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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘Parenthood’ on verge of time-out

Published: March 19, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.

NBC’s new show “Parenthood” provides viewers with a compelling drama about familial relationships, but television may not be the correct medium to tell the Braverman clan’s story.

“Parenthood” explores the individual tales of the adult Braverman siblings and their personal crises, while also attempting to illustrate the family’s dynamics as a whole. However, the hour is barely enough time to establish the characters, let alone the conflicts they face.

In an effort to distinguish the characters from each other, the writers have necessarily had to resort to types. Sarah (Lauren Graham) is an unemployed single mother struggling with bringing up two teenagers while her sister Julia (Erika Christensen) is attempting to balance a high-powered career with raising her young daughter. Crosby (Dax Shepard) is a slacker dealing with the recent discovery that he has a son from a past fling, while Adam (Peter Krause), the eldest, is the one everyone looks up to, but who is barely coping when he learns that his son Max (Max Burkeholder) has Asperger’s syndrome.

Fortunately, the actors fully take advantage of the brief time spent on their character’s storylines; great performances make what would otherwise be one-note cut-out figures seem like real people. It’s still early in the show’s run, so perhaps with more episodes the characters will be fleshed out in the script, too.

In a more serious role than the quirky mother she played on “Gilmore Girls,” Graham excels at balancing Sarah’s mixture of insecurities and bursts of confident spontaneity. On a date arranged for her by her sister, Sarah’s emotions transition from fury that Julia set her up with a balding barista to sweet nostalgia when her date exceeds her expectations to playfulness when she takes her date home. Graham masterfully makes each new emotion believable and natural.

Although some of the subplots hit false notes, most are interesting and make for great viewing. Adam’s initial denial that there’s anything wrong with his son Max (who goes to school everyday dressed in a pirate outfit), to his reluctant acceptance of his son’s Asperger’s syndrome results in a powerful scene between Adam and his gruff father Zeek (Craig T. Nelson). Adam informs him, “Dad, there’s something wrong with my son.” Nelson quiets his character’s usually loud personality to a expression of thoughtful concern, “What do you need?”

Yet, the next episode entitled “Man v. Possum” pummels the viewers with clumsy analogy. A possum wreaks mayhem at Adam’s household and he becomes obsessed with getting rid of the creature. The script spells out that although Adam can deal with his possum problem, there is no way of solving his son’s Asperger’s Syndrome.

All of the scenes and subplots featuring the teenage members of the Braverman clan miss the mark as well. Whether it is poor acting, or that the teens’ subplots (drug use, rebellion) have simply been worn out, it is hard to say. Either way, whenever the teens are given screen-time the show loses its momentum.

The most enjoyable component of the show is the older cast’s chemistry. Whenever there’s a scene featuring the Braverman adult siblings, it’s sure to be entertaining. The siblings share a joint and jokes after attending school function for their children. Their teasing of each other is amusing and simultaneously makes their relationships convincing.

While “Parenthood” is charming, there’s no incentive to watch week-to-week. There are no cliff-hangers and no real hooks to draw in an audience. The show simply follows the tribulations of the Braverman clan. Maybe this is an example of a story that cannot best be told through the medium of television.

There are too many characters and too many subplots. Although one gets the sense that the actors, if given the space to breathe, would accomplish wonderful things, the hour time-frame is too limiting. “Parenthood” is a show that one might watch once in a while to check-in with the Bravermans, but it is definitely not a show that one would watch religiously.