In Praise of … MEDIUM (2005-11)

Medium-Final-Season-DVDI just finished watching the seventh and final season of Medium, the mystery / supernatural drama starring  loosely inspired by reputed real-life spirit medium, Allison DuBois. It is one of my favourite shows, one of the most consistently inventive and ingenious whodunits to have graced the small screen over the last couple of decades in my view and one with a genuine heart at its centre. So this seemed like a good time to provide a quick overview and provide a list of my top 7 personal favourites episodes.

The following review is submitted for your approval as part of the Tuesday’s Overlooked Film & TV meme hosted by Todd Mason over at his Sweet Freedom blog.

Joe Dubois: “Ever since you made the decision not to go to law school, to go to work for the D.A. as a consultant, I don’t know, you seem kinda …”
Allison Dubois: “Bitchy? Cranky? Pissed off?”
Joe Dubois: “You can read minds”

Patricia Arquette plays Allison, a resident of Phoenix who juggles a life with her engineer husband Joe (Jake Weber) and her three daughters (Sofia Vassilieva as Ariel;
Maria Lark as Bridgette; and Madison and Miranda Carabello as Marie) with her psychic consultancy work with Manuel Devalos (Miguel Sandoval), the District Attorney, and a friendly but hardboiled cop (David Cubitt), who grudgingly comes to accept her abilities. Based loosely on the life of a real spiritualist of the same name (www.allisondubois.com), each episode begins with a supernatural dream and then hovers between sleeping and waking states as it details the effect of the ghostly contacts on the DuBois’ domestic and work fronts. One of the great things about the show is the time is in fact divided almost equally so we spend a lot of time with the Dubois family, who have to deal with every day domestic issues as well as occasional supernatural interruptions. Rather than get bogged down in the Sturm and Drang of a woman with a Cassandra complex surrounded by disbelievers, Medium shows Allison quickly finding satisfaction at work providing closure for the victims of crime (both living and dead), while coming to accept that her abilities are also shared by her blood relatives. Oh, and it’s really funny too.

Allison: You’re not gonna believe what I stumbled upon. This show I used to love when I was a kid: “I Married a Mind Reader.”
Joe: You’re kidding. There’s a show like that? I’m suing for invasion of privacy.

Despite what may well be the most unprepossessing main title sequence since The X Files and a well-trodden premise shared with the likes of The Dead Zone and even the short-lived UK series starring Lesley Sharp, Afterlife, this is an extremely well scripted and tightly plotted series that is by turns humorous, suspenseful and scary. And did I mention that nearly every episode has a really ingenious whodunit at its core?

There were a several notable stunt episodes: “Still Life” (2 / 9), dealt with a painter and a murder and was broadcast with several sequences in 3-D (glasses were included with TV Guide) as a Halloween special, using CGI to have Rod Serling in Twilight Zone mode provide an on-screen introduction; “Bite Me” (6/6) seamlessly remixed the cast into the zombie cult classic, Night of the Living Dead. The show is in fact very dexterous in its use of special effects, something it does sparingly but always very effectively, such as a really scary plane crash sequence in the middle of a field, the vision of the end of the world (in “Apocalypse… Now?” (6/5)) and the wonderful use of classic TV style 2-D animation in another favourite episode, ‘Four Dreams’ (3/1-2)

Ariel: Mom, I want my own room!
Allison: Well, I want my own private island, and a private jet to take me there, and a cook and a houseboy to pamper me when I arrive. It’s good to want things.

There is also a ton of sex – by which I mean that Joe and Allison spend a good portion of every episode in bed talking, fussing, feuding and making love – and if I had to pick the aspect of the show that made me deep down happiest, this would be it. It’s a show about a married couple and about how they get along – and darn it, every now and then they even get it on – and it is just nice to watch a show in which a basically stable and happy married couple are truly together despite much adversity and stress, as with any marriage worth its salt.

Here are my top 7 Medium episodes, in chronological order, one per season:

1. “The Other Side of the Tracks” (1. 10 / tx. 14 March 2005)
Guest stars: Zach Grenier, Wallace Langham
Written by Chris Dingess , directed by Eric Laneuville
Alison is tormented by dreams of a young boy and train, leading to a cold case going back decades and which pays off with a finale that will just break your heart.

