“What’s Goin’ On” with NBC’s Parenthood?
April 20th, 2010
When I was watching last week’s episode of NBC’s Parenthood, in particular the scene where Sarah (Lauren Graham) shares a moment over some Faulkner with Mark, her daughter’s English teacher and twelve years her juniour, I was not surprised. The scene plays out exactly as you would have imagined it would play out as soon as the two characters met, sparks flying over shared metaphors and the romance of literature as their love defies social constructions of age and awakens something inside of them. I was ready to write the scene off as the precise opposite of subtlety, falling into every cliche we could have predicted, but then I heard something in the background…and then my jaw dropped.
It was “In These Arms,” a song by the Swell Season; for those who don’t know, the Swell Season is the moniker under which Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova are currently recording music following their Oscar-winning success with Once. However, my jaw did not drop out of simple recognition of this very beautiful and haunting song; rather, it dropped because Hansard and Irglova were at one point in time romantically involved, with eighteen years separating them. It was at that point that I came to a very important conclusion: someone, somewhere, on the staff of Parenthood is screwing with me.
It could be the Music Supervisor, as there is plenty of evidence to indicate that whoever is choosing music for this show is in fact still living in 2006, or it could be the performers, some of whom seem to have made it their life’s work to entirely take away my ability to tell when this show is trying to be serious and when it’s trying to be sarcastic. For every time when I think I finally have Parenthood pinned down, when I grasp at some sort of straw that convinces me that this could some day develop into half the series that Jason Katims’ Friday Night Lights became, there’s moments which leap off the screen and just beg me to ridicule, abandon or at times even throttle this series.
And I’m sort of loving it.
March 30th, 2010
Fittingly, subtlety isn’t particularly easy to analyze when it comes to television series. While I would never argue that Parenthood’s morals are subtle, as it tends to go for the blindly emotional over the starkly realistic, I still feel like some of what the show is accomplishing could be considered subtle. Even if things eventually get wrapped up in a neat bow that lays out the circumstances at hand, things always tend to start with a small moment that becomes something more, and so the least subtle of conclusions may still come from subtle origins.
“The Situation” works for most of its run time because the characters aren’t necessarily being driven by clear moral foundations; Drew doesn’t start spending time with Adam and Max because his Dad let him down again, Sarah doesn’t strike up a friendship with Amber’s teacher because of some sort of life problem, and Crosby (while directed by others) manages his paternity situation fairly effectively. In the end, the lessons apparent in each story are drawn to the surface through more direct action, and the show gets as sappy as it always does; however, up to that point, there continues to be enough small moments of subtlety for me to stick with the show for the rest of the season.
March 2nd, 2010
I’m currently trying to imagine a world where someone could handle watching both ABC’s Brothers & Sisters and NBC’s much-hyped Parenthood, the centrepiece of its Olympics advertising campaign. I used to watch the former show back in the day, and it had its moments: Sally Field makes a strong matriarch, the family squabbles featured a number of strong actors (Rachel Griffiths, Justin Annable, Emily VanCamp), and once its melodrama settled down enough to reveal itself as human drama the show could even be quite poignant on occasion.
And Parenthood reminds me a lot of that show, at least generally speaking. You have an extended family who gathers together for tense family dinners, you have the various siblings sharing a unique bond that is as deconstructive as it is constructive, and you have each separate family within the larger family dealing with their own issues with every other family peering over their shoulder.
I don’t think I can really tell you why I like Parenthood more than I ever liked Brothers & Sisters, but if I had to really try I would say that it is less smug. It feels more natural and less self-aware, either because the characters are slightly less idealistically wealthy or because I simply like the talent behind this show better. Or maybe, just maybe, the shininess of a new show is outweighing the staleness of an old one, the repetition and heightening melodrama of Brothers & Sisters being traded out for the fresh, unused template of Parenthood.
Perhaps in four years, I’ll be raving about another show just like them; for now, let’s talk about this one, because I quite enjoyed it regardless of how similar it may be to something else.