Medium: The Complete Third Season (DVD)

When others see nothing, she sees the truth.

Medium is loosely based on the experiences of real-life psychic Allison DuBois, who has allegedly used her abilities to assist law enforcement agencies around the country solve cases. Although it doesn’t receive the hype that you see for Lost or Heroes, Medium keeps going strong on the air with a devoted following, and with Medium: The Complete Third Season, now on DVD.

Allison DuBois (Patricia Arquette, Lost Highway), lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with her husband Joe (Jake Weber, U-571), and their three daughters, Ariel (Sofia Vassilieva, Eloise at the Plaza), Bridget (Maria Lark) and Marie (Miranda Carabello). Allison is a consultant for the District Attorney’s office, where only her boss, D.A. Manuel Devalos (Miguel Sandoval, Blow) and tough cop Lee Scanlon (David Cubitt, The Perfect Son) know that she is a psychic, as she provides clues to murder investigations through her dreams and her conversations with the dead.

I don’t what this episode list means, but I’m certain it’s related to the case:

• “Four Dreams” Parts One and Two
It’s a look not just at Allison’s dreams, but those of Bridget, Devalos, and Scanlon as well. As Allison investigates a series of violent home invasions, Devalos starts having health problems, and the images from everyone’s dreams might be connected somehow. Complicating matters are frequent visits from Allison’s recently deceased ex-boyfriend (Arquette’s real-life husband Thomas Jane, The Punisher), who refuses to stop haunting her.

• “Be Kind, Rewind”
Allison does the Groundhog Day thing when she dreams of living the same day over and over. Each time, she has to avoid a nearly fatal car crash and a murder in a restaurant.

• “Blood Relations”
Dr. Walker (Mark Sheppard, Firefly), the killer from the Old West who’s still haunting folks in the present, returns for a third go-around with Allison, this time involving the doc’s present-day descendant.

• “Ghost in the Machine”
When Allison buys Joe a video camera for his birthday, the camera starts showing her strange images. Meanwhile, a sniper picking off cars on the freeway has the entire city afraid to drive.

• “Profiles in Terror”
A renowned FBI profiler (Kurtwood Smith, That ’70s Show) takes over the D.A.’s office during a crucial investigation, where he and Allison butt heads over their methods.

• “Mother’s Little Helper”
After a mother and daughter are murdered, Allison dreams of the murder from the mom’s point of view, while Ariel sees it from the daughter’s. They’re also both dreaming of a famous Brian De Palma movie.

• “The Whole Truth”
Allison and Scanlon are assigned to investigate the murder of a well-respected politician, but Allison’s dreams point her in a different direction, toward a young boy trapped underground.

• “Better Off Dead”
A shy, lonely man dies and leaves a fortune to a beautiful woman he hardly knows. Allison believes there might be more to the story when she sees the man’s ghost, though.

• “Very Merry Maggie”
Allison encounters a child obsessed with an antique doll, one that might be sending him sinister messages.

• “Apocalypse, Psuh”
Texas Ranger Captain Push (Arliss Howard, Jurassic Park: The Lost World) makes a return appearance after having a psychic experience of his own. He and Allison work together to track down a killer.

• “The One Behind the Wheel”
Allison wakes up one morning believing she is a woman named Sandra, with an entire other life and no memory of Joe or the kids. Joe tries to find some way to reach Allison, while all “Sandra” wants is to return to her wealthy doctor husband.

• “Second Opinion”
Allison dreams of the distant future, where young Marie barely clings to life with leukemia. She fears there is something nefarious about their home that might cause the dream to come true.

• “We Had a Dream”
Allison dreams about a plane crashing into a prison, and tries to prevent it. The problem is, someone else had the same dream, and has an interest in seeing it come to pass.

• “The Boy Next Door”
It’s a look back to Allison’s teenage years, as she dreams of her adult life, and her future encounter with the strange boy who just moved in next door.

• “Whatever Possessed You”
Now we’re in The Exorcist territory, when Allison dreams of a girl who might be possessed by demons.

• “Joe Day Afternoon”
The road to the season finale begins here, when a disgruntled ex-coworker of Joe’s holds him and a conference room of co-workers hostage. Allison and Ariel are both filled with psychic thoughts of dread about this, but are helpless to do anything about it.

• “1-900-LUCKY”
Allison’s unbelievably obnoxious stepbrother returns for another unbelievably obnoxious adventure, when he swindles money from an unbelievably obnoxious widow with a fake “phone psychic” scam. Things change, though, once he is contacted by the woman’s unbelievably obnoxious dead husband.

• “No One to Watch Over Me”
Joe returns to work for the first time since the hostage incident, and he’s having trouble adjusting, both there and at home. Allison, meanwhile, dreams of a blizzard that leads her to a dead girl’s body frozen inside a block of ice.

• “Head Games”
Allison befriends traveling saleswoman Debra (Neve Campbell, Scream), and makes a difficult judgment call about a decapitation murder and the man (Jason Priestly, Beverly Hills 90210) who might be responsible.

• “Heads Will Roll”
The decapitation killer strikes again, earning the name “The Recapitator,” for his placing victim’s heads on other victim’s bodies. As Joe grows more and more distant, Allison spends more time with Debra, a decision she will eventually regret.

• “Everything Comes to a Head”
The D.A.’s office looks bad when the Recapitator claims another pair of victims, and even worse when Allison’s secret is exposed to the world in a newspaper article (wait…didn’t this happen in last season’s finale?). Now she and Joe both have to deal with their jobs in jeopardy, and let’s not forget that the killer is still out there.

