Parenthood TV Review

NBC‘s new major effort Parenthood has a big problem that it’s going to have to overcome over the next few weeks. I’ll get tot that problem in a second, but I should run through the story for those who have missed NBC‘s massive push for the show.

Billed as a re-imagined and updated spin on the movie of the same name, the show follows several generations of the Braverman family. Sarah (Lauren Graham) kicks off the show by moving to Berkeley to be closer to the rest of the tribe. A single mother who isn’t exactly financially secure, the move offers stability (hopefully) for her two teen children. Sarah’s older brother, Adam (Peter Krause), is dealing with issues himself, because his “eccentric” son may have bigger problems than we thought, this apparently being the combo-spin on the kid who rammed walls with a bucket on his head and the one who was uber-tense.

Meanwhile, sister Julia (Erika Christensen) is the straight-laced Yin to Sarah’s easy-going Yang. A corporate attorney, Julia is having trouble coping with the tight-wire act that is having a successful career and being a mom. Especially when her adorable daughter looks to stay-at-home-dad for all those little “motherly” bits Julia wants to do.

We’ve also got younger brother Crosby, a commitment-phobe and generally slackerish sort, who can’t figure out what to do with the relationship he’s in. His life shoots to DEFCON 5 when his past shows up at his door, and he’s never going to be the same again.

Finally, patriarch Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) isn’t helping anyone with his over-the-top, everything’s-a-war attitude, and the response he’s most likely to get at any juncture is an eye-rolling, “Oh… come on, Dad,” as he pushes forward with his not-to-be-dismissed theories. After all, he raised four kids. And yet, it seems that there may be a great uncertainty hiding behind the bull that is Dad, and perhaps he is never more sure of himself than when he is really pretending to be sure of himself.

The show gets things right, and it’s good to know that Ron Howard mentions this, because it’s actually about parenthood. Don’t let that slide past you too quickly. Lauren Graham may play the central character (and I can’t imagine it without her), but it isn’t about her. It isn’t about this family either, though this is the one we’re using. It’s about parenthood. That simple and amazing transition of self-awareness that moves from “these are mine,” to “I am theirs,” parenthood (and no one involved with the show is responsible for this politically incorrect statement) is in fact the main part of personhood, and the staggering beauty of both adventures is that no one gets it right.

A small part of Parenthood‘s problem may be that there are just too many problems (ha ha) for some viewers. Throw in that Sarah’s two kids are a rebellious daughter and a high-strung son who misses his father, and there’s a lot going on. It’s actually not hard to understand that a certain percentage of viewers may not overly appreciate the pilot’s “Oh, and one more thing…,” approach.

But, the big problem I mentioned is simply that the show can only go down from here. It’s that good, and while that may come off like a silly wind up, I’m actually rather serious. The show is a brilliant blend of comedy and drama (something which is itself surely taken as a main feature of the “re-imagining”) of a sort that is extremely rare to see on television, and mainly because it’s impossibly difficult to find the full cast that can pull it off. It’s also a success in terms of establishment that is so good that no matter what happens to the show, it will at least live on enough to be referenced frequently in the future as nearly perfect pilot construction.

The rub is, what now? The show would like nothing more than to tell you that Jason Katims wrote the pilot. Having worked up from a few My So-Called Life episodes, through the wonderful Boston Public, and on to Friday Night Lights, Katims is a good sell, and pretty clearly a great writer. But, who writes the rest of the episodes? I don’t know. Becky Hartman-Edwards (of early-90’s In Living Color, and precious little else) writes at least one episode, but things are unclear apart from that.

The show also wants you to be aware that Emmy-winner Thomas Schlamme of The West Wing fame directed the pilot, but it looks as if that’s all he’s directing. Michael Engler, of one or three episodes of everything and a whole lot of episodes of nothing, directs at least two.

With different writers and directors floating in and out, are episodes two through… let’s say six going to live up to the pilot? There’s a lot to get done in those episodes, and if the show doesn’t maintain the tricky balance it’s established, a lot of people are going to jump ship fast. It’s a small step toward goofy nonsense, and a smaller one toward the overly sappy stuff viewers can already avoid five times a week.

Is it that big of a deal really? No. Lots of shows work the same way, but it makes me nervous.

It makes me nervous, because it has the potential to be one of the best things that’s ever been on television.


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Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.
  • Sarah H

    Regarding your digging of future writers and directors — the show has a writing staff, with Katims in control; it's not like all these different people are gonna choose what they want to happen in an episode and the next writer will pick it up where the last one left off and do the same thing. Also, Engler's resumé is was more impressive than you make it to be. Seriously, the guy has *three* DGA nods and two Emmy nods, and you're implying he may not be good enough for the task?

    Anyway, I can't wait to watch it. I hope it's as good as you say it is.

  • areyouscreening

    Well, on the writing side of things, of course they do, although I'll have to take your word for the fact that Katims is “in control,” despite the fact that the show doesn't seem to make the claim itself.

    As I said, a lot of shows operate in a somewhat similar way, and even if they don't in appearance, it's rare that you have one guy locked in a room writing a whole series. The point is that most don't sell themselves as “pilot written by,” and then sort of avoid talking about what's going on with the other episodes.

