Where are they now? The women of “Once and Again”

I’ll admit, I’m more than a little excited about the possible DVD release sometime soon of the last season of Once and Again — ABC’s 1999-2002 drama about the daily trials and tribulations of a blended and extended family — and not just because of that season’s fantastic exploration of two teen girls falling in love.

The tumultuous, grudge-riddled relationship between sisters Lily (Sela Ward) and Judy (Marin Hinkle) always reminds me of my own with my sister. Lily’s efforts to embrace but not smother her children and boyfriend’s children resonates with a lot of moms and stepmoms, I’m sure, as does Karen’s (Susanna Thompson) heartbreaking struggle as a newly divorced mother to let go of her marriage and her attempt to control her children. The awkward, tentative friendship between quasi step-sisters Grace (Julia Whelan) and Jessie (Evan Rachel Wood) is familiar to all of us who’ve tried to make the best of a situation we didn’t necessarily choose, and pre-teen Zoe’s endless frustration at being left out of everything is like every annoying little sister you’ve ever known. And of course, Jessie’s confusion about her feelings for classmate Katie (Mischa Barton) reminds me of more than one crush I had in high school.

The show had more in-depth, realistic, and complicated women in one episode than almost the entire primetime lineup does these days, and they were played by equally talented, interesting and relatable actresses.

Which has me wondering: now that it’s been five years since the show ended, what are the women of Once and Again up to these days? So I did a little research, and a little then-and-now photoshopping, to catch us all up.

Meredith Deane (Zoe), 17
Meredith is still acting, and most recently guest-starred on an episode of Law and Order (“Profiteer”).

Classic O&A quote: “It’s not fair!”

Evan Rachel Wood (Jessie), 19
Evan has taken on a series of challenging and attention-getting roles since the demise of O&A, including Thirteen, Pretty Persuasion, and The Upside of Anger, and she has five movies in the works (one of them a co-starring role in the period piece Bronte, according to rumors). One of her not so impressive roles? Marilyn Manson’s girlfriend. It’s just wrong, in so many ways.

Classic O&A quote: “I just think that sometimes things happen between people that you don’t really expect. And sometimes the things that are important are the ones that seem the weirdest or the most wrong. And those are the ones that change your life.”

Mischa Barton (Katie), 21
Mischa went on to international stardom (and another lesbian relationship) in Fox’s teen drama The O.C., was killed off, and now has five different movies in the works, including Finding t.A.T.u., where she plays a Russian girl on a road trip to see the faux-lesbian band in concert.

Classic O&A quote: What’s so great about hiding who you are?

Julia Whelan (Grace), 23
After Once and Again ended, Julia did a few more acting roles (including co-starring with Mia Farrow in the Lifetime movie The Secret Life of Zoey as a girl with a drug problem), then left the acting biz to get her college degree from Vermont’s Middlebury College, where she spent her junior year at Oxford and wrote about her experiences for the college paper. She’s set to graduate in 2008, and has said in previous interviews that she plans to return to acting at some point.

Classic O&A quote: “Y’know, I have this weird feeling that growing up is overrated.”

Marin Hinkle (Judy), 41
Marin currently stars on the enormously and inexplicably popular CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men (her character was initially questioning her sexuality, but they dropped that storyline after the first season), and she played a lesbian in Jennie Livingston’s short film Who’s the Top. She has roles in two upcoming movies, She Lived and What Just Happened, both due out in 2008. She’s married to a New York theatre director, and has one child.

Classic O&A quote: “In my life, a third date turns into a 12 step program.”

Susanna Thompson (Karen), 49
Susanna’s biggest starring role after O&A was in the ABC’s controversial (and quickly canceled) The Book of Daniel in 2006, and she went on to a 5-episode role as an Army Lt. Col. on NCIS. And she is still known by many for her roles in Star Trek as the Borg Queen and Dr. Lenara Kahn (the one who kissed Dax). She is married to a San Diego State University professor.

Classic O&A Quote: “Just because a person has feelings for you, doesn’t mean you have to return those feelings.”

Sela Ward (Lily), 50
Sela, who is married with two children, has had small roles in several movies since O&A ended, including The Guardian (2006) and The Day After Tomorrow (2004), and had brief return to TV in a 9-episode arc on the second season of House M.D. She’s also famously known for turning down the role of Susan on Desperate Housewives, which eventually went to Teri Hatcher.

Classic O&A quote: (when her daughter asks if Lily knows what it feels like to be so alone): “No, honey, I don’t. I’ve always been too afraid to find out what that feels like. I’m so glad that you’re not.”

For more Once and Again goodness, read (or re-read) TelevisionWithoutPity’s length O&A episode recaps, check out the show’s wikipedia entry and order the DVDs of the first two seasons. You won’t be sorry!