Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Parenthood. Season 1: Review

A drama series about three generations within one family.  A serious version of Modern Family, you ask? Yes, but in more of an 'older brother' than 'unfortunate love-child' kind of way. 

There aren’t a lot of family shows (well, shows about the family) out there, so comparisons with stuff like Modern Family and Gilmore Girls will inevitably be drawn in Parenthood, executive produced by Ron Howard, particularly as it features the latter’s shining star Lauren Graham. With this show it is definitely a case of ‘see this if you liked’ the former two, but Parenthood is also refreshingly original itself.

Yes, Lorelai Gilmore is back on our screens. Gilmore, stage-name Lauren Graham, stands out as divorced parent Sarah Braverman. She brings to the role all of the feistiness, subtle humour, warmth and instant likeability that the dedicated followers of Gilmore Girls so loved in her. Much like Graham’s role in that, quick-witted grown-up-wild-child (among other hyphenated adjectives) Sarah must balance the troubles and tribulations of parenthood, particularly with stroppy teenager Amber (played by the ubiquitous Mae Whitman, better known as George Michael’s forgettable girlfriend ‘Egg’ in Arrested Development), with her own tentative steps back into the dating game.
Then you have Sarah’s older brother Adam (Six Feet Under’s Peter Krause). Adam is the glue that holds Team Braverman together, with characters across the family’s three generations always turning to him for advice. But the foundations of his rock-solid, seemingly perfect life are shaken when his eight-year-old son Max is diagnosed with Asperger syndrome.

Sarah and Adam’s parents, Zeek and Camille, played by Craig T. Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia (pretty good cast, no?), add to the show’s strong ensemble. Sarah, trying to rebuild her own life, as well as providing a better one for her children, moves back in with her parents, taking the idea of moving back to be closer to the family quite literally, which inevitably brings its own difficulties. But the senior Bravermans’ happy marriage has its own potentially destructive secrets too.

High-flying lawyer and third sibling Julia is jealous of the attention her sensitive house-husband Joel gets from their female friends. The highly competitive and jealous streak in her can land her in some sticky situations. Though these do become quite tedious at times, they can also be compellingly awkward and cringeworthy, the best example of which is an overdrawn lesson to her daughter in not lying, which culminates in Julia cordoning off the entire hallway for the sake of a broken lamp, and the argument.

In this vein, the show is at its best when it deals with, not that you could have guessed it from the name, these trickier aspects of parenting, particularly with Sarah’s son Drew’s need for a father figure as he lies on the cusp of maturity, and Adam and wife Kristina’s slow realisation that their son is ‘different’. It does so with great wit and humility, with just the right doses of tragedy and humour. We share Adam and Kristina’s anxiety over their son’s syndrome, which makes us celebrate his triumphs all-the-more just as they do.

But the best part of the series is the younger Braverman brother Crosby, who is played excellently by Dax Shepard. A sworn bachelor (he lives on a boat!), feeling the pressure of his girlfriend’s desire to settle down and have a child, Crosby learns that he has his own son, now five years-old, from a previous relationship. In keeping with the tone of the show, the scenes with Crosby getting to know his son, whose name is Jabbar (reasons to watch this show #11 – it has a kid called Jabbar in it!), are touching and funny in equal measure, with Shepard bringing great timing and personality to the role. Without wanting to spoil it too much, Crosby gradually overcomes his immaturities and starts to become a father to *pause to laugh to myself* Jabbar. The subtle humour and delivery of Shepard, as well as Lauren Graham, are definitely the show’s greatest assets.

Parenthood’s intelligent and grounded writing shines through in the series, as does its excellent cast, Lauren Graham and Dax Shepard in particular. The show brings the whole family together despite/because of their individual fractures, and celebrates the supportive community and family can offer, without making it soppy and utopian, which is ultimately what makes it so natural and accessible. It may not be the most exciting, funniest or best show around, but it is well worth getting your own family together for thirteen episodes and watching. A feel-good hit.
Star rating: 4 / 5

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