TV shows that get relationships right are so rare that when they do make it to the airwaves, you need to take notice. Such is the case with Everwood, which gets my vote as the most underrated show on network television. Everwood begins its fourth season at 9 p.m. Thursday (WTTV 4), and if you'd like spending an hour with intelligent, likeable characters who'll remind you of people you know, tune in.
Everwood is ostensibly about two extended families and their friends in a small, picturesque Colorado town. But beyond all the machinations of the characters - Who yearns for whom? Who's hurting whom? - the show is ultimately about how people manage their expectations of themselves against the demands of others. Put simply: Can you meet the standards of being a good father/son/daughter/friend/neighbor while being true to yourself? It's a question many of us wrestle with, and Everwood attempts to provide an answer through characters who are beautifully drawn by the writers and perfectly fleshed out by the actors.
You have Andy Brown (Treat Williams), a brilliant surgeon but imperfect widower father trying to give what he thinks is a better life to his college-age son, Ephram (Gregory Smith), and pre-teen daughter, Delia (Vivien Cardone). You have the son rebelling against the father while trying to figure out his place in the world and the daughter trying to keep what's left of her family together.
Ephram's true love is Amy (Emily Van Camp), daughter of Ephram's father's medical partner and sometimes nemesis, Harold (Tom Amandes). Ephram and Amy have been in an up-and-down relationship throughout the series, mostly because they pull each other in different directions. Ephram should be at Julliard this year, and Amy should be at Princeton, but neither are. They both want each other, but they also want different things, and their inability to reconcile what they need and what they want is keeping them apart.
Amy has a pleasantly dopey brother, Bright (Chris Pratt), who's finally found a girl he likes, Hannah (Sarah Drew), but doesn't know how to manage an actual relationship. And Amy and Bright are also dealing with their mother, Rose (Merrilyn Gann), who has cancer.
If it sounds like a soap opera, well, it has those elements. But Everwood is also a show with guts and brains. Over the years, it's dealt with abortion and teen sex, among other weighty issues. In year two, it even killed off a teen-age character.
As year four begins, Andy is trying to woo his neighbor, Nina (Stephanie Niznik), who's just fallen in love with the local plastic surgeon, Jake (Scott Wolf). And someone's getting married, which brings Ephram back from Europe.
That will complicate life for pretty much everyone, as they struggle to achieve their dreams and deal with their fears. They may never meet each other's expectations, but they do meet ours.