Review: Parenthood 1×1

NBC's Parenthood

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, NBC

The average number of children per family in the United Kingdom is 2. In the United States it’s 3.1.

I mention this purely because of the above picture. Seriously, that’s one pair of grandparents, their children and most of their grandchildren and partners – at least in the US show Parenthood. Really, some kind of Chinese-style child-reduction policy is needed here because, at the very least, keeping track of all these characters is way too difficult. Look, NBC have even had to create this family tree for us to deal with all the characters in Parenthood, and they’re not all on it. There are more than this:

Parenthood Family Tree

Parenthood, as you may recall, was an 80s comedy about the ‘Buckman’ family that looked at the trials and tribulations of being a parent. Apparently, being a parent isn’t easy – who knew? Oh wait – everyone. That’s the correct answer. Everyone knows.

This TV series, exec produced by the movie’s original producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, is an at-best loose adaptation of that movie, with the Buckmans having become the Bravermans, and comedy having become misery.

I’m not going to lie to you – it’s not fun and it’s not great, but RGBE denizen Monica Potter in it, so it might worth a look-in.

Here’s a trailer, but you’ll notice that Maura Tierney is in it. She’s been replaced by Lauren Graham off Gilmore Girls, as you can see from the behind-the-scenes featurette beneath it, and the teenage girl’s been recast/hair-dyed as well. But you get the idea.

Plot
Parenthood is a one-hour drama inspired by the box-office hit of the same name. This re-imagined and updated Universal Media Studios/Imagine Television production introduces audiences to the very large, very colorful and imperfect Braverman family.

Sarah Braverman (Lauren Graham, “Gilmore Girls”), a financially strapped single mother, is packing up her Fresno apartment and uprooting her two inconvenienced kids, Amber (Mae Whitman, “In Treatment”) and Drew (Miles Heizer, “ER”), to make a big move back home to Berkeley to be closer to her family.

On the home front, Sarah is greeted by her larger-than-life, headstrong father, Zeek (Craig T. Nelson, “Family Stone,” “Coach”), and pillar-of-strength mother, Camille (Bonnie Bedelia, “Heart Like a Wheel”), who are privately dealing with their own marital issues.

Meanwhile, Sarah’s sister and complete antithesis, Julia (Erika Christensen, “Traffic”) is a successful corporate attorney trying to juggle work and motherhood, alongside her stay-at-home husband, Joel (Sam Jaeger, “Eli Stone.”)

Commitment-phobe Crosby (Dax Shepard, “Baby Mama”), Sarah’s younger brother, must suddenly contend with accepting adult responsibility when an old flame Jasmine (Joy Bryant “Antwone Fisher”) shows up unexpectedly and he must re-evaluate his priorities.

However, it’s Adam (Peter Krause, “Six Feet Under”), the oldest Braverman sibling, who must relinquish his preconceived expectations about what constitutes a “normal” family when he, his wife Kristina (Monica Potter, “Trust Me”) and teenage daughter, Haddie (Sarah Ramos, “American Dreams”), learn that their eccentric son and Haddie’s little brother, Max (Max Burkholder, “Brother and Sisters”), is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Although each sibling and family has its own share of life to grapple with, perhaps this reunion is the push they need to help each other pick up the pieces and focus on the everyday challenges that families face while raising children and starting over.

Serving as executive producers are Oscar winners Ron Howard and Brian Grazer (“A Beautiful Mind,” “Frost/Nixon”), Jason Katims (“Friday Night Lights”) – who wrote the pilot episode — and David Nevins (“Friday Night Lights,” “Arrested Development”). Emmy Award winner Thomas Schlamme (“The West Wing”) is the director and executive producer of the pilot.

Is it any good?
There’s a good cast, including Monica Potter, Peter Krause (last seen doing another family saga, Dirty Sexy Money), Bonnie Bedelia (Holly McLane from Die Hard), Craig T Nelson and Lauren Graham. It’s not the cast the show started with, Numb3rs‘ Diane Farr having been replaced by Monica Potter (last seen being wasted on Trust Me) and Maura Tierney having been replaced by Lauren Graham after having been diagnosed with cancer, but it’s a good one.

In terms of the scripts, it also looks at some parental issues in a reasonably nuanced way. Erika Christensen (nice to see her doing something after Six Degrees)’s high-flying character finds herself losing out to her stay-at-home husband in her child’s affections; Krause and Potter find out – somewhat later in life than normal – that their son has Asperger’s; Graham can’t cope with being a single mom with a wild child daughter and has to move back in with her parents; and after prevaricating with his current girlfriend about having a baby, Dax Shepard finds out he’s already the father of a young boy by a previous girlfriend.

But as a comedy, it’s horrendous with barely a laugh the whole hour, and as a drama, it lacks any real oomph. There’s absolutely nothing you won’t have seen before on Brothers and Sisters or Modern Family, for example, let alone anything more sophisticated. Indeed, the similarities with Modern Family are sufficient that you can pretty much watch that and deal with many of the issues here and yet have more fun at the same time.

If you drill down through society, there’s probably a demographic this will appeal to: middle class, white, thirty-x-somethings (where 9>x>5) and fortysomethings with one or more kids who like Peter Krause on Tuesdays, perhaps. I’m tempted to watch it only because of the cast, but unless there’s a particular favourite of yours in there, I’m not seeing enough here yet to really recommend the show to anyone else. The middling ratings the first episode got suggest that unless NBC is really desperate, unless things pick up, it won’t be long for this world either, so getting too involved might be a mistake.

  • Seems to stray some way from the original film too which might not be such a bad thing. I was very fond of the first crack at this in the 1990s, but the problem that version had was that it was simply remaking the same story from the film at a much slower pace which meant you were constantly reminded of the fact that Ed Begley Jr was playing Steve Martin, David Arquette was filling in for Keanu.

  • Beatrice

    [Rob, I’m obviously insane since I disagree with you, but…] “Getting too involved might be a mistake..” Duh. “Parenthood” got renewed for a third season and I am very happy about that. I think the storylines are entertaining, Lauren Graham and Dax Shepard are amazingly funny and all the kids are just so cute – it’s a lot of fun to watch. So, it might not be the best drama series ever and it is not a comedy which makes me laugh in every single scene – but it is a touching show about a family that could live in my neighbourhood. I really care about the characters and suprisingly a lot about family patriarch Zeek, played by Craig T. Nelson. But even if this show would have ended after season 1 I still would have been glad that I was a visitor of the Braverman family because I rather watch 1 season of a really good show than 5 seasons of a crappy one.

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