Parenthood: When Simple Makes Great TV

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Parenthood defies the trends of our era’s television.  While other shows are using elaborate period settings, fancy stunts or special effects, or mind-bending plots, Parenthood tells stories with emotion.  No other show on television consistently causes its audience to spend hours with tissues simply from the emotions the characters are portraying.  I am often in tears by simply listening to two characters argue.  The show makes me laugh, makes me cry, and always leaves me thinking.  I think its simplicity is what makes it one of the best shows currently on television.  

I am no stranger to the family dramas.  I grew up watching 7th Heaven, Gilmore Girls, and the rest of the WB family (along with TGIF and anything else appropriate for children out there).  That being said, every other family show seems to have some kind of gimmick. That is aside from Parenthood– unless you consider fabulous acting to be a gimmick.  The background is simple.  Parenthood is the story of one large family– a set of parents with four grown children, and each of the children with their own families and lives.  Story lines are so simple.  They have ranged from everything from a school election to getting into college to “mom’s dating a new guy”.  Yes, there is the occasional shocker, but again, it is always addressed with such realism, you cannot help but feel that the Bravermans are a real family living right next door.

I owe much of the brilliance behind Parenthood to the style of Jason Katims.  We saw it once with Friday Night Lights (and FNL fans get the excitement of seeing some of their favorite back on the screen in Parenthood), also a beautiful show wrought with emotion but bathed in simplicity.  He knows how to make acting feel raw and real.   I am unsure if it is purposeful or due to the actors, but one of my favorite things about Parenthood is how you can see similarity in mannerisms between mother and daughters.  Even when they are not in a scene together, the two older mother/daughter pairs of Lauren Graham and Mae Whitman and Monica Potter and Sarah Ramos share similarities in speech and emotion.  It is unbelievable to watch how Whitman’s character Amber reacts to an upsetting situation in the same rambling way that Graham’s character does so.  They do not even have to look alike to recognize that they are mother and daughter.  I can say the same exact thing for Sarah Ramos and Monica Potter.  The acting is brilliant, the directing is beautiful, and they play their emotion with such a raw realism that I can see myself responding identically to how the characters act in any given situation.

There are definitely story lines in the show I could do without.  For how brilliant (I may be using that word too much) Lauren Graham is, much of her romantic plot lines seem a little to average for a show with such heart.  There are many characters that annoy me, yet that is more of a strength than a flaw.  When Max Braverman, a preteen with Asperger’s played beautifully by Max Burkholder (can someone nominate that kid for an Emmy please?) responds selfishly to his father (played by Peter Krause) when he refuses to take care of the puppy he asked for, you want to scream at him, especially considering Krause’s character is overwhelmed by trying to manage a house while his wife is ill.  At the same time, Max is supposed to be annoying, so you can recognize how difficult Adam (Peter Krause) and Christina (Monica Potter) have it.  

Again, the only words I can use to better explain Parenthood are “simple” and “raw”.  In every show, you see the simple moments of cooking breakfast, running through hallways, and falling asleep.  The kids do homework, the parents are cranky, and the grandparents are a little kooky.  The Bravermans are anything but a perfect family, yet the love portrayed throughout the family, makes any viewer wish they could be a part of that crazy clan.  There is no need for some crazy shocking cliffhanger because even small news can play cliffhanger in their world.  It is refreshing to see television that can entertain with simplicity.  When today’s film and tv are filled with special effects and enormous plots, simplicity is hard to find and oftentimes without simplicity, real emotion is harder to find.  Parenthood brings us both, makes us cry, and reminds us that sometimes simple can be the most beautiful.   

 

 

 

 

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Following an artist: A review of Liberal Arts and thoughts on actor-following

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I finally rented Liberal Arts.  For those who have not seen or heard of it, this is a film written by Josh Radnor, known to most as Ted Mosby on the popular show How I Met Your Mother.  I have been a fan of Josh since watching How I Met Your Mother, and while I may have spent some time appreciating the similarities in our Jewish upbringings, I did actually appreciate him as an actor.  