2. “Doctor’s Orders” (2.12 / tx. 9 January 2006)
Guest stars: Mark Sheppard
Written by René Echevarria, directed by Helen Shaver
Sheppard has probably guested in more good TV shows than William Windom and here plays a serial killer from long ago – and he did such a good job, he got to come back …

3. “The One Behind the Wheel” (3. 12 / tx.14 February 2007)
Guest stars: Jessica Lundy, George Newbern
Written by Diane Ademu-John, directed by Leon Ichaso
Crucial to the episode is the song ‘Like A Star’ by Corinne Bailey Rae but this is a stunning episode in which Alison’s mind is taken over by another woman, one who should in fact be a murder victim. Joe is put in a position of having to live with a woman claiming not to be his wife who is outwardly Alison in every respect and has to explain to her how their life works, especially as it’s their wedding anniversary. The plot is especially clever and the final re-uniting of Alison and Joe gets me every time.

4. “Wicked Game” (Parts 1 & 2) (4. 10-11 / tx. 31 March – 7 April 2008)
Guest star: Anjelica Huston
Written by Diane Ademu-John (1) & Robert Doherty (2) , directed by Peter Werner (1) & Arlene Sanford (2)
The fourth season, abbreviated due to the writer’s strike, is unusual in that Alison and Devalos are kicked out of the DA’s office and introduction of Anjelica Huston as a PI who comes to rely, uneasily, on Alison’s psychic gifts. This is the two-part finale, which is in many ways remarkably dark but which time and again wrong-foots its audience and which to an unusual degree focuses on the specific season arc.

5.”The Man in the Mirror” (5. 16 / tx. 11 May 2009)
Guest star: Jeffrey Tambor
Written by Travis Donnelly & Corey Reed , directed by Aaron Lipstadt
Tambor gets to play Allison when she faints and gets taken to hospital and he, another patient, wakes up claiming to be her. This is played for outrageous laughs to begin with but becomes really affecting

6. “Time Keeps on Slipping” (6.20 / 7 May 2010)
Guest star: Michael Rady
Written by Heather Mitchell  & Robert Doherty, directed by Miguel Sandoval
In this episode Ariel apparently travels in time and we see her through her life – but is this her real life, or merely something that ‘could’ happen? A complex tale, very well acted by Sofia Vassilieva and directed with great aplomb by Miguel Sandoval. Another great episode focussing on the burgeoning powers of Allison’s daughters.

7. “Bring Your Daughter to Work Day” (7.1 / 24 September 2010
Guest Stars: Tony Sirico
Written by Michael Narducci, directed by Aaron Lipstadt
I was tempted to pick the finale, which while logical also proved controversial and disappointing to many longtime fans – I’ve made my peace with it and know why they went that way – but I find other episodes more memorable, like this opening episode for the final year. The final season, abbreviated to just 13 episodes, kicks off in fact with an amusing switch in which Allison and her second daughter Bridgette wake up one morning and find themselves inhabiting each other’s bodies …

This is just a great show, with a terrific cast that presents the supernatural in either scary or amusing terms but which plays fair with its mysteries and presents its characters in a very naturalistic way that is often not all that flattering (Allison is a lot more conservative than I am). If you haven’t sampled it, you really should – you could even start with the episodes I have suggested of course …

***** (4 fedora tips out of 5)

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40 Responses to In Praise of … MEDIUM (2005-11)

  1. le0pard13 says:

    Hear, hear, Sergio! My wife hooked me into watching this the first season. I initially played it off, but damn it, the show reeled me in. Great one to highlight, my friend.

  2. Sergio – I’ll admit it; I’ve never watched Medium. I’m not one for the supernatural in my fiction, whether it’s fiction I read or watch, and I suppose that’s what put me off trying it. Hmmm… maybe I’ve been missing something? Thanks as ever!

    • Thanks Margot and I know what you mean. I have two approaches to this – I get annoyed with films like What Lies Beneath, which use supernatural elements basically as a storytelling shortcut; and then there are projects like Dead Again in which the crime element is separated from the fantasy so that you can enjoy the collision but the whodunit is presented and solved fairly – and Medium always felll on the ‘right’ side for me, shall we say :)

  3. Oh, I feel so stupid! I meant *Sergio* of course. *Deep blush of shame*

  4. Colin says:

    I caught a few episodes of the show and bits and pieces here and there over the years but I have to say it never really drew me in. The premise is a reasonable one and the cast all seemed affable enough so I’m unsure why it didn’t fly for me.

