Parenthood: A Tale of Two Critics

After tearing into the premiere of NBC's Parenthood—the new hour-long drama produced by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer and featuring the acting chops of Craig T. Nelson, Peter Krause, and Lauren Graham—TV.com writers Stefanie Lee and Steve Heisler discuss their differing opinions of the show.

First Impressions

Steve Heisler: How can a show look so vibrant, yet be so empty inside? The camerawork is top-notch and the roster of talent impressive, but the drama's so... hack. An overbearing dad gets in a fight with the umpire at his son's baseball game. A single mom is lied to by her sister, and winds up on a date with a balding, chubby barista. Oh, and later, she sees he's actually a decent guy. It's all very sitcom-y, which seems lazy for a show with this much muscle behind it. Perhaps I'm being harsh because of unintentional, unfavorable comparisons to Modern Family—which I love—but I found Parenthood lacking. You can put frosting on a box and call it a cake, but I ain't havin' it for dessert. (I just made that up, what do you think?)
Stefanie Lee: So I'm guessing you're not a Funfetti fan? Parenthood isn't going to change lives, but I don't think it's meant to. It's a comfortable show with a relatable, poignant premise and sympathetic characters. Maybe that's not profound enough for some, but I found it heartwarming. I also liked that the pilot's dramatic and comedic moments didn't stem from the family’s fighting or bickering—at least not all of the time. Plus, as a former Berkeley resident, I got a kick out of the references to Shattuck Avenue and the neighboring city of Emeryville. Go Bears!

Standout Scenes

Stefanie: I liked the scene when Kristina visited Adam at work to tell him about Max's Asperger's Syndrome. The couple started to argue; she was in complete shock, and he was in complete denial. As she tried to convince him of the truth, and he tried to talk them both out of believing it, their stubborn words overlapped and ricocheted, building to a harsh, real, silent climax.
Steve: While I agree that the Asperger's plot shook up the drama in an unexpected, beneficial way, that scene exemplified a problem I had with the pilot overall: Not enough "showing," far too much "telling." For all the talk of the importance of family and problems, we didn't see much of them in action. That said, I liked the scene that followed this one, where Adam visited Max in school and noticed that Max wasn't acknowledging his friends. It forced Adam to confront his worst fears about Max head-on and face-to-face, and it made for a nice acting moment for Peter Krause.

Hopes for What's Next

Steve: I'm praying the pilot got all its cliches out of the way. I'd love the show to really play up how all these people are different: The parents learning how to change gears with a sick child; the mom living her single life under the watchful eye of her judgmental kids; grandparents stepping back into the slippery parenting roles they've always had; a dad-to-be coping with two colliding storylines. With an ensemble this big, more singularly focused episodes would let these actors dig in—and help to set Parenthood apart from the countless other shows covering similar ground. Right now, the cast members' talents are going to waste.
Stefanie: I didn't think the acting was bad; considering the quality of the script, it was superb. The introduction served up too much backstory. The writers need to be careful not to make the little kids, like Max's schoolmates or even Sydney (young daughter of Julia and Sam) too wise for their years. But it's hard to complain about a show that boasts dramatic pros like Craig T. Nelson and Peter Krause, and comedic assets like Lauren Graham and Dax Shepard. Oh, and Ron Howard? When has he ever made a mistake?
Steve: The Da Vinci CodeAngels & Demons. But you're right: He should get a lifetime pass for Arrested Development alone.

What did you think of Parenthood's debut?

Comments (20)
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The show swings around Peter Krause - his character who is weak in real life experience and immature acting - not a good fit for Krause