One aspect of the series I enjoyed during the first two seasons has how non-formulaic it was. In many episodes, the murders and crimes took a backseat to Allison’s family and all the quirky slice-of-life events that come with a family of five. This season, though, the series feels like it has fallen into a regular formula. Consider the “dreams vs. evidence” argument. In almost every episode, there’s a scene in which Allison informs Devalos and Scanlon about something she saw in a dream that may or may not relate to that week’s case. They don’t believe her at first, stating that they can’t trust clues from dreams, but she insists and they eventually come around. You’d think by now that she’d proven herself by being uncannily correct so many times that they wouldn’t give her the skeptic routine every time she has a dream. To be fair, Allison, a former law school grad student, should also know that police need evidence before they can arrest and/or convict someone, and she shouldn’t have to be reminded of this every single week.

These repetitious scenes are part of a bigger problem with this season and its reliance on formula. Typical episode: 1) Allison has a weird dream just as some sort of horrific murder is committed, 2) she and Joe get the girls ready for school in the morning, 3) Allison investigates the crime with others at work, 4) the killer is seemingly caught, 5) Allison has another dream that reveals more about the case, 6) whatever subplot that was introduced in the breakfast scene is resolved, 7) the real killer is caught this time, and 8) roll credits. The show that once struck me as different and unconventional now feels too much like some of the other police procedurals on the air, even with the psychic angle. When Allison spends the entire episode “The One Behind the Wheel,” it’s exciting because it’s something new and different. But it used to be that every episode felt new and different.

Then, as the season chugs along toward the season finale, we get six serialized episodes in a row, which first deal with how a hostage crisis affects Joe, and then with a nasty serial killer, a failed court case, a potential lawsuit, and a new best friend for Allison. On one hand, it’s nice to see the writers tackling a longer project, which gives them room to add in a lot of longer dramatic scenes that would normally be rushed in a single episode. On the other hand, it comes across as the writers hoping to compete with the hit serialized shows that are all the rage these days. Even though it all comes together in its own way, it leaves viewers hanging just enough to wonder what will happen in the upcoming Season Four.

Despite my above criticisms, there is a lot to praise about this season of Medium as well. The actors are excellent across the board, with Arquette leading the way. She skillfully balances being the tough detective type with the loving mother type. Weber gets a lot more to do this time around, as his character endures a traumatic experience. Sandoval gets to drop his guard a little when we get a look at his home life, and Cubitt has the “rugged, world-weary cop” routine down to a science by now. The three girls, normally the show’s big scene-stealers, don’t seem to have as much screen time, but they are still charming.

The show’s production values are top-notch as well, with every episode looking like it could be a big-screen feature. The DuBois home looks warm and comfortable, if a little messy. Crime scenes, meanwhile, are appropriately gory, with blood sprays and mangled corpses to be seen. The dream sequences that kick off every episode sometimes show a lot of imagination, such as when Allison and her family are transformed into dolls. There are far fewer dream fake-outs this season, so there’s a lot less of the producers tricking you into thinking Allison is in danger only to slap you in the face with “it was all a dream.” Instead, the opening dreams reveal the first hints of that week’s murder, like so many detective shows do. This might be following the usual cop show format, but it beats the fake-outs any day.

It’s time for another thrill-packed game of “Intentional or Coincidence,” in which we look at similarities between this season and other movies/TV shows to determine if the reference is a coincidence or an intentional shout-out (or, dare I say it, a rip off):

• In one episode, young Marie prefers watching the static on TV instead of any programs, just like the little girl from Poltergeist. Intentional or coincidence?

• In the same episode, Allison meets a brilliant FBI agent named Cooper. The TV classic Twin Peaks also featured a brilliant FBI agent named Cooper. Intentional or coincidence?

• When Allison dreams of herself in the middle of a magical snowstorm, the music is very, very similar to Danny Elfman’s snowy themes from Edward Scissorhands. Intentional or coincidence?

The audio and visual quality here is good all around, as is expected for a series possibly made with these DVDs in mind. Two episodes get commentaries from producers, directors, writers, and actors. They’re both good ones, in which the participants share their love of the show while offering plenty of behind-the-scenes tidbits. Seven episodes come with deleted scenes, but most of them are short “cut for time” moments that don’t add much to the story overall. The best of the featurettes is “The Story of Medium Season 3″ and “The Making of Medium Season 3.” In these, the producers, actors, and more give an overview of some of the season’s highlights, such as deciding which directions to take characters, and a look at some of the more complicated set pieces and special effects. “Directing with David Arquette” has everyone talking about Patricia Arquette’s brother David (Ready to Rumble) who directed one episode this season. “Drawing on Dreams” is a look at how an animated sequence from an episode was created, and “Acting is my Racquet” is borderline pointless footage of Sandoval and other actors horsing around while playing tennis, ping-pong, and badminton. A semi-funny gag reel and a few trailers for upcoming Paramount DVD releases are also included. It’s a nice collection of bonus features, but they don’t have as much depth as the features from previous season box sets.

Although I’m still enjoying Medium, I have to admit there were times when the show bored me this season. That’s because the fresh non-formulaic writing of the first two seasons now feels a little more written-by-blueprint. If you’re thinking about checking out this series, start with the first season. I’d say Season Three is for the fans only.

The Verdict

We were all ready to hand in a “guilty” verdict, but the district attorney gave such a passionate speech in his closing remarks that we’ve changed our minds.

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