I just finished watching the seventh and final season of Medium, the mystery / supernatural drama 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 …