“Once and Again” Season 3 (2001-02, ABC), episodes 1-18 — “Once and Again” (9 p.m. Mondays, ABC), in its third and unfortunately last season, includes enough characters to make Robert Altman blush — the show doesn’t even bother with an opening credits sequence. Zwick and Herskovitz are essentially making two shows in one, with the adults and teens trading the spotlight every few weeks. Perhaps it’s my bias coming into play, but I have found the young characters much more interesting than the adults this season.
In recent storylines, Eli (Shane West) becomes drug-addled and lazy, Grace (Julia Whelan) falls for her high school drama teacher, and Jessie (Evan Rachel Wood) — the most porcelain-like in a cast full of fragile characters — falls in love with her best friend Katie (the wonderfully expressive Mischa Barton). Unlike trash like “Boston Public” or “Dawson’s Creek,” “O&A” treats these themes with refreshing realism rather than shock-value.
The quality of the writing and directing on “O&A” is all over the place. A trademark of the show is the asides, where characters present their inner thoughts to the viewer while framed against a black background. Sometimes these asides are so unnecessary that they insult the audience and undermine the actors’ ability to convey feelings without dialogue.
However, recent episodes have done a complete 180, using subtle moments to great effect. In a recent episode, Karen (Susanna Thompson), the mother of Eli and Jessie, is hit by a car soon after she kicks Eli out of the house. As Jessie grabs her mom’s book to bring to the hospital, Eli says: “Don’t lose her place.” The tiny gesture speaks volumes about the feelings Eli is unable to express openly.
The episode ends with the aside gimmick used to tremendous effect: a bed-ridden Karen reflects on three things she loves most about life: Jessie, Jessie’s face, and Eli. She thinks the latter just as her son walks into the room backlit by some sort of heavenly light from the hallway. Ridiculously manipulative, utterly effective. A-
— John Hansen, ” ‘Once and Again,’ ‘Gilmore Girls’ redefine family TV,” NDSU Spectrum, April 12, 2002
“Once & Again” (1999-2002, ABC) was the best show on TV by the time its final episode aired, taking the seemingly bland family genre and giving it an edge. “O&A” avoided the temptation for pat endings and moralizing by having a lot of crappy stuff happen to characters we loved. The final season produced a great run of (sadly truncated) storylines featuring stoner Eli (Shane West), thespian Grace (Julia Whelan), and relationship-phobic Jessie (Evan Rachel Wood). All the actors were great, but the anchor of the cast was surely Sela Ward — never has a mother been played so convincingly on the small screen.
— John Hansen, “TV RIP: Five shows that will be missed,” NDSU Spectrum, Sept. 13, 2002