Seeing is believing.
After catching viewers by surprise and earning an Emmy for star Patricia Arquette (Lost Highway), a second season for Medium was a must. Based on a real life psychic and medium who gained nationwide notoriety by helping law enforcement with cases and with jury selection, the series now sees all 22 episodes of season two on a six disc set, packed with extras and a special 3-D episode. But is it worth waking the dead?
Meet Allison DuBois (Arquette). She’s an unofficial advisor for the Phoenix district attorney Manuel Devalos (Miguel Sandoval, Blow), where she investigates various cases, often working with homicide detective Lee Scanlon (David Cubitt, The Perfect Son). At home, Allison and her husband Joe (Jake Weber, U-571) stay busy raising their three daughters, Ariel (Sofia Vassilieva, Eloise at the Plaza), Bridget (Maria Lark) and Marie (Miranda Carabello). One more thing about Allison: she’s a psychic and medium. She can communicate with the dead, she can read minds, and she can see the future. These things often happen in her dreams. While still getting used to her abilities, she uses them to solve crimes, as well as to get through each day.
This episode list was recovered at the crime scene:
• “When Push Comes to Shove, Part Two”
Picking up where the season one cliffhanger left off, Allison’s friend, Texas Ranger Captain Push (Arliss Howard, The Lost World: Jurassic Park) hovers on the brink of death, and the killer known as “The Phantom” is still out there. With all this going on, Allison’s around-the-clock schedule continues to cause stress in her home life.
• “The Song Remains the Same”
Allison is bothered by a loud song only she can hear, one that might lead her to key evidence in a case. Also, her dreams are telling her to take the family trip in a car, and not on a plane.
• “Time out of Mind”
At first, it appears that Allison has traveled back in time to the 1950s, where she is institutionalized for claiming to be from the future. When Allison finds herself back in the present, she discovers a psychiatric patient from the ’50s with a very familiar story.
• “Light Sleeper”
While investigating a kidnapping, Allison keeps blacking out, sleepwalking, and even emptying her bank account without knowing it. While Joe fears for her safety, Allison worries her behavior might be linked to the case.
• “Sweet Dreams”
Allison flashes back to high school, compelling her to seek out an old friend she hasn’t heard from in many years. But is there a connection between this old friend and a missing city councilman’s daughter?
• “Dead Aim”
In court with Devalos, Allison is amused to find an opposing attorney using a psychic of his own. Far less amusing are her dreams about a massacre in the D.A.’s office.
• “Judge, Jury and Executioner”
Joe must serve on a jury, as Allison starts having dreams about his trial. Can they work together to see justice done, without creating a conflict of interest?
• “Too Close to Call”
Allison and Scanlon try to prevent a crime that could harm Devalos’s run for reelection. One misstep could ruin the whole campaign, though.
• “Still Life”
Gimmick episode! Originally broadcast in 3-D, this one has Allison seeing murders in an artist’s paintings. Also, Joe gets a new job offer, and Allison gets another visit from Joe’s dead father.
• “The Reckoning”
Ariel gets more than she bargained for while telling fortunes at a slumber party, and her mother has no easy answers for what to do about spying something horrible in someone else’s future.
• “Method to his Madness”
When Allison sees the world through the eyes of a vicious killer, she starts taking on the killer’s mannerisms, to the point where Joe fears for his and their daughters’ safety.
• “Doctor’s Orders”
The spirit of an Old West murderer, one we met briefly in the first season episode “Penny for your Thoughts,” makes a return, looking for a new host to possess. He’s also messing with Allison’s daughter, and bringing out a violent side of Allison herself.
• “Raising Cain”
When a young boy is the target of a violent crime, Allison suspects the boy’s mother, whom she thinks might have psychic gifts of her own.
• “A Changed Man”
After she blacks out and has problems with her memory, Allison gets an MRI scan, which Joe believes might provide some scientific explanation for her abilities. She also meets a fellow MRI patient, a seemingly nice guy who might have a connection to missing prostitute.
• “Sweet Child O’ Mine”
It’s revealed that Allison miscarried a child years before Ariel was born, and now she’s dreaming of what life with a son would have been like. She then meets a troubled young man accused of a crime who bears a resemblance to the one in her dream.
• “Allison Wonderland”
Guest starring David Carradine (Kill Bill: Volume 2). Suddenly, we’re in X-Files territory, as Allison has visions of secret agents and conspiracies. It’s all about seeing the world through someone else’s eyes.
• “Lucky in Love”
Allison’s unbelievably obnoxious stepbrother returns for more unbelievably obnoxious fun, as he gets involved with the wrong girl and a group of criminals.
Allison’s home life and her work life clash when her abilities lead her to a murdered body while she’s on a hike with her family. This brings her media attention, her daughters asking about what she does for a living, and a killer knowing where she lives.
• “Knowing Her”
Scanlon’s past comes back to haunt him, not to mention his many personal demons, when a series of drug-related murders could be connected to an old flame.
• “The Darkness is Light Enough”
Molly Ringwald (The Breakfast Club) guest stars as a blind woman who might have a stalker sneaking into her home while she sleeps. Without evidence, Allison has some trouble convincing Scanlon and Devalos of this, however.
• “Death Takes a Policy”
Kelsey Grammer (Frasier), one of the show’s executive producers, guest stars as the “Angel of Death,” who starts appearing around Allison as she investigates a series of grisly crimes. Does this mean her time is up?
• “Twice Upon a Time”
Word finally gets out that Devalos has a psychic in his employ. His reputation is ruined, and he severs his professional relationship with Allison. At home, with her name all over the media and her phone ringing off the hook, Allison suddenly gets a glimpse of what her life might have been like without her abilities.
