TV

Parenthood: Series Premiere

The adult siblings in Parenthood engage in plenty of passive aggression and clever banter (see, just like at your house!).

Parenthood

Airtime: Tuesdays, 10pm ET
Cast: Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Monica Potter, Dax Shepard, Erika Christensen, Monica Potter, Craig T. Nelson, Bonnie Bedelia
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: NBC
Air date: 2010-03-02
Website
Trailer
Amazon

The problem with crafting a show after a movie as popular as Parenthood is that it now feels familiar to the point of cliché. While NBC's series is shorter on comedy and longer on drama than Ron Howard's 1989 film, the material still feels rehashed at lukewarm temp.

In part this is because the show's focus is typical of TV fare: suburban, upper middle class white folks, here, un-ironically named the Bravermans. The pilot begins, as most pilots do, with a heavy dose of exposition, in which we learn that Sarah (Lauren Graham) has split some time ago from her drug-addicted musician husband, also the absent father to her two teenage kids. She's 38 years old, out of money and in need of a fresh start, and so opts to move her begrudging brood from Fresno to Berkeley to all live with her well-intentioned parents (Craig T. Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia). Here she also can reconnect with her siblings -- who have all stayed near their childhood home. As she visits with family man Adam (Peter Krause), commitment-phobe Crosby (Dax Shepard), and workaholic Julia (Erika Christensen), each with his or her own nuclear family in the area, it becomes clear that their cell phones only ring when there is a child-related crisis that needs immediate resolution.

When they're not on their phones with spouses, the siblings engage in plenty of passive aggression and clever banter (see, just like at your house!). But they must also endure contrived nonsense that depletes these exchanges of their potential emotional charge. On the night of Sarah's arrival, Julia aims to fix her up with a friend, insisting, "You need a date." Their mother nods in agreement, "Badly." This interaction typifies the inane premise of Parenthood. How could her family not consider Sarah's current troubles with her children, Amber (Mae Whitman) and Drew (Miles Heizer), struggling as their lives have turned upside down. They have in fact moved elsewhere: Amber's living with her musician boyfriend and Drew to live with his musician daddy. Honestly, anyone close to Sarah -- say, her mother -- should see that the last thing she "badly" needs is a date.

More bad parenting is on display by Adam and his wife Kristina (Monica Potter). A Little League coach, he begs his sports-averse eight-year-old, Max (Max Burkholder) to play, because, he says, baseball "meant a lot to me when I was a kid." This moment is framed as one of genuine compromise and honesty rather than what it is: Adam refusing to accept that his son is not just like him. There's more: if we accept that Adam believes his son is his direct reflection, we have to think his worst parenting fears are realized when Max begins withdrawing from school and biting classmates rather than saying hello to them. A few commercials later, Max is diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome (one way that the series clumsily "updates" the movie). Miserable at the news, Adam rejects Max's condition until a teary Kristina pleads, "Don't make me go through this alone." Um, what about what little Max is going through?

The generation-wide gap between the film and the series is underlined when you consider their audiences. Today's TV viewers recognize Adam's uninspired efforts as obviously bad parenting. We've learned already from watching films like Parenthood that parenthood itself is largely about putting aside selfish, self-absorbed, self-serving decisions in favor of those that will ultimately nurture and protect your children -- it's a constant, daily struggle. Simply put, the painful process of getting over yourself is one of the hallmarks of good parenting. Even though Parenthood's parents are all making completely misguided choices, the series doesn't consider these as a means to education, through which the adults might reach that kind of self-awareness. That lack of consideration is the series' most unfortunate waste of a promising storyline, one that could have imbued this second version with something refreshing or even revelatory.

One last gripe: casting. NBC elected to cherry-pick gifted and well respected actors with ample family dramedy experience, but the actors' association with other family dramas is distracting at best. What can Lauren Graham possibly bring to the single mother story that she didn't do as Lorelei in Gilmore Girls? Even more puzzling is the series' opening scene, in which Peter Krause steps off his porch in athletic shorts to stretch before he jolts down the sidewalk, launching a minute-long montage of his run through a California neighborhood. In this scene, Krause could be Nate Fischer, Krause's character in HBO's Six Feet Under, which routinely featured scenes of him running through his California neighborhood shot nearly identically. Why Parenthood opens with this explicit visual reference to a far superior family drama on a competing network is anyone's guess. Whether it's an intended joke, an intentional homage or something accidental, its effect is profound: I couldn't help but wish I was watching that excellent show and not this unexceptional one.

3

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Film

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Julian Barratt and Oliver Maltman (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image