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Melina Kanakaredes has the kind of warm, easy accessibility upon which long television careers are founded. The popularity of Providence
--in which Kanakaredes plays Sydney Hansen, a plastic surgeon who returns home to find more meaning in her life--rests mostly on her shoulders, though certainly the rest of the cast is an engaging lot: Paula Cale plays Joanie, Syd's single-mom sister; Mike Farrell (formerly BJ Honeycutt of M*A*S*H
) plays her veterinarian father, who relates better with animals than people; Seth Peterson is her rapscallion younger brother Robbie; and Concetta Tomei haunts Syd's dreams as her mother, who dies in Providence
's pilot episode. Story-wise, the show is all over the map--soap opera (every family member goes through many relationship traumas), melodrama (in only the second episode, Syd saves an autistic girl from being institutionalized), comedy (in the fifth season, Robbie and his wife open a B&B, only to be plagued with skunks), suspense (a thug tries to murder a lovable drug-sniffing dog), even political thriller (when Syd dates a married congressman, blackmail erupts).
The Providence Collection is something of a greatest hits collection, so weddings, births, and christenings dominate the selected episodes. The writing can be awkward and obvious, but the capable cast holds everything together, and there's no denying that every episode keeps things lively by packing in at least three interweaving storylines. --Bret Fetzer