As a brief review, Liberal Arts, is an indie film that encompasses the themes of growing up, the pros and cons of academia, and losing oneself into fiction.  Any bookworm, liberal arts graduate, or immortal child can appreciate this film.  The main character, Jesse, played by Josh Radnor, is a college admissions officer who finds himself back at his alma mater to celebrate the retirement of one of his favorite professors.  While back at school (appropriately filmed at the same Liberal Arts college Radnor attended), he forges a connection with an undergraduate and finds himself reflecting back on his college days.  The most beautiful part of the film was how the collection of characters provided different viewpoints into the world of a liberal arts campus.  There were multiple perspectives of professor, student, graduate, and outsider.  It made for a whole picture and a way to challenge ones philosophies on life and growing up.  On top of all of that, the film brought to focus the power of literature and art and how those things can both forge connections and shut you out from the rest of the world.  While it was not always a comfortable film to watch and there were many times I highly disagreed with the approach or characterization of individuals, I did find the film to be enlightened and fulfilling.

Which leads me back to the original point- is it okay to be following an artist as I do?  Oftentimes I find myself so wrapped up in an individual that I will seek out any work they engage in.  Take Joshua Jackson for example.  I only started watching Fringe because his name was attached.  Ironically, after getting hooked on Fringe, I fell in love with JJ Abrams and swore to watch anything he made.  The cast of How I Met Your Mother (including Radnor) are such highly talented individuals that I have followed them as well.  Many times, a familiar actor is all it takes for me to see a film, despite the reviews.  

So, when is too much?  I am not sure I will ever have an answer to that question.  I sat through all the episodes of 666 Park Avenue because I have followed Dave Annable since Reunion and Brothers and Sisters (and Robert Buckley in One Tree Hill was another incentive), but was it really worth my time?  The books were fun and soapy, but the show was roughly developed and weird.  So why do I keep doing it?  The world of TV is so small that as my basket of artists grow, I find myself drawn to too much, and then you can never stop.  That being said… sometimes actor-following leads you to an enlightened piece of work that can shape your view.  And while I am not sure I would call St. Elmo’s Fire completely enlightened, following Rob Lowe led me to that film, which led me to what I consider to be a most defining film for a 20-something living in Washington DC.

Pop culture: is it art, entertainment, or something else?

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Before the Oscar nominations were announced, I made it a goal to see all the best-picture nominations.  While I still think that would be a good thing to do, I’ve started questioning that decision.  Here is the thing: there are two of those films I have absolutely no desire to see.  I know I will not be entertained, and I’m not sure I want to sit through the value of the art.  Therefore, it leads me to wonder– what do I value in culture?

Before I started college, I considered “great” TV and film to be highly sappy, poorly made, but happy-feeling media.  While occasionally I found value in a great novel or classic film, there was something about the feel-good teen dramas that just made sense to me.  For example, I had a four year love affair with One Tree Hill.  I loved the ability to escape into a world that seemed real enough to exist, but not quite real enough to make it my own world.  And One Tree Hill was not the only show to fall into that category.  Since then, I have found myself indulging more in what I’d consider to be “great” art within those categories.  This year, the best things I have enjoyed have included Silver Linings Playbook, The West Wing (a few years too late), Parenthood, and Argo.  The list goes on, and my taste clearly continues to get better.  But even now, I can still allow myself to indulge in my old appreciations and still be equally as giddy when the right moment hits.  Leading me to wonder: should pop culture be escapism, should it be art, should it do both, or should it do something else?

Lately, I have found appreciation in the pieces that make me think.  I still love the idea of escapism, but today, I struggle with escaping in the world of a teen soap, unless it was one I previously adored.  I have another theory though.  My method of escapism was used when I spent my life in an academic setting.  I read for class, I did homework, and I studied nonstop.  Television and film were my way of getting away from that life, but now, in a life with more time, less academia, and more real life, perhaps I need the media that will allow me to analyze and challenge myself the way I did constantly in an academic setting.  

