’d think would be popular considering that most people watch TV to escape from their everyday lives. But there’s more to the story. Allison is a medium, meaning she communicates with dead people. She is also a psychic and can both read people’s thoughts and see the future. These things don’t occur all at once of course, but little bits of each at various times. She’s secretly employed by the Phoenix District Attorney’s office as a consultant assisting with jury selection, profiling, and solving various murders, abductions, and so forth. Generally she works with Detective Lee Scanlon (Cubitt), a man with a rather dark past who, while cynical and almost contemptuous of Allison at first, gradually comes to respect and appreciate her assistance.
While the cops and killers aspect is certainly a big draw and very well done, what really sets Medium apart from other police procedural programs is its “B” story, the relationship between Allison and her husband, Joe, and their three daughters, Ariel, Bridget, and baby Marie. This is what brings people back week after week. In the various featurettes found in this box set, one word kept popping up: “messy.” Arquette’s Allison and Weber’s Joe are far from perfect. They look and dress like regular people. They fight and make up just like normal couples do. Their house looks lived in, and they bitch at each other about who is making more sacrifices. They walk around in their underwear and pj’s, and a large percentage of their conversations take place in bed. It’s all very believable, and the chemistry among the various players is quite unique. It’s the kind of cast producers dream about. There’s not a single false note to be found, from the relationship between Allison and Joe, to their interactions with the kids, to her rapport with Scanlon. When dealing with matters such as life after death, it’s always good to have a solid foundation to keep things grounded.
And no one involved in this endeavor seems more grounded than Mrs. DuBois herself. The “real” one, that is. Did I neglect to mention that Medium is based on an actual person? She, too, is married to an aerospace engineer named Joe, has a brother named Michael, and must find ways to balance her newfound fame with her desire to raise her three children as normally as possible. From the almost 15-minute “The Real Allison DuBois,” along with other featurettes in which she appears, we see that she is an extremely confident woman, comfortable with who she is and what she does. This is in sharp contrast to the Allison portrayed in Medium. The show serves as a prequel of sorts with Allison not as she is but as she was, and the audience is invited to follow along as she starts upon the path to coming to terms with her abilities. Arquette’s Allison is caring, yet somewhat ambivalent about her gift, brave enough to face the ghosts who cannot be ignored only because she knows the love and support of her family will carry her through. As the ratings and accolades the show has received will attest — Arquette won an Emmy for her work in Season One, and she and others in the cast have received many additional nominations — creator Caron made a wise choice to depict Allison in this way. It makes her much more sympathetic and conflicted and enables the audience to relate to her situation by wondering how they might react under the same set of circumstances.
So, what of the cases Allison works on? Are they gruesome enough to satisfy hardcore horror fans? In most instances, the answer is yes. The crimes are often brutal and bloody, and the perpetrators are suitably deranged and twisted. Just don’t expect a lot of gory details; this is network TV after all, not cable. Each episode begins with a dream, typically Allison’s, and thus begins the puzzle she must solve. Things rarely turn out as you’d expect, and in one instance in particular (the episode entitled “Coming Soon”), Allison could possibly be seeing something completely wrong about someone. Whether or not each ending can rightfully be called a twist is debatable since the mysteries never follow an “a” to “b” path anyway. Throughout each investigation Allison must balance the clues she receives from the police and DA’s office with the information she gathers from her personal sources — the visions and voices that often contradict what Scanlon and her boss, the DA, want to hear. Speaking of DA Devalos, while Sandoval does a great job, his character is my least favorite on the show. Yes, we get that he’s skeptical and that because of his position he can’t blindly accept Allison’s statements, but the way he doubts her time and time again wears thin and borders on unrealistic. To the writers’ credit, by the time the end of Season Two rolled around, this trait of his became much less pronounced, but it did definitely detract from my overall enjoyment of the series in its early days.
