Parenthood has had a reboot. Yes, another one. After a bit of recasting after the pilot episode, the show came to our screens as a supposed dramedy: a bit of comedy but mostly drama. Unfortunately, the comedy didn’t work, leaving it like a show that wanted to be a combination of Modern Family and Brothers and Sisters, but which was actually just Brothers and Sisters.
Come episode two, it’s all change. Now we’re a comedy with a hint of drama. Given the cast includes a number of people best known for their lighter touch (Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Monica Potter, Dax Shepard), that shouldn’t have been a surprise, although one could have argued that sticking the comedy in the first episode as well would have been a good idea.
The second episode was actually a lot better than the first episode. The first tried to simply say that parenting is hard. Look everyone, parenting is hard. But we knew that and showing us a bunch of people we can’t really relate to having trouble parenting isn’t going to make the message any deeper.
Episode two, however, managed to give us more relatable characters involved in situations that we could at least empathise with: working mum finds stay-at-home dad has closer relationship with kid than she does and feels threatened by the hot stay-at-home mums who he’s friends with; single mum finds it hard to date and get a job after years out of the workforce; and guy finds he has a young kid he never knew about and doesn’t know how to be a father.
Episode three continued more in that vein, although it started to veer dangerously close to clunky drama at times. Working mum (former swimming champion) finds she’s not involved in teaching her daughter to swim and tries to help out; single mum has dating issues; new dad has to look after his son for a few hours and doesn’t know what to do. Some of these were a little painful, with working mum’s attempts to teach her child woefully bad, as though someone had simply said "Hey, how do dads cock up when trying to help their kids? Let’s give all that to her. It’ll be the same, right?" But on the whole the episode wasn’t bad.
Running as the main plot strand throughout the episodes is Krause’s/Potter’s discovery that their son has Asperger’s Syndrome. For mainstream US TV, which has something of a bad record of portraying autism and autistic spectrum disorders, this has actually been surprisingly well handled and accurate. It’s a little odd – so much so that the couple’s teenage daughter points it out in episode three – that in San Francisco of all places, a child with Asperger’s wasn’t spotted until he was six or seven and there aren’t many places except private schools that have the expertise to deal with it, but hey, it’s TV. The American pathological model of ASD – OMG there’s something wrong with our child, he’s broken – is also jarring to UK eyes.
But here’s the problem with the show. Everything we see is pretty much from a male point of view and reflects mainly male concerns about parenting. None of the female characters have female friends that they talk to, and when they have a problem, they talk to one of the male characters about it. When a male character has a problem, he talks to a male character about it. As a result, the women are simply more problems or sources of problems for the male characters to deal with rather than vice versa or characters in their own rights.
So the show feels emotionally unsatisfying because of this lack of character interaction and development. Although it has some interesting aspects to it, it doesn’t really speak to things as well as it should do. I’m enjoying it to some extent because of the cast, particularly Erika Christensen and Monica Potter (even though yet again she has very little to do) and the comedy when it works. But it feels like it’s not quite firing on all cylinders yet.
Carusometer rating: 3
Rob’s prediction: It’ll last a season, but this is NBC so who knows what’ll happen after that.