NBC’s Parenthood – Love It? Hate It? Yeah, me too.

Mid-season drama fills me with ambivalence

I have to admit that all ensemble drama fills me with ambivalence.  Some is top notch – Homicide, LOST, Boston Legal.  Loved them.  Even the first three decades of ER were good.  But then there’s Soap Opera stuff like Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy that I just do not love.  I’m always willing to give ensemble drama a chance, though, so have been watching NBC’s latest entry into the genre – Parenthood.  And it has me sitting squarely on the fence.

I almost didn’t even give it a chance.  Ron Howard has been on my naughty list ever since I saw Angels and Demons, which royally sucked.  And the movie Parenthood was a loooong time ago.  Could he really translate an old movie and his annoying-as-of-late style into something worthy?  The thing that convinced me to give it a try was Peter Krause.  He was so completely fabulous in Six Feet Under that I can’t help but give anything he’s in a chance.  I’m both glad I did and cursing myself for getting entangled.

The premise is basically the same as all ensemble family dramas.  Large family, far too enmeshed in each other’s lives, problems arise, drama and comedy ensue.  In this case the initial conceit is the return of a sibling into the fold after a failed marriage.  What always, always determines success or failure on these shows is the likability of the characters.  And here we have a very, very mixed bag with the Braverman family.  Initial strike against them is that they are too close – what, nobody ever turns to a friend instead of a sibling?  Nobody has something else to do besides play basketball at Mom and Dad’s house in the evening?  Come on – no family is this close.  It’s unrealistic and makes real people and their real families feel like they’ve somehow failed in the Tight Knit Family Sweepstakes.

But what about those characters?  Love?  Hate?  Well, I love Krause and Monica Potter’s Adam and Kristina.  They have super chemistry and their nuclear family situation feels the most real (son with Asperger’s, newly rebellious teen daughter).  I also really like Craig T. Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia as patriarch and matriarch.  There’s interesting stuff yet to come with them.  Dax Shepard as stoner/black sheep/irresponsible brother Crosby is also quite endearing.  He does stupid things, but he’s often funny and plays very well off of Krause.  Mae Whitman as niece Amber is also a character to watch.  She’s come a long way since Hope Floats and Independence Day.  These characters keep me watching.

On the other hand, Erika Christiansen’s Julia is annoying.  Insecure and heavy-handed, she’s saddled with situations that don’t ring true and just seeing her smug face makes me want to turn her off.  The most egregious  offense of the entire series, though, is Lauren Graham.  I didn’t watch Gilmore Girls – I have no idea what her character was like.  Hopefully nothing like Sarah Braverman, who makes me want to vomit.  She’s a vapid, bumbling mess who I think is supposed to be endearingly vulnerable.  I hate her.  She is pretty close to being the central character, as the daughter who has just moved home, and I cringe every single time she shows up on screen.  She’s completely helpless in almost every way and I don’t have an ounce of sympathy for her or her self-inflicted “issues”.  They need to back off on her eccentricities and neediness before she turns into Melissa from Thirtysomething (if you get that reference, I love you).

At this point, I’m still watching based on the strength of Krause, Potter, Nelson, Bedelia, Shephard and Whitman.  I’m grudgingly tolerating Christensen and Graham.  Hopefully audience reaction to those character disasters will convince Howard and Co. to pull back on them so we don’t have to keep a barf bag near us for each new episode.

You can catch Parenthood on Tuesday nights on NBC.  You can also stream full episodes for free (for a limited time after each airs live) at NBC.  Don’t worry if you’ve missed a couple that are no longer available, the synopses will do a fine job of catching you up.  At this point, I say give it a try – I think there’s more good than bad so far and the good involves Peter Krause.  You can’t go too far wrong, there.

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