Significant Others DVD Review
By David Mumpower
March 5, 2006
Bravo TV has made a name for itself by green-lighting daring projects that offer unique television experiences. Perfect examples of this are its most famous programs, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Celebrity Poker Showdown. At times, they push boundaries that perhaps shouldn't be pushed, and the result is Battle of the Network Reality Stars. Occasionally, their output falls somewhere in the middle, breaking new ground but not simultaneously managing to appeal to a wide audience. Unfortunately, this is the nature of the beast in creating offbeat programming. Due to the burgeoning TV on DVD market, though, these rare gems can now be watched at the leisure of viewers.
A perfect example of this is Significant Others, a novel attempt at blending reality television and improvisational acting with standard sitcom themes of family and relationship woes. As one of the few cable television viewers who watched the program as it aired, I would like to take this opportunity to sing its praises for a moment. The entire run of the show, 12 episodes comprising the show's two seasons, is BBC-esque in its limited nature. However, in this brief period, it was a rare treat due to its novel exploration of what it means to be in a committed relationship.
Significant Others has a simple premise. A series of couples are all in relationship counseling. During the course of their sessions, dysfunctional aspects of their romances are placed on display. The key is that the characters break the fourth wall by talking straight to the camera as if it were the therapist.
This plot contrivance is even better served by the fact that much of the discussion between the couples is improvisational. They have been given a scene's worth of bullet points to hit. Simultaneously, these talented thespians also have free reign to take the comedy in an entirely new direction if it leads to bigger laughs. The very nature of such humor makes it more scattershot but as is the case with Saturday Night Live, when the jokes strike the perfect note, the result is uproarious laughter.
The show explores the ups and downs of four main relationships over the course of its dozen episode run. The funniest ones are Bill & Connie and Eleanor and Ethan. Bill & Connie are presumably the seasoned veterans of the relationship wars, but in reality theirs is the most unstable of the four. Over the course of the first half of season one, both embark upon affairs with Connie dipping her pen in the company ink and Bill keeping it all in the family with Connie's sister. The fact that they want to stay together but keep sampling the market leads to some big improvisational laughs in therapy. Ethan and Connie are the polar opposite in that they are still immature pups at love, but their passion for one another keeps the relationship moving forward almost in spite of them.
The other two couples are Alex and Devon and James & Chelsea. The former couple are the only ones with child (assuming Ethan doesn't count), and they fulfill every show's need for a centered family with only hints of neurotic cracks forming. James & Chelsea are the rush things through impulsive couple who wake up one day and discover themselves married. They spend the body of the series breaking up only to go through the dating process at a more respectable pace after the divorce becomes final. Needless to say, this is not the red states poster couple being discussed yet oddly they do feel like the most accurate portrayal of modern dating woes.
Obviously, I am a huge fan of Significant Others and have stubbornly refused to delete my season pass in hopes that Bravo comes to its senses. Alas, I have been demoralized recently by the knowledge that actor Fred Goss, Bill from this series, has recycled the concept for his upcoming ABC series, Sons and Daughters. In it, he will portray a family man dealing with the madness of relationship struggles using improvisational humor situations. If you want to see the cutting edge original rather than the dumbed down network version, grab the two disc box set of Significant Others on DVD.