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Family TV Review: Parenthood

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parenthoodShow: Parenthood
Airtime: Tues., 10/9c on NBC
Rating: TV-PG
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family
Cast: Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Dax Shepard, Monica Potter, Erika Christensen, Sam Jaeger, Max Burkholder, Mae Whitman, Craig T. Nelson, Bonnie Bedelia, Joy Bryant, Sarah Ramos
Ok for Ages: 13+
Official Site: Parenthood

Parents Should Know: Parenting is hard work! But then, we already know that, don’t we? Parenthood — the show — runs the gamut of issues, from racism to teen sexuality to weathering the rough patches of life. There’s some mild swearing (“ass,” “hell,” “butt”) and social drinking, as well as references to sex and couples seen in bed together. Sometimes fights break out — usually verbal, but sometimes physical — but they’re always followed by discussions about the responsibilities, emotions, and perils of being part of a family.

Review: When a TV show plays the cancer card, that’s usually about the time I stop watching. I have enough cancer within my own friends and family, and figure I don’t need to see more of it on TV. After all, I watch TV to escape, not be dragged further down in the sadness of life.

But Parenthood is playing the cancer card this season, and I’m still watching. Then again, I’ve got three seasons invested in the characters and storyline, so I’m not going to stop watching just because I don’t want more cancer in my life. I also think it has something to do with HOW the cancer is handled on the show.

Let’s back up a little. If you’re not familiar with Parenthood, NBC’s ensemble show based loosely on Ron Howard’s 1989 movie with the same title, it revolves around the Braverman family, headed by Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) and Camille (Bonnie Bedelia), along with their four kids Adam (Peter Krause), Sarah (Lauren Graham), Crosby (Dax Shepard) and Julia (Erika Christensen), and their respective spouses and kids.

One of the reasons I love the show is because they don’t seem like a “TV family” reading lines and expressing emotions generated in the writers’ room. They seem like a real family. They don’t always know the right thing to say or the right time to say it, they talk over each other, they argue and fight, and they have a unique family dynamic, just like real families out here in the real world.

Another reason I love Parenthood is because the show covers all sorts of complex issues like cancer, adoption, divorce, racism, financial struggles, aging parents, self-employment, developmentally-challenged kids, alcoholism, teen sex, and grumpy bosses. Despite my earlier statement about watching TV to escape, I don’t mind the tough stuff if the characters are compelling and the issues aren’t glossed over or Hollywoodized.

Let’s take the cancer storyline. If you’re not caught up to the current season of Parenthood, Kristina (Monica Potter) is the one with cancer — breast cancer, to be specific. It’s interesting to see how she and Adam (Peter Krause) are handling it. They tell their daughter Haddie (Sarah Ramos) the truth at first, but when she comes home from college to help out, they lie after Kristina’s surgery and say the cancer is gone. In reality, the cancer in Kristina’s breast is gone, but she’ll have to undergo chemotherapy for cancer in her lymph node.

I understand where Adam and Kristina are coming from. They want Haddie to stay in college and focus on her studies. They don’t want her distracted by Kristina’s cancer. On the other hand, they shouldn’t have lied to her. Haddie is old enough to make her own choices about whether to stay in school or take a semester off.

These are the real-life questions that come up, and I appreciate the show for making people think and spurring discussions. As a friend who spent the past year battling breast cancer (and winning) said, “Parenthood has basically taken my whole cancer experience and put it on a television drama. It’s an amazingly accurate portrayal of some women’s early-stage experience with the disease, including mine. Tough to watch, but important.”

But there are lots of other reasons to love Parenthood, including a storyline involving Ray Romano, who plays Sarah’s grumpy boss (and possible love interest) Hank. I realize Sarah is with Mark (Jason Ritter) now, but I’ve decided that she needs more of a challenge than Mark can give. In short, he’s a little boring for her. She and Hank have sparks.

I also love the blossoming romance between Amber (Mae Whitman) and Ryan (Matt Lauria from Friday Night Lights), a soldier who’s just returned home from a tour in Afghanistan (another great current-issues storyline). Their relationship won’t be smooth sailing, but that’s ok. That’s how real life works.

Other stories this season include Max (Adam and Kristina’s son with Asperger’s) running for class president; Victor (Julia and Joel’s adopted son) trying to fit in and find his way; Julia quitting her job as an attorney; Zeek volunteering at a veteran’s support facility; and Crosby and Jasmine explaining racism to Jabbar.

If you haven’t yet checked out Parenthood, watch an episode or two and see how you like it. It’s a thoughtful, entertaining show with a knock-out cast, great writing, and modern-day issues. While it’s rated TV-PG, I recommend it for kids 13 and older who love family dramas.

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Jane Boursaw is the founder and editor-in-chief of Reel Life With Jane. Her credits include hundreds of print and online publications, including The New York Times, People Magazine, Variety, Moviefone, TV Squad and more. Follow her on Twitter at @reellifejane.

Jane Boursaw has written posts on Reel Life With Jane.


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2 comments

  1. Great synopsis of what Parenthood is all about! I started watching it in the middle of the first season by accident. I don’t normally like chic-flicks or soap operas, but this show was just different. I don’t even know what to do with myself now that it’s on midseason break. I’m sure when it returns, Hattie will not be happy to find that her parents lied, and have been lying ever since she left.

  2. The reason why I started watching Parenthood is because of the synopsis. But at the same time, I wanted to see how well can portrait an actor somebody suffering for breast cancer. Very good review!
    Joice recently posted…Gearing Up for National Breast Cancer Awareness MonthMy Profile

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