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.
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?)
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!
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.
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
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.
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 Code
. Angels & Demons
. But you're right: He should get a lifetime pass for Arrested Development
What did you think of Parenthood's debut?