I’m easy. Tell me a show has Lauren Graham and Peter Krause in it, and I’ll at least give it a try. Even if it does sound like Brother & Sisters : Berkeley. I mean, Brothers & Sisters is a show that needs to die already, it should not be setting up a franchise, even through coincidence. Early buzz likening it to Modern Family a.k.a. Brothers & Sisters: Los Angeles, Ha Ha. wasn’t really doing it any favors where I was concerned either.
Turns out Parenthood, despite its meh-tastic title and been-there-done-that premise, is a lot better to watch than it sounds on paper. This is one of those shows where you shouldn’t read the spoilers or the episode descriptions because it will remind you of terrible moments in your family and drastically reduce your motivation to watch. (Go ahead and read my review though coz I already wrote it and you’re here so you might as well.)
Based on the movie directed by the series’ co-producer Ron Howard, Parenthood follows Team Braverman: three generations of a sprawling, squabbling, but ultimately devoted California family.
Yeah, you never heard that one before. I know.
The ensemble cast features everyone from old hands like Craig T. Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia as the grandparents with a 46-year marriage in crisis to Dax Shepherd who is a pleasant surprise as the man child Crosby-the-third-sibling who has responsibility suddenly thrust upon him in the guise of the adorable love child he never knew existed (Tyree Brown). Everyone gets their moment in the sun but the characters who really take center stage, though, are the other three Braverman siblings.
Peter Krause (Sports Night, Six Feet Under, the only good part of Dirty Sexy Money – a show that, alas, was none of those things) plays the eldest Braverman. His father calls him a hero, the family’s “fixer-upper”; younger brother Crosby calls him Dudley Do Right; I call him yummy. But really, when in trouble, everyone calls Adam.
The series begins with Adam and his wife Kristina (Monica Potter) realizing that their son Max (Max Burkholder – previously sighted in another part of California as Rob Lowe’s son on the Brothers & Sisters set) has Asperger’s – a diagnosis that leaves their teenage daughter Haddie (Sarah Ramos) unsurprised. In spite of being “perfect”, her whole life has been hostage to Max’s difficult behavior.
While Adam is trying to deal with his son’s illness and trying not to ignore Haddie just because she’s the easier kid, his sister Sarah (Lauren Graham), broke and looking for a fresh start, moves back into their parents’ home with her two kids. Sarah is a more beat-up version of Graham’s beloved Lorelai Gilmore, without the scary smart kid whose big problem is choosing Yale over Harvard and deciding which cute, obscenely rich preppie to date. Alright, alright – blasphemy. I’ll say no more.
[Digression: I should note here that while the combination of Krause and Graham was what initially drew me to this series, I also found their pairing distracting. Their scenes crackle with chemistry and not of the brother-sister kind. I keep waiting for them to make out and they never do! Fanfic seems to be my only option now. That video with Maura Tierney is such an intriguing possibility.]
With a couple of attention-starved, messed-up kids (Mae Whitman and Miles Heizer), a deadbeat ex and just a high school diploma, Sarah is the Sliding Doors version of Lorelai, being constantly reminded of all her wrong choices.
One of her biggest reminders is the youngest Braverman – Julia (Erika Christensen) the ambitious corporate lawyer who is bringing up a teensy cherub (Savannah Paige Rae) with her stay at home husband Joel (Sam Jaeger) who just happens to be the pin up fantasy of all the local moms.
Just as Adam and Kristina have to deal with the complexities of raising an autistic child while simultaneously acting as the anchor of the family or fragile Sarah has to deal with being a single parent to two needy children who aren’t absolutely sure she wants them given her tendency to dissolve into tears and moan what a terrible mess she’s made of her life, Julia and Joel have to deal with the stress brought on by gender role reversal. As committed and on-point as they are with their choices, they’re constantly battling the perceptions of outsiders and what it means to be “mom”, “dad”, “man”, “woman”, etc. Especially when their daughter makes her preference for the primary care giver, i.e. Joel, clear.
Parenthood can be relentlessly on message – life is hard! especially for people with kids! – but it can also be warm and familiar when everyone comes together. Written by Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights – and it’s eerie when you see that signature hand held, slice of Americana, grit in your eye, style creep into these California scenes), this is a show about people bringing up their kids but also vice versa. It’s about how you never stop being your parents’ kid but there comes a point when you look across at that familiar face and realize that that is not just “Mom” or “Dad” but a real, live human being.
It’s about your siblings driving you crazy but you can’t handle it when someone else agrees with you. It’s about keeping secrets when you know it won’t do any good and sooner or later everyone’s going to know – in the strictest confidence, of course. It’s about jostling for attention and how it never stops. It’s about the people you call when you’re in trouble even if two seconds ago you were sure you would hate them till the day you died.
It’s about family. And it’s good.
None of you listened to me about Friday Night Lights so why don’t you check out this somewhat-happier, somewhat sunnier version?