So back to the Oscar nominated films: why quit?  Because I still am behind.  I could see the top nominated films of 2013, but I would still be missing the majority of the other best picture nominees from the other years.  And honestly, do we really think 2013 is beating the past?  Why not sacrifice the two films I do not want to see with 10 films I should have seen long ago?  Why sit through something I know I will not like.  I highly doubt either of those films will become one of the defining films of the generation– so why pay the money and why spend the time?

Pop Culture Resolutions: Part 1

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And as I promised, let’s get those resolutions started.  I’m also going to delve more into specifics later on.  I’ll link to them on the main list, but for now, I want to pull 10 generic resolutions, that I can expand upon later.

  1. See all Oscar nominated best-picture films.   Bonus: See all Oscar nominated films from another category as well.
  2. Finally finish Homeland, despite the fact that it hasn’t blown me away that much thus far.
  3. Delve further into the world of Aaron Sorkin.  I gobbled up The West Wing this year and fell in love.  I want to try Sports Night (I have a feeling I’ll love), Studio 60, and The Newsroom.  Bonus: Rewatch The Social Network and try a few of his other films.
  4. Read 20 new books, at least 1 of which is nonfiction.
  5. Regularly, listen to All Songs Considered and find 3 new artists to indulge in from there.  I used to be good about finding new artists through college work, but I don’t have that privilege any more so I need to be better about proactively finding new music.
  6. See at least 10 critically acclaimed films that I missed during their peak.  This can refer to any genre, any decade, and any films.  The goal is to just catch myself up on the world of film.
  7. Actually make it to something live onstage in DC.  Vague, I know.
  8. Read the books based on the movies I’ve seen and want to see this year (Cloud Atlas, Perks of Being a Wallflower, and more).
  9. Try out at least 1 TV show featured in Alan Sepinwall’s book.  And then I can finally read through that chapter and understand what I’m reading.
  10. Continue my exploration of podcasts.  For once, I want to feel like I’m not just an NPR junkie wannabe, but an actual NPR junkie.

A Preface: Pre-2013 Pop Culture Resolutions

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Most of my life I had this secret (or not so secret) desire to be a TV critic/pop culture critic.  On my last trip to my parents, I decided that I needed to at least grab the possibility and do some of my own blogging, aside from the personal whiny teenage girl type blogs I’ve done in the future.  So… here we go. I want to walk you through the inspiration for this upcoming post/the blog in general.

1. I listen to Pop Culture Happy Hour religiously.  Here, I garnered the idea for the pop culture New Years resolution.  While I’m not a big fan of the general New Years resolution, this idea appealed to me because I know I can do it.

2.  Correlated to #1, is my respect for NPR pop culture blogger (and host of Pop Culture Happy Hour), Linda Holmes.  She released a list of 50 Wonderful Things From The Year In Pop Culture .  Since she tends to give good advice, I’m going to pull a lot of my list from her.

3. I’m an avid fan of GoodReads since it is an easy way to track a) what I want to read and b) what I have read.  That being said, I would love for something to work in a similar fashion for all of pop culture.  There are so many movies that I supposedly add to a list, and shows thrown into different queues (per the different ways of streaming TV), but no one place to consolidate.  This blog is my chance.

So, my goal is to consume and write.  I have always said that to me, pop culture is more than just mindless entertaining– it actually leads me to think and form ideas and opinions.  I want to continue that idea, and I want to continue thinking.  I have realized that I have not lost my ability to write, it is just pretty darn rusty, so I want to bring that back to my life as well.

I would expect this blog will be focused on TV… after all, the goal at age 8 was to be a TV critic, but I hope to incorporate many other forms of entertainment as well.  Tomorrow, I’ll start putting together the list.