    • Weeellll – faor enough Colin, I know you are not necessarily a TV guy – on the other hand, if you are tempted, try the first episode I linked to from season one – if it doesn’t do it for you, fair enough, give up:)

      • Colin says:

        Yes, I’ll try it again. Not sure why at all but some things just don’t grab me, and it’s sometimes nothing to do with the quality of a production. It may be down to the circumstances when I see a show/film and that colors my perception. We’ll see.

        • I completely agree -t here are so many films and TV shows that I know I should have liked and yet didn’t, usually down to bad timing – but the advantage is that in this case, you get a second shot at it!

  5. Patti Abbott says:

    A very underrated show. A miss here or there but so many episodes were excellent. And just as a portrait of middle class family it was very fine!

    • Thanks Patti – Glonn Gordon Caron is a very smart producer and this is was a show that I initially resisted – but then I saw how plausible the fights between the main couple were and how clever the plotting was and I was just dold!

  6. Santosh Iyer says:

    I have decided to see a few episodes from your recommended 7 and shall comment further after seeing them.

  7. Yvette says:

    I will give this show another try, Sergio – only due to your enthusiasm for it. I love enthusiasm. :) I do remember watching it long ago – maybe the first season or so. But then for whatever reason I lost interest.

  8. Santosh Iyer says:

    I shall begin with the 3 episodes shown here available on You Tube.

  9. Jeff Flugel says:

    It is a surprisingly good show, Sergio, much better than what one might expect…certainly far better than the slightly similar THE GHOST WHISPERER (though Jennifer LoveHewitt…mmmmm).

    Where was I…oh, yes. Spooky goings-on aside, it features for my money one of the most realistic depictions of workaday family life and dynamics ever seen on U.S. television. I haven’t been a religious watcher of the show and haven’t seen many of the later episodes, so don’t know how badly they botched the ending, but whenever I happen to tune in I always enjoy the show. Allison can be a bit of a rag at times (I think her hubby Joe is a saint for putting up with her, frankly) but she has her heart in the right place as well as a strong sense of justice. Aside from the leads, I also think Miguel Sandoval is pretty great in his role as Allison’s fair, soft-spoken yet steely DA boss.

    • Thansk very much Jeff – now look, I am sure Heweitt is a wonderful human being and very nice to man and beast but we are not talking about the same order of business here! As you say, it’s the family stuff which, by being plausible, sucks you in – as for the ending, I think they just did something a lot of fans didn;t like, but they kept compl;etely on track in terms of the show so it’s not one of those endings that just throws everythign up in the air because they don;t have to go on any more – what it is, however, is a definite ending and I think mroe than anythign that’s what people reacted badly do.

  10. TracyK says:

    Interesting. We never gave it a try. You mentioned a lot of qualities I would probably like, but not so sure how I would take the supernatural.

    • When I first started watching I was equally concerned that the supernatural element would be hokey (and as I say, the main title sequence doesn’t help) – but it’s really great. Try the first seaon episode I linked to TracyK – if it wins you over you won’t care, honest! In the words of Johnny Cash (and the Monkees), it’ll make you a believer!

  11. The odd episode I saw I thought was very good, I always meant to watch more, and you are persuading me. I thought it was a great concept, and very entertaining.

  12. John says:

    I really enjoyed the two seasons. Wasn’t it cancelled and then revived? And only in it’s reincarnated version did it really catch on. Just like CHEERS, right? MEDIUM was one of those series if I missed an episode I got upset. (That doesn’t happen anymore now that nearly every network replays episodes via the internet.) I sort of lost interest in it when the series began to feature her older daughter’s emerging psychic ability. I thought the chemistry between Arquette and Weber was spot on — two of the most believable actors playing a married couple on TV I’ve ever seen.

