As a remake of the 1989 Ron Howard film of the same name, NBC’s new family dramedy Parenthood will live or die by its cast. But with a playbill this long and fraught with familiar faces-including Lauren Graham, Peter Krause, Dax Shepard, Craig T. Nelson, Erika Christensen, Monica Potter, and Mae Whitman among others-you’re bound to find a reason to check it out. The talent behind the camera is perhaps even more encouraging, as creator Jason Katims also serves as the guiding force behind one of the best dramas of the last five years, Friday Night Lights.
Find out whether Parenthood lives up to its immense potential after the break.
The first episode is kept incredibly busy in its attempt to establish each cast member for the audience. Parenthood follows three generations of a close-knit extended family headed by Camille (Bonnie Bedelia) and Zeek (Nelson) Braverman, in particular centering on siblings Sarah (Graham), Adam (Krause), Julia (Christensen), and Crosby (Shepard). The first hour encounters the same problem that plagues most ensemble drama pilots, in that there is not enough time to flesh out each character, leaving much of the heavy lifting to archetypes. I realized upon starting this review that I didn’t remember anyone’s name, aside from Crosby due to its absurdity. This doesn’t inherently spell bad things for the series; in fact, it speaks to the entertainment value of the pilot that I look forward to getting to know each character despite the lack of familiarity.
However, time is found to showcase the characters played by Krause and Graham, seemingly to set them up as the effective leads in the large ensemble. Krause isn’t necessarily playing against type, but Adam is definitely less easygoing than any role I’ve ever seen him take on. His work is solid, but I think the performance will benefit from time to grow into the role.
It should be mentioned that Graham was not a member of the original cast, but rather a replacement for Maura Tierney, who left the show after her cancer diagnosis. I’ll refrain from comparisons to the hypothetical work of Tierney, but Graham really shines in her role as harried mother Sarah. It’s similar to her previous role as Lorelai in Gilmore Girls, in that both struggle to be the best mother they can without knowing exactly what that entails. But as Sarah birthed more rebellious offspring, she is enveloped by a heightened sense of desperation, which plays to Graham’s considerable skills in the field of self deprecation. It’s the showiest in a series of showy roles, but Graham nails pretty much ever beat. If Parenthood is able to gain critical traction, I’d love to see Graham’s name among the Emmy nominees come award season.
Side note: when did Mike O’Malley become so captivating? I hated him in the loathsome sitcom Yes, Dear, but after his touching work in Glee in the fall and a charming guest spot in the Parenthood pilot, I hope both series find a way to include him on a recurring basis. On a related subject, the Dax Shepard brand of comedy often skates a fine line between funny and obnoxious; thankfully, he remains on the side of the former for most of the Parenthood debut.
The family is big enough that it appears the conflict will stem from tension within family relationships, in the absence of an ostensible villain. The show doesn’t shy away from soapier plot devices, however, as there are at least two major life-altering twists involving the youngest members of the family in the first hour. Katims borrows a bit from the naturalistic approach of his Friday Night Lights with the dialogue, as the conversational back-and-forth sounds true to how family members interact even when the subject matter is decidedly fit for TV. Such grounding is necessary to ensure that the characters remain relatable amid storylines designed for a broadcast audience, and a good sign for the future of the show.
The series premiere of Parenthood debuts Tuesday March 2 at 10:00 on NBC