As Allison investigates all of her various cases, the usual formula for each episode is that she gets some pieces of information with her abilities, normally appearing to her in a dream. But instead of seeing specific clues or suspects, Allison only sees fleeting images, leaving her to wonder what they mean. She must use her wits, then, and not any supernatural powers, to determine what her dreams mean, and how she can use that information to solve the crime at hand. Allison’s powers only give her piece of the puzzle, instead of solving the puzzle for her. With this pattern in place, the Medium writers are able to keep Allison an ordinary down-to-Earth person, rather than some sort of psychic superhero.
Although this series has creepy serial killers, blood-drenched crime scenes, courtroom drama, and the occasional tense standoff, it’s really Allison’s home life that separates it from other police procedurals and supernatural series. We spend half of each episode often more than half dealing with Allison’s relationship with her husband and her daughters. In any other series of this kind, all the family plots would be mere background. But in Medium‘s case, this is what gives the series its heart. We get to see that Allison is a caring wife and mother in addition to her role as a psychic investigator. The “detective” part of the show only represents one part of who this person is. In this series, we get to see her as a complete individual, instead of focusing on just one element of her life.
In depicting Allison’s marriage, the writers thankfully avoid the obvious trap of having the two constantly bickering. There is the occasional conflict between the two, but these conflicts are normally dealt with in a realistic, mature way, and not as a forced excuse to give the story some drive. Too often, writers desperate in need for drama of any kind will resort to making the happily married couple fight, just as an easy out for some intensity. On Medium, however, Allison and Joe maintain a healthy marriage, and the writers are smart enough to make that work week after week, without boring viewers.
The closest thing this season has to an ongoing story arc is Ariel entering sixth grade and maturing rapidly over the year. Not only does she get to worry about the usual crises like grades and boys, but simple things like getting her own room or walking home from school instead of riding home with mom become huge adventures for her. Sofia Vassilieva plays the character with a nice combination of wide-eyed innocence and an adventurous spirit. As usual, Maria Lark, as middle daughter Bridget, steals every scene she’s in with her quirky line delivery, and she once again walks away with the show’s funniest moments. The DuBois daughters both spend a lot of time this season developing their own psychic abilities, just like their mom. This leads to Ariel seeing a dark future for a classmate, and the possibility of a dead writer telling new stories through Bridget. This gives both girls a lot to do this season, and the young actresses do an excellent job.
At Allison’s day job, Miguel Sandoval and David Cubitt provide plenty of seriousness to the task of tracking down all those pesky murderers and serial killers. As with the first season, there are the occasional flourishes of bloody violence, including victims getting carved up with knives and dead bodies with their eyes gouged out. Because this is not an overly gory series, these moments stand out, and have the full shocking impact. The writers do a fairly good job of keeping Allison’s cases just varied enough so that each week’s murders never feel repetitive.
Centering all of this is Patricia Arquette as Allison. Appearing in almost every scene of every episode, she carries the series with confidence. In dream sequences, she appears in many different ways, from dancing to a classic tune to portraying a ruthless killer. In reality, she has to play the detective in one scene, the loving mother in the next, and the sexy wife in the one after that. It’s clear that Arquette knows who this character is through and through, and can easily play her in any situation.
So, how about that 3-D episode? First of all, this set does come with two complimentary 3-D glasses, so you don’t have to find a copy of the TV Guide issue that originally offered them. From there, the episode itself isn’t entirely 3-D. A symbol on the upper left hand corner of the screen tells you when to put on and take off the glasses, and there are long stretches of plot with no 3-D at all. Now, I know that the success of 3-D technology varies depending on the type of TV used. On my TV, I did indeed see an illusion of depth, once my eyes took a few minutes to get used to it. The colors, however, didn’t come across as well, with all the 3-D scenes looking kind of grayish-blue. After some experimentation, I found that the 3-D effects looked much more convincing with all the other lights in the room turned off. If the 3-D doesn’t work for you, or you’re just worried about looking like a dorkus malorkus wearing the glasses, the DVD gives you the option to watch the “2-D” version, in which all the 3-D scenes are lit and colored normally.
When not in 3-D, the picture quality is razor sharp, and the 5.1 audio is terrific, especially when the Bernard Herrmann-inspired theme music kicks in. Several episodes have amusing and informative commentaries with series creator Glenn Gordon Caron (Moonlighting) and various cast and crew members. The “Story of Medium” featurette is a nice one, running down the episode list, with everyone talking about the inspiration and challenges behind each one. “Medium in Another Dimension” is a featurette about the creation of the 3-D episode, and the many technical challenges involved. The “DuBois Daughters” featurette follows the child actresses throughout their working day, as they bounce back and forth from acting to tutors to acting and so on. The final featurette, footage of the cast and writers from their appearance at the Museum of Television and Radio’s annual Paley Festival, is much too short. You just know there’s more of this out there than the one anecdote we get. A semi-humorous gag reel concludes the extras.
The series continues its pattern of beginning each episode with a dream sequence. More often than not, the dreams are fake-outs, in which we’re supposed to be surprised when Allison wakes up with a jolt. This gets less surprising and more tiring each time it happens. The better dreams are the more creative and surreal ones, which do a much better job of catching viewers off guard.
Some of the most interesting bonus material in the first season set was the interviews with the real Allison DuBois and her experiences, comparing them to what we see on the show. I hoped to learn more about her this time around, but the real Allison is nowhere to be found on this set.
Medium might not have the flashiness or sexiness of hit series like Lost or cult following favorites like Battlestar Galactica, but don’t let that stop you from checking it out. It has witty writing, great acting, and powerful visuals. The depth of the extras on these DVDs only sweetens the deal. Highly recommended.