September 27, 2013

THE SKED Season Premiere Review: “Parenthood”


PARENTHOOD:  Thursday 10PM on NBC

PARENTHOOD, like Parks & Recreation, is one of NBC’s little engines that could, chugging along to a fourth season despite mediocre ratings.  (And last night’s series-low-tying 1.6 in its Thursday night debut won’t help any.)  Whatever the network may consider its failings from a bottom-line point of view, creatively it returned completely in form with an hour written by series creator Jason Katims and directed by Lawrence Trilling.

Katims, going back to his Friday Night Lights days, is a strong believer in spontaneity–portions of Parenthood are filmed without shots being blocked out prior to filming, and some improvisation is encouraged–with the result that despite the melodrama of some of its plotting, no family drama on TV has the sense of reality that Parenthood offers.  A good example was the decision to have Kristina (Monica Potter) suddenly decide to run for Mayor of Berkeley against her former boss Bob Little (Jonathan Tucker), after he asked her to run his campaign.  Kristina is fresh off cancer treatments and has a very young daughter and two other kids (one of them with Asperger’s), so this decision–which occurs to her just a day before the filing deadline–wasn’t the most convincing plot twist in the show’s history.  But the scenes between Kristina and husband Adam (Peter Krause) felt naturalistic and genuine, and that helped sell the storyline.  Similarly, we’ve all seen countless TV shows with new parents and their long nights and doubts, but the ragged, sleepless edge of the scenes between Crosby (Dax Shepard) and Jasmine (Joy Bryant), especially after the Bravermans came for a visit en masse and stayed too long, had an unusually believable rawness.

Happily, Ray Romano, who only has to do what he feels like doing, enjoyed being on Parenthood enough that he chose to come back as socially awkward photographer Hank, which allows the series to explore the promising plot thread from last year that suggested a bond between Hank and Max (Max Burkholder), Adam and Kristina’s son with Asperger’s.  Romano, with his expert timing and the seriocomic chops he showed on the much-missed Men Of A Certain Age, fits perfectly into the Parenthood universe. No doubt it won’t be long before Hank comes back into the orbit of former love Sarah (Lauren Graham), now working as a building super (and part-time photographer) and finally out of her parents’ house, but the show is playing that slowly.  (Hank’s romantic rival probably won’t be seen much, as Jason Ritter has a midseason show on FOX.)

Some of the season’s storylines are more promising than others.  It feels far too easy to predict what’s going to happen now that Joel (Sam Jaeger) has a major contracting job for a gorgeous architect (guest star Sonya Walger), while wife Julia (Erika Christensen) is being blackballed by her former boss.  And the new engagement of Amber (Mae Whitman) to soldier Ryan (Matt Lauria) is a sobfest and it’s barely even started.  But Parenthood is almost always able to pull a new wrinkle out of familiar situations, so it deserves a big-time benefit of the doubt.

One way or another, this is likely to be a pivotal season for Parenthood.  Its full-season order and new timeslot create expectations that the show may or may not be able to satisfy against competition that includes the red-hot Scandal, and once it has 4 seasons in the bank, the show will probably have enough episodes for post-network sale.  In addition, Katims will be dividing his attention this season between Parenthood and his midseason comedy About A Boy, although he has an experienced staff that’s largely been with the series for years to help bear that burden.  Viewers can only be grateful that this low-tech, low-concept, high-quality show, one of the last bastions of broadcast network drama left, has been given the opportunity and–to NBC’s credit–the creative freedom to make it this far.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."