The Bravermans are binge-worthy TV
Explores why Parenthood might just be the best undiscovered gem on television.
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.