Over the last month or so I’ve made a point of catching up on a show that had all the promise in the world but I just never got around to watching, and I couldn’t be happier that I did. Parenthood has quickly become one of my favourite hours of TV in the week. It’s fantastic.
From the brilliant mind behind Friday Night Lights (the other writerly highlight of NBC’s lineup), Parenthood is a rare treasure of solid character-based television (and with Brothers and Sisters losing a bit of steam, it’s nice to have ABC’s slack picked up by the writer-deficient 4th place network) . The large family at the centre of the show is composed of characters both realistic and idealistic. The stories relatable, the dialogue sharp and the pacing excellent. It deals with issues of the every day both tragic and hopeful, minute and insurmountable. Parenthood is the sort of show that immediately makes you feel for its characters, believe in them, relate to them and see bits of yourself and your family in them. It’s a meaningful, eloquent, feel-good show as impressive in execution as the best hour-long dramas without ever losing it’s accessibility, sense of humour or entertainment value.
The beautiful arcs and detailed characters are brought to life by one of the best ensemble casts in the business.
I’ve always loved Peter Krause. From his days as sportscaster Casey McCall on one of my all-time favourite shows (Sports Night) through the amazing Six Feet Under, thrilling Lost Room and entertaining Dirty Sexy Money, Krause has never wavered from my favourites list. Now, as Adam Braverman, he makes a slight return to the sincere and somewhat goofy good-guy character I first fell in love with. In the hands of a lesser anybody, Adam could be the stiff of the cast, the all-American dad/son/husband/brother at the centre of a whirlwind family. But as played by Krause, Adam is layered, complex, endearing and just as fascinating as any of the bigger personalities that surround him.
Adam’s neurotic but capable wife Kristina is played with remarkable sincerity by Monica Potter. The challenging role requires incredible nuance- she has to be strong, funny, vulnerable, prickly and desperately trying to not show the cracks in her facade. Potter, an actress I’d only ever seen in a silly Freddie Prinze Jr. movie called Head Over Heels, is perfect in the role. Her and Krause make up one of the most relatable couples ever on TV. Their kids (Max, played by the unbelievable Max Burkholder and Haddie, played by American Dreams‘ snarky sweetheart Sarah Ramos) are also fantastic, complicated and complicating.
Similarly, Erika Christensen (Yup, the girl from Swimfan) shows incredible depth and complexity as working mom Julia. Her and Sam Jaeger (another My TV favourite from his days on Eli Stone) are the fantastic heads of the Braverman-Graham family, an awesomely modern dynamic in which she brings in $600/hour as a lawyer and he is a full time parent. Their devastatingly human stories range from which parent their daughter Syndey prefers to petty jealousies to power conflicts to deciding to have another baby. Julia and Joel are a perfect couple of imperfection, written and performed beautifully.
The unfailingly endearing Dax Shepard makes the goofy Crosby into a beloved character, all wit and well-intended verve. TV’s favourite single mom Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls) brings a similar charisma to the haphazard Sarah. Separately, they are the parents to my 2 favourite kids on the show. Crosby’s son Jabbar (Tyree Brown) is the cutest, sweetest little kid on the series while Sarah’s teenage daughter Amber (Mae Whitman) is in many ways even more interestingly drawn than her mother. Amber’s arc is easily the most pronounced of the younger generation and Whitman plays it beautifully, bringing vulnerability and respectfulness to a character who presents as a tough-as-nails wiseass.
Idiosyncratic parents Zeek and Camille (Craig T Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia) round out the group with their self-destructive, flawed and well-meaning ways.
The whole family- the kids, the parents, the parents of the parents, the writers, the directors, the network execs who gave the okay-, they’re all showing us a little bit of life in all its ugly and beautiful glory. I can’t wait to see more.