The Braver­mans are binge-wor­thy TV

Ex­plores why Par­ent­hood might just be the best undis­cov­ered gem on tele­vi­sion.

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Lethal Weapon, West­world, The Ex­or­cist. Tele­vi­sion is once again min­ing the movies for in­spi­ra­tion. But while the jury is out on how long those cin­e­matic con­ceits will sur­vive on the small screen, one show pro­vides a per­fect ex­am­ple in how to do it right.

To be fair, Par­ent­hood (sea­sons 1 to 5 now stream­ing on Light­box), wasn’t the first crack at adapt­ing Ron Howard’s 1989 film. A 1990 se­ries, writ­ten by Buffy the Vam­pire Slayer‘ s Joss Whe­don and star­ring David Ar­quette, Thora Birch, Ed Be­g­ley Jr and, yes, Leonardo Di Caprio tanked. But al­most 20 years later, NBC had an­other crack and the re­sult was a rare com­pelling fam­ily drama. Like fel­low qual­ity US drama The Good Wife, Me­di­a­works made a half-hearted at­tempt to pro­mote it here, muck­ing it around on the late-lamented Four’s sched­ule, be­fore ditch­ing it al­to­gether at the end of sea­son 2. Re­peats of those sea­sons have aired on Sky TV’s Vibe, but it’s only re­cently that Light­box has come to the res­cue of those want­ing to fol­low the fur­ther for­tunes of the Berkley-based Braver­man clan.

The nat­u­ral suc­ces­sor to Six Feet Un­der and Gil­more Girls (per­haps in part be­cause it shares stars Peter Krause and Lau­ren Gra­ham from those shows), Par­ent­hood is also kind of like a cross be­tween The Wal­tons and Mod­ern Fam­ily (amus­ingly Par­ent­hood‘ s fam­ily pa­tri­arch Craig T Nel­son turned down Ed O’Neill’s role on Mod­ern Fam­ily).

This is a show that cel­e­brates fam­ily in all its forms, but also isn’t afraid to tackle tricky sub­jects like teenage al­co­hol, abor­tion, in­fi­delity, adop­tion, racism, can­cer and lo­cal pol­i­tics.

Par­ent­hood has also been rightly lauded for its por­trayal of a boy with Asperg­ers and ex­plor­ing all the as­so­ci­ated dilem­mas for him and his par­ents as he nav­i­gates main­stream school­ing and be­com­ing a teenager.

One of the show’s other strengths is it doesn’t feel scripted. Leg­end has it that, un­like most Hol­ly­wood TV dra­mas, there were no ta­ble reads be­fore re­hearsals. The re­sult is char­ac­ters talk­ing over one an­other, Robert Alt­man-style, giv­ing the drama a more re­al­is­tic feel.

There’s also a real quirk­i­ness and unique­ness about it. In al­most ev­ery episode some­one makes pan­cakes or waf­fles, while any dra­matic sto­ry­line is leav­ened by a witty line or mo­ment of slap­stick. As The Van­cou­ver Sun‘ s Sheri Levin wrote, ‘‘the cast moves ef­fort­lessly from pro­vid­ing se­ri­ous, thought­ful an­swers to crack­ing jokes and al­low­ing the funny mo­ments to shine through. It’s al­most as though art is im­i­tat­ing life, or life im­i­tat­ing art.’’

But most of all, Par­ent­hood‘ s binge­wor­thi­ness across its 103 episodes comes down to the char­ac­ters and the ac­tors be­hind them.

As well as the al­ways watch­able Krause and Gra­ham, the core cast in­cludes Erika Chris­tensen, Bon­nie Bedelia, Mon­ica Pot­ter and the out­ra­geous Dax Shep­ard. Recog­nis­able faces all, but not so much that they come with bag­gage from other parts. Join­ing them dur­ing the show’s run were a host of young tal­ent and old hands.

One of Michael B Jor­dan’s ( Creed) first ma­jor jobs was here, Sex and the City‘ s John Cor­bett had a re­cur­ring role, Richard Drey­fuss popped in and, ever won­der what Ray Ro­mano did af­ter he fin­ished on Ev­ery­body Loves Ray­mond? Such was his love of Par­ent­hood that he begged showrun­ner Ja­son Ka­tims (who also made the equally beloved Fri­day Night Lights and this year’s cult drama The Path) for a part. He played the can­tan­ker­ous pho­tog­ra­pher Hank Riz­zoli from sea­son four un­til the show’s end.

Par­ent­hood‘ s legacy is re­flected in the fact that ru­mours still per­sist that a re­union/res­ur­rec­tion is on the cards (a la Gil­more Girls) and the fact that Amer­ica’s hottest new show This is Us is be­ing com­pared to it.

If you love plain and sim­ple drama with­out the post-mod­ern non-lin­eal mad­ness, then seek it out.

Run­ning for six sea­sons, Par­ent­hood fol­lowed the for­tunes of the Berke­ley-based Braver­man fam­ily.

Lau­ren Gra­ham re­peated her Gil­more Girls’ suc­cess in Par­ent­hood.

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