You know how there are some shows where it’s impossible to wait for the next episode? Where, the moment a season ends, it’s all you can do to wait the interminable delay until the next one begins?
Yeah, Parenthood isn’t like that. Parenthood is what would happen if you took that and did the opposite in pretty much every possible way. Parenthood is actually kind of difficult to describe – it’s too good to be comfort food TV, too relaxed to be must-see TV. It’s the kind of show that you enjoy while you’re watching, but don’t miss too much when you’re not, but that sort of simmers in the back of your mind and doesn’t seem to care too much when you pause it in the middle of an episode and then come back to it months later.
Look, the place where Parenthood truly excels, and the thing it does better than pretty much anything else on television, is in making you feel like this is a real family, and that’s what keeps bringing me back. I come from a large, wonderful, chaotic family, and my childhood memories are filled with long, cluttered tables of people talking over each other and occasionally throwing Pector’s Sponge Cake out the window (Passovers was hard times, kids). But as we’ve grown older, we’ve become more scattered, lost a few, gained some more, and it’s become more and more difficult to get the whole family around that table. When I hang out with the Braverman clan on Parenthood, it’s a forty-five minute dose of the family togetherness my real family doesn’t get to have quite so often.
On top of that, Parenthood drives me nuts, and I mean that mostly in the best possible way. It’s the good kind of nuts that your real family drives you – I swear, every single interaction between Haddie, Adam, and Kristina sends me into hugely uncomfortable flashbacks to my own teenage obnoxiousness. To be sure, sometimes it’s also the bad kind of nuts that comes from poorly contrived plot developments. But I don’t care so much about the contrivances; I don’t care so much about the unreality of the stories at all. It’s a testament to the strength of the acting and characterization that I don’t really care about the thinness of the plot; I’m more interested in watching Peter Krause’s unique blend of frustration, indulgence, capability, and occasional utter loss of control than I am in complaining about how Adam totally had a wrongful termination lawsuit and missed his chance.
When I talked about Bones, I mentioned my suspension of disbelief, and it’s something that is again relevant with this show. See, I don’t particularly care how a show gets to the payoff – if it’s a good enough payoff, I’ll take it. In other words, I can forgive some massive plot absurdities as long as the characters are consistent and there’s an emotional or comedic justification. So I’m okay with the ridiculous Julia adoption plotline (mostly; there were a few moments even I couldn’t couldn’t handle), because it gave us the incredible relationship between Zoe and Julia, and their weird, confusing, inappropriate but inevitable feelings towards each other.
Because I like these people. I like spending time with them, I like watching their super awful dance parties, I like following their delightfully low-stakes trials and tribulations. I like the sense that they all really, truly love each other and that everything is going to work out in the end. Now, I have been spoiled about a pretty major plot development in season 4, so I can’t say whether that low-stakes thing is going to last, but even the most ridiculous of plot developments still feels like it might happen to real people, and, more than that, real people who I care about.
From reading up on this show on the Internet, it seems like pretty much every character has a large subsection of the fan population who absolutely cannot stand them. Crosby is too selfish, Kristina too self-righteous, Jasmine too controlling, Joel too perfect (which, all things considered, is sort of a weak complaint). And the thing is, I agree with every single one of those complaints. Jasmine is a manipulative psycho-bitch, Crosby is a self-centered man-child, Haddie is a whiny brat and Joel the Marty Stu of stay-at-home dads. But even as I wrote that, I feel bad about it, because these (marvelously complex) characters are also all really great, kind, lovable people with plenty of redeeming qualities and likable moments.
Above all, that’s what Parenthood is – it’s a show of great moments, of beautifully constructed relationships, of everyday humor and drama of the mundane. People on this show do something incredibly infrequent on television and actually talk to each other, and there’s very little drama just for the sake of drama. There are conflicts and differences, but these characters are mature enough and close enough that they figure these problems out together. Parenthood does a wonderful job of depicting realistic difficulties (raising a child with special needs, playing out sibling rivalries through cousins, figuring out how to disappoint your children, to name a few). It’s not, perhaps, groundbreaking, and there are definitely aspects that drive me insane (don’t even get me started on a phenomenon I’ve dubbed “The Petulance of Zeke”). But I really, really like these people and this show, and will defend it to outsiders as I would a real family.