    As for Engler, different people find different things impressive. Lots of people have lots of nominations for all kinds of things, and he got all his noms for 30 Rock and Sex and the City – 2 of the noms for one episode of 30 Rock – and he directed six and eight total episodes of those shows, and that's the most episodes of anything he has.

    On the other hand, what I'm really implying is that I certainly don't know he's good enough for the task. And, that it's still a little weird to heavily push guy A as directing the pilot, when who knows how often he's back.

    At any rate, what I was really after was that the pilot seems to have a lot of focus and attention, and it makes me nervous that I don't know what level we're at in the continuation.

  • howie14

    Gee, I remember that on Lauren Graham's last show fans loved when the creator wrote the episode and hated when her husband did the writing.

  • Mike

    True, but Katims doesn't do all, or even much more than an episode or two, of Friday Night Lights per season, and yet many of the strongest episodes are written by other people. Katims has been an executive producer for a long time and seems to have a good talent for finding other writers to work on his shows. Let's at least watch a few more episodes before we say that it only goes down from here.

  • areyouscreening

    Don't misunderstand that comment. I didn't mean that it only goes down from here, but that it only has down to go. It's at the top. The only choices are to stay where it is, or go down. That doesn't mean it will. I hope it won't.

    Fair enough about Katims, I just think it's weird to so expressly play up “pilot written by.”

    Appreciate the comment.

  • Wendy

    This is THE BEST SHOW EVER TO BE ON TELEVISION!!!!! My son Brax has Aspergers, and I can relate and still get a good laugh and cry in the same hour out of this show! I hope that enough people are watching, I fear that the 10pm time slot might not be the best. I do not want this show that I have grown so attached to in just two short weeks to get cancelled! Please watch! Grab a box of Kleenex and come along for the ride, because it is insightful and a lot of fun!

  • Rich

    Chance to be one of the best things ever on television, seriously? That's quite a stretch, the show is fairly well written and has a very strong cast, which I think is probably its biggest strength. I like the show overall but it has a few problems, for one thing so much of it is so cliche, the rebelling teen, the guy unwilling to commit, the overbearing father, it gets a little tiresome. Another issue is that every episode seems to end with the entire family together all problems solved, the episode where they are all at the pool at the ymca or wherever it was supposed to be at the end, how believable is that? Because every teenage girl wants to go to a public pool with their grandfather; and everyone in the family is always free to get together, last episode same thing, they are all together at a bbq to meet the daughter's new boyfriend, its just cheesy. Not to mention in my opinion, the aspergers syndrome was a mistake to include in the show, it seems like it was just thrown in because it's a hot topic these days, and I just find it annoying. Its frustrating to watch, I understand it's trying to be real, but I don't want to be frustrated watching a television show.

  • areyouscreening

    It's hard to make those complaints from the pilot though… isn't it?

  • Ele

    I don't think the whole “ending with the family together all problems solved thing” is not what they are trying for. My family for one does this all the time. We all disagree have our issues but yes there are gleaming moments in life and our family where we are all together and having a good time and believe it or not, worries seem to be able to wait till tomorrow when I am with them. I think THAT was the angle the were going for.

  • Carol Smith

    Bottom line for me… I LOVE this show! Every episode provides me out-loud laughter and a little bit of crying. It has it all! I think it's the best thing on television, and I am eagerly awaiting the next episode!
    One thing… how can I get my hands on the soundtracks? The music in every episode is wonderful!!!

  • Rich

    I made that comment after watching the first three episodes, not just the pilot.

  • Sim

    Whether they were trying for it or not, its lame and tiresome. I think the writing needs a little help, that's all, if not this show will be canceled quickly because with that cast and the soundtrack it must be expensive to produce.

  • erikabally

    yes, it could have been great, but it isn't. The annoying half-conversations that are very well thought out but yet so annoying, are … well… ANNOYING. I can't sit through an episode without wanting to throw the remote at the TV. I've watched 3 episodes, hoping that the great plots will outweigh how annoying the show is, but that's it for me… I'm outta here.

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  • April_Frisk

    This is the best show on TV right now. I am not a parent but am moved EVERY week by some small moment that I can relate to. The recent fight between Jasmine and Crosby looked and sounded sooooo real and I saw myself in her. I asked my now husband if I sounded like that and he said ‘yes’… we have not argued since. ha ha

  • Rah

    The show “Parenthood” seems like a great show. I
    have only see a couple of the show after playing around with my new application
    on my phone TV every where with DISH. I’m glad I work for DISH and was able to
    watch the show LIVE unlike with Comcast where it would that to be On demand or
    something. The show brings up some major life problems. The episode I seen is
    where Sarah’s daughter got in the car with a drunken boyfriend and got in a car
    accident. It’s going to take a lot of Sarah to get her to understand. Hope she
    sees life is too good to be acting like that to your parents.

  • Bujara

    Any thoughts on the show currently? I have honestly had my frustrations, but on the whole, this is the closet to real life I have felt about the current shows on TV. Love to hate this show because it is at times to had to watch… Kind of like watching yourself in a mirror, only this time with a wider view and introspection

  • Bujara

    Any thoughts on the show currently? I have honestly had my frustrations,
    but on the whole, this is the closet to real life I have felt about the
    current shows on TV. Love to hate this show because it is at times to
    had to watch… Kind of like watching yourself in a mirror, only this
    time with a wider view and introspection

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