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Once and Again

As if you needed another reason to resent April 15, ABC will air the series finale of the critically acclaimed but underexposed drama "Once and Again" tonight. Most viewers weren't even aware the show was still on. But know this -- when this show goes, so does one of the last remaining dramas about regular folks.

As if you needed another reason to resent April 15, ABC will air the series finale of the critically acclaimed but underexposed drama “Once and Again” tonight. Most viewers weren’t even aware the show was still on, given its manhandling by ABC’s scheduling department. But know this — when this show goes, so does one of the last remaining dramas about regular folks. The rest of the network TV world belongs almost exclusively to doctors, lawyers and cops.

For three seasons, “Once and Again” explored interpersonal relationships in an engaging and respectably realistic style that creators Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz honed first with “thirtysomething” and then with the very short-lived “My So-Called Life.” Here, nobody was voted off an island. No one had to eat larvae. They just had to relate.

And either not enough people wanted to see that or they just didn’t know when they could. So “Once and Again” will fade into television history without so much as a retrospective special or even a two-hour sendoff.

Granted, even loyal fans will admit that the third season of “O&A” wasn’t its finest. Surprise plot twists and stunt casting rocked the steady nature of the show and smacked a little of desperation. Still, the show has provided superior acting, and series finale “Chance of a Lifetime” is no exception.

In this episode, Lily (Sela Ward) and Rick (Billy Campbell) continue to navigate their way through the marriage minefield, deflecting, among other things, the problems of a blended family and, specifically, dueling careers. Rick has been offered the dream job of designing a world-class hotel in Australia, which would take the family out of the country for nearly a year just as Lily’s radio talkshow enters syndication negotiations.

Instead of rehashing the battle of the sexes, writers Sue and Daniel Paige, Zwick and Herskovitz engage in a battle of the psyches.

Meanwhile, Rick’s ex-wife, Karen (Susanna Thompson), continues to struggle with rehab after a devastating car accident, but finds herself fighting her attraction to her physical therapist, Henry (D.B. Woodside).

Although the show’s clearly promoted as a Ward vehicle, its strength comes from the stellar ensemble cast. Unfortunately, time restraints prevent showcasing all of the actors in the final ep, including Julia Whelan, Ever Carradine and Evan Rachel Wood, who have proved themselves extremely capable over the last few years.

As it is, only some of the issues and promising side stories are resolved, while others are just hinted at. In the end, “Once and Again” fulfills the ultimate showbiz adage: Always leave them wanting more.

The only real sense of closure comes not from the episode, but from an epilogue featuring the show’s trademark black-and-white confessional scenes. Only this time, it’s the actors out of character, talking passionately and emotionally about the show.

The tape reviewed was a rough cut; however, over three seasons, technical credits have remained consistent and top quality. The one-on-one camera interviews that became a signature of “O&A” were also a highly effective and innovative way to propel the drama. It’s probably no coincidence that just about every reality show utilizes the same confessional-type technique.

Once and Again

ABC; Mon. April 15, 10 p.m.

  • Production: Filmed on location in Los Angeles by Bedford Falls Co. in association with Touchstone Pictures and Television. Executive producers, Marshall Herskovitz, Edward Zwick, Winnie Holzman; producer, Debra Lovatelli; director, Dan Lerner; writers, Sue Paige, Daniel Paige, Herskovitz, Zwick.
  • Crew: Camera, Michael A. Genne; editor, Paul Karasick; music, W.G. Snuffy Walden, Joey Newman; casting, Amy Lippens. 60 MIN.
  • Cast: Lily Sammler - Sela Ward<br> Rick Sammler - Billy Campbell<br> Grace Manning - Julia Whelan<br> Eli Sammler - Shane West<br> Zoe Manning - Meredith Deane<br> Jessie Sammler - Evan Rachel Wood<br> Karen Sammler - Susanna Thompson<br> Jake Manning - Jeffrey Nordling<br> Judy Brooks - Marin Hinkle<br> Samuel Blue - Steven Weber<br> Tiffany Porter - Ever Carradine<br> Colin - Saul Rubinek<br> Henry - D.B. Woodside<br> Katie - Mischa Barton<br> Les Cresswell - Paul Dooley<br>
  • Music By: