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‘Parenthood’ pilot is a jumbled mess

BY RACHAEL LANDER | MARCH 10, 2010 7:30 AM

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I miss “Arrested Development.”

The smart humor coupled with quirky characters and a cleverly narrated plot was producer Ron Howard’s finest contribution to television. So when previews for “Parenthood” began airing, his first TV project since the Bluth family days, a natural assumption was that “Parenthood” would be part comedy, part brilliance. Unfortunately, the first episode was neither.

But “Parenthood’s” early trailers did support those assumptions. Clips showed famed “Gilmore Girls” star Lauren Graham hooking up with Mike O’Malley (“Yes, Dear”) and getting caught by her teenage son. That scenario had all the potential to be akin to the funny yet awkward humor of “Arrested Development.” But the trailer left out what happened afterwards — the son runs away to his estranged rocker father. And then there is crying.

All right, so “Parenthood” isn’t going to be a comedy — it’s an all-out drama with a few comedic sprinkles. (Which is even more odd, because “Parenthood” is based on Howard’s 1989 flick Parenthood, starring Steve Martin. And it was funny).

Though it’s hard to judge a show solely on its pilot episode (experience tells us pilots are always underdeveloped), there are still many issues in the première that may cause the series to be dropped after its first season.

“Parenthood” is very typical. The show focuses on Camille (Bonnie Bedelia) and Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) Braverman and their four kids, Sarah (Graham), Adam (Peter Krause), Crosby (Dax Shepard), and Julia (Erika Christensen).

Sarah is the single mom with two misfit kids, trying to date and keep daughter Amber out of jail, while feeling bad that her son doesn’t have a strong fatherly role model. Adam is happily married, but his child is diagnosed with Asberger’s, and he and his wife have to learn how to cope with it and the effects it has on their son.

Crosby is the uncommitted guy, terrified of marriage and even more so of having kids. So naturally, he finds out he has actually had a child running around for a few years. And Julia is the workaholic who has to deal with her daughter wanting her father more than her mother.

So, really, there’s no way to describe that setup other than typical. While it’s interesting to have so many different viewpoints on life occurring simultaneously, the biggest problem with “Parenthood” is exactly that.

Dramas that have a large number of characters doing so many different things run into a problem with development. It’s hard to really create a strong character with a lot of depth without the show becoming entirely focused on them. But sometimes a central focus is the way to really make a program work. (Need an example? Just take a look at “Grey’s Anatomy”).

“Parenthood” almost wants to put the focus on Julia, except then it abruptly switches to making Adam’s story the focal point, and then brings on plot twists for Crosby, while zeroing in on Julia’s working lifestyle at the same time. All of the plots will erupt in a gigantic mess if writers and producers ultimately decide they want to give every character equal airtime.

Hopefully, the next few episodes of “Parenthood” will give it the focus and push that it needs to become a well-developed drama that will resonate with viewers as much as “Arrested Development” has. Though, I bet Howard would appreciate it if “Parenthood” developed a fan-base before it gets canceled.


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