I’ve been a loyal viewer of the show from the outset, and revisiting it on DVD was a treat. Some of the highlights of Season One for me were:
– “A Couple of Choices,” in which Joe tries to surprise Allison on her birthday. This is also the episode in which Allison first teams up with Scanlon.
– “Night of the Wolf,” in which Joe and Allison learn that middle daughter Bridget shares more in common with mom than just her blonde hair, and Allison is forced to take a leap of faith that could have disastrous results.
– “Lucky”, in which we meet Allison’s brother and learn more about her struggles to come to terms with her special talent.
– “The Other Side of the Tracks,” an episode about two brothers that kept me guessing right up to the end.
– “In the Rough,” in which Joe’s mother (impressively played by Kathy Baker) comes to visit and we learn a little more about Scanlon’s past.
Also noteworthy are the guest appearances by Reed Diamond, Chad Lowe, and Frances Fisher; but none was able to outshine Arliss Howard as recurring character Captain Push of the Texas Rangers. He appears in the pilot and the finale, a doozy of a cliffhanger that was sure to bring Medium‘s substantial audience back for Season Two. His chemistry (that word again) with Arquette set a standard that most shows can only hope for.
That should be enough to convince you of the show’s overall quality, but what kind of extras are to be found in this box set? All you’d expect and then some! Four featurettes are provided:
– The 25-minute “The Making of Medium” details the genesis of the show via interviews with creator Caron, several of the producers and cast members, and Allison DuBois. It’s full of interesting tidbits like the fact that the show was initially pitched to ABC, which turned it down, and includes Sofia’s and Maria’s early screen tests. It’s obvious why both girls were selected, especially Maria, who is hilarious.
– “The Story of Medium” runs about the same length as “Making of” and dissects the show even further.
– “Interpreting Allison DuBois” clocks in at 9-1/2 minutes and is all about Patricia and the various processes she used to get to know Allison and inhabit the character.
– The aforementioned “The Real Allison DuBois,” a fascinating peek into what she’s gone through to make peace with herself and her gifts.
Also included is the full extended version of the pilot, which is about six minutes longer than the one that aired. It provides additional background on Allison and includes a couple of scenes that help draw the viewer into her story even further. It’s unfortunate NBC didn’t just go ahead and allot 90 minutes to the premiere instead of requiring it to be cut to fit an hour-long time slot.
Numerous deleted scenes, four commentaries, a gag reel, and TV spots round out the package. The commentaries are all entertaining and informative, but it’s too bad none of the show’s stars participated. Ken Kelsch, the Director of Photography, and Jessica Kender, the Production Designer, provide commentary for one of the season’s most unique entries, “I Married a Mind Reader,” which bounces between the past and the present. While it’s enlightening for those who are interested in the technical aspects of a shoot, it’s a big missed opportunity for the actors involved to provide some insight into their preparation for their roles. Blending a little bit of both worlds would have been an ideal situation. The other commentaries are by Caron and various writers and producers with Chad Lowe discussing the episode in which he guest starred. Caron especially is quite lively, but I would have enjoyed hearing Arquette and Weber discuss an episode or two, and having Arquette do a commentary with DuBois would have been the icing on the cake. The gag reel runs just over six minutes and is sufficiently fun and funny to make it worth including. It’s a nice antidote to the overall serious tone of the show and makes me wonder why more of these aren’t included as features, especially for TV series, where you know there must be hours of humorous outtakes.
This five-disc, 16-episode set is well worth the investment. Even if you’ve been watching Medium since its debut, the series is so rich with character and content that repeated viewings will only enhance your appreciation for it. Executive Producer Kelsey Grammer likens it to a “Waltons detective show with spooks in it.” As long as it’s the messy Waltons that they kept behind closed doors, it sounds a-okay to me!
“The Making of Medium” featurette
“The Story of Medium” featurette
“Interpreting Allison DuBois” featurette
“The Real Allison DuBois” featurette
Four commentaries (Episodes 6, 11, 13, 14)
Extended pilot episode
4 ½ out of 5