Right Wing, Wrong Character: Watching 'Brothers and Sisters'

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Apr 12, 2007 8:22 AM

I got together with a couple other young, conservative women last week to talk about ABC's nighttime drama, "Brothers and Sisters," which features Calista Flockhart in the role of a conservative pundit. We also spent the evening with the Politico's Style reporter, who wrote about our reactions to the Kitty Walker character.

"As a conservative watching TV, I have pretty low expectations,"said Mary Katharine Ham, 27, who blogs for Townhall.com, a conservative news and commentary website. Ham originally set her DVR to "Brothers and Sisters" to find out what Hollywood was going "to do with us" and has since been hooked.

The rest of the women watching -- some who have followed the showfrom the start and others who've never tuned in -- were just as interested.

Please do flip through the photographer's slide-show to find my extremely unflattering shot, which I will now be using at every opportunity for publicity and mugshots.

I have, indeed, been watching the show since Day One, and it's a truly mixed bag. I have exceedingly low expectations for such things, so I think it's a plus that Kitty's merely not a simpleton or a harpy. She's not a simple character. She's also not a great representative for conservatives in many ways, but she's treated with more respect than the average TV-conservative caricature.

A couple of high points for Kitty's character are that she has the closest relationship of anyone in the family with both a gay brother and a brother with serious drug-addiction problems. It's nice to see that, as happens in real life, her pro-family-values beliefs actually translate into loving her family, even when her family doesn't fit the conservative family-values mold.

In family arguments, I think Kitty always comes out looking like the classy one. I'm not sure whether the writers designed it that way or not, but it reflects my personal experience growing up in a largely liberal community. In Kitty's family, it is always someone else who needles her about politics first, and she speaks up usually only to defend herself (and does so fairly well). Her mother turns everything into a political argument, even tearing down Kitty's former fiancee at the dinner table-- the dinner table inside the Walker family's multi-million-dollar mansion, incidentally-- for managing a hedge fund and daring to make the rich richer.

Amanda Carpenter, who was discussing the show with us last week, suggested that Kitty is designed to be the show's and the writers' punching bag, which is why every argument becomes political, or a questioning of Kitty's motives. That may be the case, but if so, the writers are unintentionally improving Kitty's character at the expense of her mother's, who looks like a nag who's more than willing to be tolerant of a gay son or a drug-addict son, but not a conservative daughter.

I was actually pleasantly surprised by the show for a while until Kitty's fall from professional grace:

Perhaps the most controversial episode for everyone is "Mistakes Were Made Part II," when Kitty flips her position on the war and subsequently bribes a senator -- she puts the kid gloves on during an interview in the hopes that Justin (her brother) won't be forced to re-up. Sen.Robert McCallister (played by Rob Lowe) does not oblige the pretty blonde, and Kitty must deliver an on-air mea culpa.

"Did she just say, 'Mistakes were made'?" laughed Ham, who saw the issue of Kitty's integrity as black and white, calling the character's indiscretion a career-ending suicide.

"After she sells out, she gets the job with McCallister, who she sleeps with," explained Ham. "It's a triple whammy on the conservative woman."

To me, this is a pretty unforgivable breach of both professional and personal ethics. Going easy on the senator in this manner isn't a mistake; it's reflective of a serious character flaw. And, she gives a long treatise about how the war "isn't what we thought we were fighting for," which is why she reversed her position on it. Well, it's rather convenient that the war changes in such a way that she can no longer support it just as her brother's being called to go back. Many conservatives who support the war have family in the thick of things, and it would have been nice to see that viewpoint reflected on TV. We see plenty of the Cindy Sheehan broken-hearted anti-war view.

So, the ship kind of sailed for me after that. Not only does Kitty not get fired for her "mistake," she gets a promotion on the show she hosts. Then, the senator offers her a job as his head communications gal. She then sleeps with him. Brilliant. Like I said, I have exceedingly low expectations, but a woman who sells out an entire journalistic career and her integrity on national television, gets promoted for it, and then sleeps with her boss? No, I don't want to relate to that.

"What is worthwhile about this woman?" demanded Carpenter, whoprobably won't be tuning in on Sunday nights. "If we can't identify with this girl, I think they've failed. Thanks, but no thanks."
Some of Kitty's failings are symptomatic of the soap-opera genre, which must necessarily get more and more ridiculous every week, and requires each character to become romantically entangled several times per week, but her character lost all respect after the incident with the senator. So, the search goes on for decent conservative characters on TV. Kitty was a move in the right direction until the writers steered her right off a cliff.