From the Nissan sponsored intro to the Nissan sponsored outro, the season premiere of Parenthood is a frenetic smorgasbord of parent-offspring exchanges catered to Generation X parents that were wrongly medicated for ADHD.
The series isn’t as new as one would think. This brainchild of producers Ron Howard, Brian Grazer and Friday Night Lights’ Jason Katims is more of an experiment in stem cell research than a novel attempt to breathe life into NBC’s failing lungs. The eponymous 1989 film, a box office hit received warmly by critics, first spawned a 12-episode NBC sitcom based on the Buckman family a year later. This newest incarnation of Parenthood attempts to resuscitate the film’s concept by sprinkling a few contemporary symbols into the mix, i.e., Google, artificial insemination and veggie burgers.
The series begins as Sarah (Lauren Graham) and her two seditious children move back in with her father Adam Braverman (Peter Krause) and reunite with the rest of the family in their idyllic Berkeley home, which is the spark needed to disrupt the life stream of this otherwise placid suburban family. Their reunion culminates in a fifty-minute chop-suey of frenzied cuts and formulaic dialogue as nauseating as the beginning of Home Alone.
The show’s superb cinematography is undermined by mumblecore characterization and the excess reversions to its stellar soundtrack, thereby making much of the episode seem like an interminable promo. Parenthood is a tragicomedy that switches back and forth between its manic and depressive moments so carelessly that viewers are left momentarily stunned with symptoms of bipolar disorder. The resulting slideshow of vignettes is like a one-dimensional cubist depiction of the extended Braverman family, where each subplot is devoid of much development or a discernible plotline. This lack of focus makes one feel as if they’re thumbing through non-chronological snapshots in a family album.
The highlight of the show lies in its gifted ensemble cast, including Craig T. Nelson, Dax Shepard, Bonnie Bedella, Monica Potter, Erika Christensen, Mae Whitman and Joy Bryant in addition to Graham and Krause. Graham’s toned down reprisal of her Lorelai role on Gilmore Girls is admirable, considering the prescription wittiness that make wild-child Sarah seem humdrum. The Braverman bunch comes off as charming, despite each actor stretching to grasp the gravitas of his/her role.
The Braverman surname carries with it a certain sense of irony, seeing as this textbook-edgy redux indicates little risk-taking on the part of Howard, Grazer and Katims. In fact, one of the show’s taglines states that ‘parenthood is saying exactly the right thing at exactly the wrong time’, a perfect reflection of the show’s impulsive and mediocre script. The Braverman characters jump to conclusions to spoon-feed the intentions of the show’s creators, and suddenly the viewer is sharing popcorn with the screenplay writers.
As the first installment of Parenthood winds down it hastily takes a turn towards daytime soap melodrama before the family disregards their woes over a little-league baseball game, a gag-worthy all-American denouement. In the last 12 minutes of the program, the viewer learns the youngest boy in the family may be diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, Sarah’s son is torn between his drug-adled rocker father and his awkward new suburban life, the most jejune Braverman may have met his illegitimate son, two of the teenagers are arrested for possession of marijuana and the staple career-driven family member admits her young daughter may prefer spending time with her father.
It is uncertain as to whether the NBC series will live up to the charm of Parenthood the film, whose 92% Rotten Tomatoes score attests to its merits. The Avett Brothers laden soundtrack of the show is quite possibly the only aspect of the new series that measures up to its first incarnation, which garnered an Academy Award nomination for best song (Randy Newman, “I Love to See You Smile”).
The series premiere of Parenthood left me breathless in a manner analogous to a treadmill knob turned up too high. I am considering that maybe the failed 1990 sitcom-adaptation of the film suggests this series may be unable to secure an audience, particularly when ABC’s Modern Family offers a quirkier, more enjoyable take on wholesome family values. As evidenced by the 10pm-Leno flop, NBC has yet to learn that reinvention does not suggest the recycling of archaic ideas. Parenthood is another nail in the coffin of the aging network juggernaut’s fall from primetime grace.