TV Review: Promising ‘Parenthood’ Features Spectacular Ensemble

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CHICAGO – Like a lot of Hollywood depictions of family, “Parenthood” features a lot of yelling. For some reason, most writers think of raised voices when they think of the lives of parents and their children. We don’t all talk over each other during family dinners. Having said that, the unbelievably talented cast of “Parenthood” finds a way to sell the relative unbelievability of the first two episodes and should make this easy-if-not-appointment viewing for a network that could use even a modest hit. TV Rating: 3.5/5.0
TV Rating: 3.5/5.0

Executive produced by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard (who also produced and directed the film on which this dramedy is very loosely based), “Parenthood” is clearly an attempt on NBC’s part to find a star-powered family drama to compete with ABC’s popular “Brothers & Sisters” and it’s certainly as accomplished program as that effective ensemble show and hints at something much richer.

Photo credit: Art Streiber/NBC

Ultimately, “Parenthood” suffers from the problems that a lot of melodramatic shows with fifteen speaking roles do - an abundance of plot and a dearth of character. Feeling a need to push each character’s family drama forward a bit between every commercial break, “Parenthood” can often feel cluttered, rushed, and unfocused. Then again, so can actual parenthood, so perhaps the overcrowded nature of the show will be easily forgiven by parents with actually overcrowded lives.

Photo credit: Chris Haston/NBC

Like “Brothers & Sisters” (and countless other family dramas throughout the years), “Parenthood” centers primarily around one family made up of two brothers and two sisters. The bros are Adam (Peter Krause of “Six Feet Under”) and Crosby (Dax Shepard) while the sisters are Sarah (Lauren Graham) and Julia (Erika Christensen). Of course, all four siblings are at different stages of the title state of being.

Adam is the oldest sibling and the one who seems externally to have the most together with his lovely wife Kristina (Monica Potter) and two beautiful children (Sarah Ramos & Max Burkholder) but his worldview is shattered when he learns that his youngest son isn’t just eccentric but may have Asperger’s Syndrome.

Meanwhile, Sarah is a single mother trying to manage a move back near her family with her two children (Mae Whitman & Miles Heizer). Julia and Crosby have the youngest children with the former dealing with trying to handle both work and motherhood and the latter realizing that sometimes one can become a father when they least expect it. TV veterans Craig T. Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia star as the quartet’s parents.

The entire cast of “Parenthood” is impressive and very well-pedigreed but the ironic thing about the ensemble is that the easy stand out of the series, a very possible Emmy and Golden Globe winner, is Lauren Graham, an actress who wasn’t even cast in the original pilot when the show was scheduled to debut in the Fall. Maura Tierney, a talented actress in her own right, had to bow out of the series due to health concerns, but Graham feels like not only was she always a part of the series but that it was practically built around her.

Photo credit: Chris Haston/NBC

Don’t worry. This isn’t just a “Gilmore Girls” retread for Graham. Yes, the roles are similar but Graham brings a different energy to “Parenthood”. As Sarah develops a new life, knocking a first date scene out of the park and looking for a new job in episode two, she’s easily the character with the most interesting early arc. I think the show is merely average in a lot of ways but I will very likely keep watching mostly for the ways in which Graham makes it above average. I doubt I’ll be alone.

Of course, an ensemble show is only as good as its weakest cast member and Graham is surrounded by a number of talented stars, all of who could develop rich characters if given the time and care by the writers of “Parenthood”. Notable early stand-outs include the TV veterans - Nelson, Krause, Whitman, Potter.

The problem with “Parenthood” is as soon as something gets interesting, the writers move on to another plotline. The show needs to slow down and develop a more believable rhythm, one that doesn’t seem so eager to please with a quantity over quality dynamic. The cast is more than talented enough to truly deliver something NBC hasn’t had in years - a new hit. That would be a delivery any network executive parent would love.

‘Parenthood’ premieres on NBC on Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010 at 9pm CST. It stars Peter Krause, Monica Potter, Lauren Graham, Miles Heizer, Mae Whitman, Craig T. Nelson, Bonnie Bedelia, Erika Christensen, Sam Jaeger, Dax Shepard, Joy Bryant, Sarah Ramos, and Max Burkholder. It was executive produced by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer. content director Brian Tallerico

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This is THE BEST SHOW EVER TO BE ON TELEVISION!!!!! My son Brax, has Aspergers, and I can relate and still get a good laugh and cry in the same hour out of this show! I hope that enough people are watching, I fear that the 10pm time slot might not be the best. I do not want this show that I have grown so attached to in just two short weeks to get canceled! Please watch! My husband, much like the father Adam Braverman on this show, was having a hard time coping with our son’s Aspergers diagnosis. We watched the show together, held each other tight, laughed and cried. Our son Brax is almost a mirror image to little Max on the show. Finally, a show that I feel I can relate to. Grab a box of Kleenex and come along for the ride, because it is insightful and a lot of fun!

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