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.