once and again
(series)

1999-2001

Created by: Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick

How ridiculous TV shows like Seventh Heaven flourish and amazingly frank and important shows such as Once and Again meet untimely ends is simply beyond me. If alternative family drama is your bag and you don't quite click with the forced hipness and tongue-twisting speed that sometimes trips up Gilmore Girls, then staying up late to catch re-runs of Once and Again might be just your thing.

Essentially the show is about divorce and the way families deal with moving on, how to reconcile new families with old and how to grow up knowing your parents love you but can't love each other anymore. Sounds like a Hallmark movie? Perhaps, but strong writing lifts this show well above what might at first seem like a melodramatic concept.

Once and Again features an excellent cast, especially Evan Rachel Wood. If you need proof of her talent, watch the film Thirteen to see her more than admirably hold her own against the great Holly Hunter. This girl is a future Oscar winner. It's only a matter of time.

I first noticed Evan Rachel Wood in the film Practical Magic as Sandra Bullock's daughter Kylie, and then again in Profiler as Ally Walker's daughter Chloe. She popped up in an excellent cameo on The West Wing as CJ Cregg's niece before landing the role in Once and Again as Jessie Sammler, the troubled daughter.

During the course of the show Jessie struggles to deal with her parents' divorce, goes through a battle with anorexia and falls in love with her best friend, Katie Singer, played by the talented Mischa Barton (who went on to waste her talents in the miserably bad The O.C).

This isn't Mischa Barton's first brush with lesbian storylines by any means. Other than the ratings-grabbing, lesbian storylines in The O.C, she co-starred with Piper Perabo in the interesting Canadian drama Lost and Delirious and also played Lily Taylor's daughter in Julie Johnson in which Lily Taylor has a love affair with Courtney Love. Playing Katie Singer though was the first time Mischa herself got to kiss the girl, and Katie seems the more confident and secure of the two girls with her newfound sexuality.

The actual kiss scene is the stuff of TV legend. After finally baring her soul about her love for Jessie in a letter, Katie waits for Jessie's reaction, which is panicked to say the least. Jessie just wants to be friends and doesn't understand her own intense feelings towards Katie. They argue and then reconcile with Katie mumbling uncertainly that Jessie should just throw the letter away so they can be as they were before.

But Jessie realises, suddenly, that she doesn't want to throw away the letter. In fact, Katie means more to her than anything in the world. They kiss briefly and you can see the recognition in Jessie's eyes, that feeling of having found something she hadn't even known she was looking for. They kiss again with more certainty and the moment is both beautiful and incredibly moving.

Unfortunately Once and Again was cancelled too soon to see all that much develop between Jessie and Katie. But the existence of the relationship at all, however briefly, was so important. It was also handled extremely well, without fanfare and with all the emotion and fear of teenagers busting out of the norm and into lives of their own. I choose not to read too much into the fact that Once and Again was cancelled not long after this storyline aired, but as of the final episode the young couple were still very much together.

Outside of Jessie and Katie, Once and Again also has another lesbian connection. Susanna Thompson, who plays Jessie's mother Karen, is best known to Deep Space Nine fans as Doctor Lenara Khan, the woman that Jadzia Dax falls in love with. The passion-filled kiss shared by the two women was a landmark moment in Science Fiction television and certainly a first for the often conservative Star Trek franchise.

In Once and Again we do have to wait until the third season for the lesbian storyline to heat up, but all through its relatively brief run the show refreshingly faces family issues head on that other shows simply tiptoe around. Once and Again had the forthrightness of Judging Amy, the relationship dynamics of Gilmore Girls, the familial devotion of Seventh Heaven and treated teenage life and issues with the same amount of respect as My So-Called Life. The interview style nature of the show gets us inside the character's heads and was an interesting creative decision that set the show apart. Too often magazine covers featured interviews with cast members that described the show with headings like "The best show you never watched".

We can't bring the show back, but luckily for us re-runs and the release of DVD box sets allow many of us to somewhat correct the mistake of not watching in the first place.

Important lesbian episode: Season 3, "The Gay-Straight Alliance"

Got a comment? Write to me at nancyamazon@gmail.com

 

 

Last updated 9 July 2013