‘Parenthood’ brings real family to TV

parenthood/ NBC

MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md., March 17, 2014 — The 1989 film “Parenthood” was a success, and it gave way to the NBC series of the same name in 1990. While acclaimed by the critics, it was cancelled after only 12 episodes. Actors Ed Begley, Jr. and Leonardo DiCaprio were in the cast, and they, as well as others in the series, later became prominent actors.

In 2010, NBC decided to start anew and aired “Parenthood” for the second time. Both the 1990 and the 2010 efforts were loosely based on the 1989 movie. In the latter, which still airs on NBC, the family Braverman lives in California. The plot revolves around three generations of family members. The family appears to be middle class, educated, and in general law abiding citizens.

One truism about good movies is that their characters are three dimensional. They act like real people, with foibles and virtues and a history. After more than four years in the 10:00 p.m. Thursday slot, the characters in “Parenthood” have become nicely rounded. The writers have been able to make the characters sufficiently flexible to change with the times and circumstances, but they still keep their identity. For the long-term watcher of the series, this has come as a welcome difference from many sitcoms today that emphasize only the specific extreme idiosyncrasies of their characters.

The Braverman family tree can be seen here.

Another distinctive characteristic of the show is the willingness of the writers to include characters and plots for special cases. One of the Bravermans teenagers is autistic. He suffers from Asperger’s syndrome and is prominently featured in the show. Some would think that this would make the show preachy and boring, but to the contrary its shows how the family copes with him, and how he copes with the family.  He is even key to helping one of the adults learn that he also may have Asperger’s or some other type of disorder.

It is also interesting to see how some of the other adults and children handle the difficulties that Asperger’s brings to the table. Their responses include overreaction and judgmental behavior by some, responses that are familiar to those who have Asperger syndrome or know people who do.

The show is also educational on interracial relationships. One of the Bravermans is married to an African American woman. This is seen by the rest of the clan as completely normal, a universe away from TV even in the 1980s. One of the daughters in the show adopts a Latino boy, and several episodes show how difficult his acculturation to his new way of life is. The couple has to admit that Victor, their adopted son, will have to work harder than others to catch up in school. The pains of adoption, including attachment issues are documented as the adoption becomes final and the child faces a new environment.

Pot smoking by some of the younger characters is realistically portrayed. This goes with the times, as we as a country start looking at marijuana as just another recreational drug, like tobacco and alcohol. It doesn’t glorify drug use, but it doesn’t demonize it, either.

The scourge of war rears its ugly head in several episodes, when one of the younger Bravermans starts a liaison with a young man just returned from the Middle East. Eventually his PTSD and sense of not belonging force him to return to the military, to the sorrow of the young Amber Holt — daughter of Sarah Braverman — played by Mae Whitman.

College life and romance are also shown frequently with two of the younger Braverman in college. Dorm life and the cultural impact of some when faced with very different people are shown realistically.

The conflicting interests of the different generations are also portrayed when the older Bravermans decide to sell their house. This is the house where all the four children were born and raised. Typically Zeek (Craig T. Nelson), the patriarch, is not as convinced of the sale as is his wife Camille, played by Bonnie Bedelia. Their children take at least two episodes to accept the wishes of their parents.

So far there haven’t been any regular GLTB characters in the series, but the night is young. It is going to be difficult to write someone into the established structure of the show that would not seem fake.

And yes, the show is a little corny. Usually at the end of the episode there is a scene that jerks the tears. However, we can’t get enough of this show. We want the show to continue after its 60 minutes term.

Mario Salazar is a video and TV addict. He can be found in Facebook (Mario Salazar), Twitter (@chibcharus) and Google+.

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  • Joy

    Will try to watch this program, sounds good but have not seen it.

  • Elizabeth Carlton Lavigne

    You do not know what you have been missing, Joy…. it is the one show that is on commercial channels that I look forward to seeing every week. I bought the DVDs for the first four seasons, and rewatched them this past winter. There is a fan page on Facebook, and we are all writing NBC, hoping that they do not cancel the show. There is so little to watch, not being a fan of reality shows, I cannot believe that they would cancel one of the quality shows that does exist!