First, a bit of history: After many years of only three primary networks (ABC, NBC and CBS), things began to change after the formation of the Fox Network in 1986. That was followed by the WB network (short for Warner Brothers) as well as the UPN (United Paramount Network) in 1995.
The WB network made a name for itself by primarily targeting a younger (teen) demographic, with successful shows like Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, Dawson’s Creek, 7th Heaven, Charmed and Angel, the Buffy spinoff. Gilmore Girls premiered in 2000 and Smallville came in 2001. The network had found a solid niche market.
The WB and UPN would be shut down in 2006, and the two would essentially be merged into what we know today as The CW. A few shows from both networks made the transition.
(Trivia: Supernatural is the only remaining CW show from before this transition.)
In September of 2002, WB premiered a new show called Everwood.
The show was created by Greg Berlanti. This was his first TV show, but he’s now one of the most successful TV producers in Hollywood. (Brothers & Sisters, Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, Blindspot, Riverdale)
I admit, at the time I was not a regular WB viewer; I wasn't their target demographic. I’d never seen an episode of Buffy, Dawson’s Creek, Gilmore Girls, Charmed or 7th Heaven.
But I remember watching that first episode.
There was so much that captivated me.
It had intelligence as well as emotions.
The premise was intriguing, the characters were interesting, the setting was breathtaking, there’s a solid soundtrack, and…well, I admit to having a crush on Treat Williams.
Somewhere in season two, we “lost track” of the show due to program scheduling. (It changed time slots numerous times.) For my birthday this year, I got a DVD boxed set of the entire series, and we've spent the past few months watching from the beginning. Returning to the Everwood and reconnecting with the folk brought back such fond memories.
Synopsis/Backstory: Dr. Andrew (“Andy”) Brown is a wealthy, world-renowned New York City neurosurgeon, so skilled he even made the cover of Time magazine. His career consumes him, to the neglect of his wife and two children. In the pilot episode, we have Julia, his wife, reminding him of their son’s piano recital that evening, but as usual, Andy is busy with work. That evening, two police officers show up and he’s told his wife was killed in a car accident, driving to the recital.
Initially, he withdraws even more into his work, but finally remembers a promise he made to her, and reluctantly decides to honor that pledge. He quits his practice and abruptly moves the family to Everwood, a small town in the mountains of Colorado. He’s determined to be a better father to his children and to build a new life together. Nine-year-old daughter Delia is bribed into the move with the promise of a horse. But the deeply strained relationship with son Ephram is pushed even further by this decision. Ephram—a fifteen-year-old piano prodigy—is openly bitter and angry at leaving his school, friends, his piano instructor and the NYC culture. Once in Everwood, Dr. Brown purchases an old train depot (which we learn later has significance) and opens up a practice that won’t charge anyone for any medical services.
The pilot episode begins, as most of the early episodes did, with an amazing, evocative narration by Irv Harper, one of the recurring, pivotal characters, who encapsulated the upcoming story. “I wasn't there the day Doctor Andrew Brown's life changed forever. But like most folks in Everwood, I've heard the story enough times to be able to able to tell it.” (John Beasley’s voice is perfect for this role! Later in the series, they mostly discontinued the narration, which I actually missed.)
In this episode, we get the backstory along with basics of several major storylines, and we’re introduced to most of the primary characters. A few are eccentric, but not as quirky as folks in Stars Hollow (Gilmore Girls) or over-the-top bizarre, like a slice of Twin Peaks.
- Dr. Andy Brown is a skilled surgeon with a bit of a God complex. He’s the stereotypical surgeon—arrogant and self-assured about his medical abilities, especially in the beginning. He likes to take charge and control situations, which sometimes includes the folks and situations around him. It comes from a place of concern and a desire to help, but it often gets him in trouble, especially with his son. Andy has a good heart, and sees Everwood as his chance to be a better person. (In early episodes, Andy sees and talks to his dead wife. For me, that got a bit tired, but eventually stopped. I thought the writers did a good job of providing a valid reason for both the apparition and the end of her ghostly visitations.)
- Ephram Brown is probably one of the most complex and perplexing characters in the show. He can be endearing, but also consistently makes some of the worst decisions…purely to get even with his father. He is petulant and moody as hell. (When the show was at its peak, his character was voted one of the most disliked on TV.) And yet, we find ourselves rooting for him. I appreciate that the actor who portrays the piano prodigy is also an accomplished pianist.
