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Season Finale: Parenthood – “Lost and Found”

“Lost and Found”

May 25th, 2010

When Parenthood began a few months ago, what struck me about the series was how it felt unbalanced. There were some parts of the show I really enjoyed, but there were other parts of the show that simply weren’t working. It’s not that I expected it to be perfectly balanced, as the late recasting necessitated by Maura Tierney’s cancer meant that the entire tone of the show shifted in an instant, but the combination of the series’ sappy scenes of the family spending time with one another felt at odds with the somewhat incongruous elements of the ensemble. Those scenes made it feel like the show was pretending it was something it wasn’t, that this family unit was actually cohesive despite conflict which seemed to exist within the scripts (and to some degree the casting) more than in the characters themselves.

I understood from the beginning that this show, like Modern Family, is about the family unit and its complexities, but while Modern Family leaned comfortably on broad stereotypes to immediately jump into the series’ structure Parenthood didn’t have the same luxury. Sure, we could look to Lorelai Gilmore to understand Sarah, working mother isn’t exactly rocket science, and newly discovered son has some forebears, but we had to spend time with these characters in order to understand how they are responding to these situations. Modern Family gets to reset itself each week, but Parenthood’s characters need to grow into these situations, which means we need to understand what’s changing and how it’s evolving in more of a nuanced fashion.

Jason Katims’ Friday Night Lights was about community, which meant that the show was “setup” from the very beginning: the show’s pilot clearly defined Dillon, Texas as a place where high school football is king, and the show was then able to go further into investigating how the series’ characters relate to that central theme so honestly portrayed in the first episode. With Parenthood, however, Katims is dealing with something far more variable, as every family is different and the impact of the series is dependent on our knowledge of how this family works or compares with our own. Throughout the first season, the show has done some fine work defining each individual family, showing us Adam and Kristina confronting Max’s autism or Crosby connecting with his son in a way he had never imagined. Sure, Sarah is still Lorelai by a different name in many ways, and Julia still remains the series’ weak link, but we now understand these different families to the point that we can see the ways in which they’d come together, their differences now points of difference more than points of incongruity.

“Lost and Found,” scripted by Katims, asks the same question that I was asking after the pilot: is this, in fact, a show about one happy family? I compared the show to Brothers & Sisters when it first aired, but that show very clearly prioritizes the sibling relationship over the individual families within it. Parenthood has yet to make its final decision, and each wing of the family faces that balance between “your” family and “the” family in the finale – and while there’s another one of those sappy scenes at the end, one of those wings is missing, and one of them remains pieced together with some ukelele and some emotional duct tape.

And there’s a realism to that which Katims really nicely captures in a finale that seems a fitting end to the season and creates a strong foundation for the show to hit the ground running in the fall so long as no Swedish lifeguards or serial rapists come out of the woodwork.

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Parenthood – “Perchance to Dream”

“Perchance to Dream”

April 27th, 2010

Last week, Parenthood was given a second season, and I was pleased: yes, I have at times voiced my intense frustration with some of the show’s tonal inconsistencies, but in doing so I admit that they seem like a show working itself out more than a show which has no chance of ever reconciling its various parts. Rather, it’s a show that very clearly doesn’t want to know what it is yet, a show which wants to embrace the slack that we cut freshman series by trying out as many things as possible. The result is occasionally a show that makes me want to tear my hair out, but it’s also occasionally a show that really resonates emotionally, and there has always been moments which make you think that maybe these crazy Bravermans might just make it after all.

“Perchance to Dream,” easily the most consistent episode of the show thus far, feels perfectly timed to make me excited to see where this show goes in its second season. The show has, to this point, felt like one where the characters are sort of adrift in a sea of uncertainty, as changes and challenges to their family force them to react and respond accordingly. However, this week’s episode dials down the drama and creates “slice of life” scenarios which the show plays for some humour but ultimately uses to draw out some meaningful character moments that feel like they’re building towards something more than a saccharine conclusion. It finally feels like we’re seeing something out of Act Two rather than Act One, and showing characters capable of being self-aware and who share relationships with other characters which don’t have clear hierarchies that lead to formulaic storylines.

Dare we dream that Parenthood might some day become the dramatic powerhouse that is Jason Katims’ other show, Friday Night Lights? Well, no, but I do think we’re to the point where the idea doesn’t seem like a hilariously improbable notion.

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