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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