Published May 05, 2015Short of sharing the same title and featuring a family, there are fewer similarities between the television show Parenthood and the film Parenthood than one might think. While the 1989 Steve Martin film was very much a comedy, the television show went deeper, exploring what makes a family work.
This 2010s iteration was actually the second attempt to create a show based on the movie — the first one didn't get beyond its first season — and while this version could never be described as being a huge hit, it had a devoted audience that kept it around for six seasons. Sure, the number of episodes varied wildly between seasons, implying that NBC never had complete confidence in it, but it still managed to clock up 103 episodes before it finally ended earlier this year.
At the centre of Parenthood is the Braverman family. Headed by patriarch Zeek (played by Craig T. Nelson) and his wife Camille (played by Bonnie Bedelia), it includes his four children Adam, Crosby, Julia and Sarah, along with their spouses and offspring. The show is the story of their everyday lives, from their relationships, jobs and banalities through to more challenging things, like coping with an autistic child and other health issues. It was hardly reinventing the wheel, but not every show needs to.
There are a couple of things that really made Parenthood work. The cast, for one, is composed of talented actors like Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls) and Peter Krause (Six Feet Under), who turn in reliable performances throughout, while the scenes between Graham and Mae Whitman (Arrested Development), who plays her rebellious daughter Amber, are a highlight of every episode. Even the more unexpected casting choices, in particular the addition of Ray Romano (during Season 4), work because he is part of such an impressive ensemble. There really are no weak links.
The second thing that kept audiences onboard was the quality of the writing. Like thirtysomething and Friday Night Lights before it, Parenthood attempted to realistically depict family life, and while that could potentially have made for mundane viewing, it was made affecting via a palpable sense of realism and sincerity.
That being said, it wasn't perfect. There were times when its earnestness got the better of it, and even the welcome addition of some lighter moments couldn't really stop its tendency to wallow in the bleaker storylines, which felt overly morbid, even exploitative, at times during the cancer storyline. Plus, there was nothing particularly revolutionary about Parenthood; it was an effective family drama and nothing more, which becomes very apparent when binge-watching it.
Considering there are six seasons of the show, there aren't many extras. The handful of deleted scenes are inconsequential, and the few commentary tracks there are dry up completely after the third season. There is one final retrospective featurette on Season 6 which clocks in at a mere 15 minutes, and seems like a meagre way to bid farewell to the Bravermans after spending more than 70 hours with them. Parenthood deserves better than this set offers. (Universal)