    • So glad you were a fan as well. I think that it got cancelled and switched network, but that was a bit later though – it was on NBC for its first five seasons, then switched to CBS. I thought the way they intriduced the girls’ abilities was done quite subtly and I like some fo the role reversal epiodes (I seem to have picked quite a few here in fact) but yes, it was Arquette and Weber that made it work and really grounded it, agree with you 100% there chum.

  13. Santosh Iyer says:

    I have seen the 3 episodes to which you have linked.
    The supernatural elements are restricted to psychic experiences of Allison and her daughters involving seeing events in dreams, seeing and talking with dead people, and body possessions.There is no supernatural aspect to the crimes, their solutions being perfectly rational.
    I found the episodes to be enjoyable mysteries/whodunits.
    In addition to crime and suspense, there is also a lot of human drama, often humorous.
    Definitely worth watching.
    It is interesting to learn that the character of Allison is loosely based on a real life woman.

    • Really glad you like these Santosh – making the crimes be completeltely earthbound (so to speak) is what really made me appreciate the show much more as I think the writers had to work much harder to make the individual stories dovetail the various elements of crime, family and supernatural.

      • Santosh Iyer says:

        Yes, I wouldn’t have liked it if there were any supernatural aspect to the crimes. For example I was disgusted with the last chapter of a John Dickson Carr book which sought to give a supernatural explanation.

        • Is that THE BURNING COURT? I haven’t read it in a very long time (but must, must re-read it) but always appreciated that in this case it was a fanciful extra after a non-fantastical ending had been supplied. In the case of THE DEVIL IN VELVET, FIRE, BURN and FEAR IS THE SAME Carr surprisingly used time travel and I have to say I ike all of these a lot. Admittedly, not for their fantastical elelemnts with the possible exception of DEVIL, where it is crucial. Symons hated these I might add.

          • Santosh Iyer says:

            Yes, I am referring to The Burning Court. I note that you have no hesitation in naming. You are not as spoiler-sensitive as another person !

          • Ha! I would never include what I consider to be a real spoiler - (i.e. anything that would reveal the ending or a major twist) but I think the fact that there is an extra supernatural ‘option’ at the end of Burning Court tells you nothing and ruins nothing until you read it – at least by my definition :) However, there are some on the blogosphere who I won’t mention (OK, the Puzzledoctor), who are super, super sensitive to anything that might even just a little bit be considered a bit of a spoiler. I don’t go as far as he does, but hey, he’s a great guy and a great blogger and I only started Fedora because I like his In Search of the Classic Mystery so much. And he’s a big Doctor Who fan and loves audio drama too, so he is more than entitled to paddle his own canoe in my view :)

  14. Sergio, it’s unusual that I have not even heard of MEDIUM, leave alone seen it; then again, maybe not considering that there is no fixed pattern to sitcoms and dramas beamed in India. I checked the running period and it’s fairly new, so somehow this one has got right past me. As Jeff mentioned, I saw a few episodes of THE GHOST WHISPERER on cable television and if I remember correctly, for want of anything better to watch. It was interesting in the beginning. Thanks for a detailed review of this series.

  15. Maja says:

    I’ve been trying (for years) to get Jamie to watch “Medium”, with little success; perhaps your blog post in praise of this excellent show will do the trick :)

    No disagreement with your choices for the top seven episodes, but I think season one’s sixth episode (“Coming Soon”) deserves a mention, if only for Allison’s impassioned message to Sharona, and her last words with “Good Samaritan” Swanstrom.

    • Well, I can imagine PJ finding all sorts of reasons to resist this show, but it’s great, isn;t it? Let’s put it down to us being more in touch with our femine side! And yes, you are absolutely right about that episode that opened season 6, thanks Maja (and thanks for stopping by – it’s been too long :))

  16. I agree. A wonderful show, despite a weak finale. I liked the plotting, the humor, the variety of the situations – the show was in permanent danger of becoming formulaic, and sometimes came dangerously close, but always avoided the cliff. Most of all, I liked the portrait of that rarity on television nowadays: a “normal” family with “normal” problems that happened to have a medium as the mother. The relationship between Alison, Joey and their children (I was a big fan of Bridget) was credible and realistic; you could believe they were a family. The actors were uniformly good and while she definetely deserved it, I found it somewhat unfair that Arquette was the only one getting award recognition, but then the show was apparently underrated by everyone except us viewers.

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