Wednesday, March 17, 2010

If You Wish Modern Family Replaced Laughter with Tears...

....then you'll love NBC's new drama Parenthood! At least that's my impression after catching up on the pilot last weekend. It's aired two episodes since then, and I hear they're a definite improvement. But after such a downbeat and unpleasant pilot, I see no need to give it a second chance.

As you may remember if you watched any given 30 seconds of the Olympics, NBC has made quite a big deal promoting Parenthood as their next (ok, only) big thing. You may also remember the promos emphasizing the "comedy" part of the "comedy/drama" label they're trying to put on the show. But if there was any "comedy" in the pilot, it came only in the form of lame Grey's Anatomy-style banter that just came off as forced as unfunny. No, this one's a drama with a capital D and that rhymes with C and that stands for Crying.

Parenthood is a "family drama" in the tradition of shows like Six Feet Under and ABC's very similar-sounding Brothers and Sisters, but Parenthood ups the ante with a family so big I spent most of the pilot just trying to figure out who everyone is. I mean, there's FOUR central siblings, but one of them wasn't given any major plots so how was I supposed to know she wasn't just a guest star? When you add in spouses and kids, plus two parents, you can see why the list of regular cast members ran longer than on any HBO show. That's a lot to introduce in one hour.

So who do we have? Well, the show centers around four siblings. There's Adam (Peter Krause), an all-around good guy who's struggling with the realization that his son has Asperger's. His sister Sarah (Lauren Graham) is a single mom who's moved back in with their parents to get her life back in order. Dax Shepard plays the family black sheep, and continues to remind us why Kristen Bell is too good for him (in real life). Erika Christensen had a glorified cameo, so it's hard for me to say what her story is. And the parents didn't do too much either.

As you might guess, the Asperger's storyline gets a lot of the "very special" moments. I'm talking multiple scenes with "touching, heartfelt" music while people cry onscreen. Though Sarah's the angstier one, yelling and crying far more than any other character. At a certain point, I started to feel like the pilot just crammed five after school specials together into one hour.

Despite all of that, I might be tempted to tune in again if I connected more with the characters. The cast is certainly impressive, with Krause already having successfully fronted Six Feet Under and Sports Night, Graham had Gilmore Girls, and while I know he's done bigger things, I still give Craig T. Nelson highest credit for The Incredibles. But while Krause is likable and charismatic enough to get me to buy all the emotion in his story, I can't say I cared much for anyone else. Graham may have charmed as Lorelai, but as Sarah she's so far coming across as shrill and annoying. Mae Whitman plays the annoying teenager a bit too well. And Dax Shepard is still Dax Shepard.

At the end of the day, there are already better shows doing what Parenthood is trying for. If I want to watch interconnected families, you better believe I'm picking the hilarious Modern Family over this piece of depression. And if I want something heartwarming and cheesy, at least Life Unexpected is fun and filled with much more likable characters. So nice try NBC, maybe next time it will work out. And if Parenthood ends up proving me wrong somewhere down the line, let me know and I might give it another shot.

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