Hope he can develop more maturity or the show will bomb
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While I was expecting a bit more comedy (the promos made it look like it would have more comedy) I enjoyed it and felt it was a good starting point for the series. Also I only just watched ALL 53 episodes of Arrested Development a couple of weeks ago.
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Well, I gave it a chance but it's nothing for me. I guess I'd have to be 30+ to started like this show. But for now I'm not. When I watched it the other night I was bored. I really didn't care about some Max with Asperger's Syndrom etc. The only reason why I saw it all was Lauren Graham. And maybe because it really reminded me Modern Family. But never mind. I can't like every show. :)
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my only issue seems to be that people are forgetting where this show stems from. i thought the reason for all of the back story in the pilot was to introduce us to all of the characters that make up the family from the original movie. (by the way if you've never seen the movie you might want to hit up Netflix.) the Crosby storyline (and most of the others as well) come directly from the movie. i was on the fence about this show (even though i feel Lauren Graham can do no wrong) but I was pleasantly surprised. i think this pilot is a great jumping off point for the series. i hope it can be the happy medium between modern family (too funny) and brothers & sisters (too dramatic) for me.
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you cant judge a show my its pilot. give it time
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Certainly not a best-show-ever type of show, but certainly a quality start to what is hopefully a great show. I understand Steve's criticism, but I think he had too high of expectations for the show.
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Meh, sounds lame
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I like Lauren Graham but Maura Tierney would have done a better job. I will tune in again next week because it was good enough it deserves another week, but something was missing.
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I thought it was pretty good and can't wait until next week. Finally something good on NBC..
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The majority of shows don't have amazing pilots so even if you didn't like the pilot, it will probably get better.
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if your writing about a simple show like parenthood im expecting for a lost review today.
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i just found out from 'mgfish' George Michael's girlfriend "EGG" was Lauren Graham's daughter. i just had the need to comment. lol
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*****. I dont know how shows created by Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights and Roswell) hooks me from the first few minutes. The acting (esp. Peter Karause) was superb. I liked the pilot. What else can i say, im an instant fan!
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I have had a hard luck with several new TV shows this fall... such as Trauma and Cougar Town, thats why i am not watching this until and unless 5-6 episodes have been aired and their reviews are good...
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We waited patiently for this show - Ron Howard, Lauren Graham, Peter Krause, Craig T. Nelson, Bonnie Bedalia and on and on - how bad could it be? Well, it was awful. My wife and I struggled though this mess in agony waiting for it to end. There were way too many characters to tell a decent story. And what are they paying Bonnie Bedalia for - did she even say anything? Brothers & Sisters on steroids it seemed, without the charm - creamy chocolate icing on a cardboard box sums it up perfectly. We won't be back...
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The major objection I have about this pilot is the fact they tried to cram too much into it. It seemed that they tried to portray this large family as chaotic and hectic, which is all fine and well, but at moments it just seemed too much. It's hard to care about something if you're immediately being bombarded with new information right after it. And the scene in which that guy finds out he's a father just seemed a bit too much.. and they didn't even delve into it, just added it near the end so that he can have some drama too. I think it would've been much better to have some sort of singular, unifying drama that affected the whole family be predominant in the pilot, while we sort of saw indications of possible individual parenting issues going along with it. It seems too much to have one of them discover their child might be ill, the other to have a financial crisis and move in with their parents, one to realize she may be working too much and taking a backseat to her husband in her daughter's affections and one to find out he's a father all within a short span of time. And let's not forget the irrelevant "drug bust", "son escaping to dad's". In short, I felt that there was too much information without a great deal of substance. I'd like to be proven wrong and find the show to be much more enjoyable than the pilot.
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From the previews, I thought this was gonna be the answer to "Modern Family"... but it's much more like the answer to "Brothers and Sisters". Good cast, little surprises along the way, I will definitely watch episode two, and I hope it becomes what it looks like it's supposed to be :)
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A little judgey for a first episode ..we're supposed to see a little of everything .. they can't show us all so they have to tell us some ... The scene w/the dad yelling at the ump was different because he wan't just yelling at the ump - he was trying to defend his kid whom he had to convince to participate in this game to begin with.. then his first hit and he's called out?! I"m sure he was worried he'd never get him to go again ... I'll be watching .. not just cause i love krause & graham & nelson - but also because I have my own 8 yr old named Max, recently diagnosed with Aspergers.
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Good call, mgfish! I knew that girl looked familiar. --stefanie
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This is a great cast and I hope the show finds it's ground. Oddly George Michael's girlfriend Ann (Bland) is part of the cast. Way to go Ron for bringing a bit of Arrested with you.
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