- We meet Andy’s (very pregnant) next-door neighbor, Nina Feeney, who warmly welcomes the family to the town. From the beginning, we sense their connection is more than proximity of houses.
But it’s never that simple, is it?
- Until the arrival of Andy Brown, Everwood's only doctor was Dr. Harold Abbott, whose deceased father was also the town’s only doctor. Harold is protective and pompous, and takes an immediate dislike to the idea of another practice, and sees Andy Brown as wasting his incredible skill. These two play off each other so well, and provide much of the comic relief in the show. (And some very intense, emotional storylines as well!)
- On Ephram’s first day of school, he meets Amy Abbott and is instantly crushing on her because she pays attention to him, unlike everyone else in the school. (She even triggers one of “those” dreams that sometimes happens to hormonal guys.) He learns she has a boyfriend (Colin) who’s in a coma from a severe head trauma.
And what do you know, Ephram’s father is a world-renowned neurosurgeon.
- Ephram also meets Amy’s brother, and Colin’s best friend, Bright Abbott, who’s determined to make Ephram’s life miserable. (Before he was one of the Guardians of the Galaxy or protecting Jurassic World, a young Chris Pratt shined as the dim-witted, but surprisingly wise brother.)
Throughout the series, we meet other residents and visitors to Everwood. A few are eccentric, but not as quirky as folks in Stars Hollow (Gilmore Girls) or over-the-top bizarre, like a slice of Twin Peaks. Not everyone we met stays, and some depart in tragic ways. (Sadly, there’s just not enough time to talk about this wonderful cast, and the stellar guest stars who made appearances.)
Given the network, their intended audience and other popular series, Everwood could have easily been another show with smart-mouthed kids who know more than the adults around them. There are plenty of high school kids with raging hormones, so it could have been little more than a small-town, middle-class version of Fox’s wildly popular Beverly Hills, 90210. It centers on the Brown family, so it could have been merely a mirror version of a sanitized family-friendly story—7th Heaven with better outdoor scenery and without the religious element. Or worse, a modern re-telling of The Waltons. <shudder>
But from the beginning, thanks to exceptional writing and stellar acting, Everwood managed to rise above those clichés, like the beautiful mountains surrounding the town.
After returning to Everwood—watching the entire series—I think the show has held up well, thanks to characters who show (and reveal) humanity, stories that still resonate with relevance, brought to life with writing and acting that still brings emotion. (I can neither confirm nor deny if there were tears as we watched.) In a lot of ways, what we have in Everwood are imperfect people, making emotional…often bad…sometimes tragic…choices, and dealing with the consequences.
Who can’t identify with that?
When compared to the other shows that populated the WB network at the time, Everwood was both similar and uniquely fresh. There were no witches or vampires, but there was a sufficient lineup of angsty, attractive teens dealing with the usual problems of growing up—school, parents, hormones, popularity. But this show also managed to push the envelope, with progressive stories about moral, ethical, medical, theological and social dilemmas, such as unnecessary cosmetic surgery, abstinence-only sex education program (and the rise of sexually transmitted disease), HIV/AIDS, abortion, coming out, teen pregnancy, drunk driving, cancer, suicide and teen depression. While these themes were serious, often fatal, the show managed to avoid degenerating into melodrama. And the problems were not always resolved in the one-hour time frame.
At the core, Everwood is a family drama, but was never in step with what some wanted or expected it to be…especially given that it followed 7th Heaven when it was airing. The push-pull conflict between father and son provides some of the most emotionally draining and rewarding elements of the show. In fact, at the end of the first episode, there’s one of the most powerful, passionate and inappropriate exchanges I think I’ve ever witnessed, outside the actual relationship with my father.
(Again, I cannot speak to whether there were tears!)
When the merger of WB and UPN became a reality, it was known that not every show on each network wouldn't make the transition. The producers and writers of Everwood prepared for that contingency by filming two endings to Season Four—one if the show made the move, and one if the show was canceled. Sadly, Everwood didn't make the cut, so the series finale was aired, which quickly resolved some of the stories. (The DVD includes the alternative ending, which would have set up some interesting direction for another season.)
I highly recommend this show, though I must offer this caveat: watching all four seasons is not simple. Much to the dismay of many, the show has never been available on any of the major streaming services, though it can be viewed on CW Seed, a web portal for the network. (There are lots of commercials.)
DVDs are available for purchase; we got our on eBay, but they're also available on Amazon.