Over the past few years, “Parenthood” has enthralled and infuriated me. With the series coming to an end very shortly, I have been spending some time trying to figure it all out. Forgive the below’s format as something of a stream of consciousness piece, this is one of those ones where it’s the act of putting pen to paper (or keys to keyboard) that helps me organize my thoughts.
When “Parenthood” was first announced, I wasn’t buying it. Loved the movie, didn’t like the first attempt at a series, why go after that name? Did it really hold any value? Then, I was further distressed when Maura Tierney dropped out (that ought not be seen as a reflection on Lauren Graham, who is fantastic, I just like Tierney).
Once I finally got to see the pilot, I was much happier. The Bravermans work because they’re what we are meant to see as your average family. There are screw-ups and overachievers and multiple generations and issues big and small. The cast has, for the most part, been outstanding, and they have generally been able to succeed even when the plots have failed.
My biggest complaint with the show is its inability to deal with its own history. Whether the series purposefully retcons stuff or it just happens to be accidental, so much changes through the years that it can be a little difficult to know when characters simply aren’t being as truthful as they ought or when the show has decided that something that did happen, didn’t.
Right now, for me, the biggest example of this is Adam and Kristina making a school for Max. A large story early on with the series dealt with Kristina and Adam trying to get Max into the regular classroom at his public school. It was a grueling task, but they (as I recall, mainly Kristina) fought and made it happen.
Poof. That’s gone. Here we are a few years later and Kristina has opened a school for Max because Max wasn’t getting the attention that he needed in public school. I wonder if Max didn’t get that attention because Max was, at the Bravermans’ request, put in the regular classroom.
As a parent, I know that if I made the decision to fight for a specific placement for my child and then ended up having to pull my kid from the school entirely, there would be more than one sleepless night discussing it with my spouse. It would be discussed over and over and over again. For weeks. For months. For years. There would be massive amounts of guilt. We haven’t gotten that on “Parenthood” and, to go back to my earlier point, I don’t know whether the show is pretending like the initial fight didn’t exist or simply lacked the time/desire to deal with it.
I am, at this moment, tempted to launch into a whole Joel/Julia thing, but it would simply be too heart-wrenching. Briefly, I despised the storyline dealing with their relationship troubles when it began and hate even more the way that Joel has, this season, been painted as the bad guy. He was wrong. Julia was wrong. If you want to get into who was more wrong, well, in my world it was Julia, but I could have a bias there, and am not willing to argue it here and now.
And this is, maybe, why “Parenthood” is in fact a great show despite its faults – it still makes us care. I may hate some of the stories. I may not like some of the actions taken. I may not actually believe that the storylines we’re currently getting are in anyway an outgrowth of what has taken place in the past (or even possible when the past is considered), but I still care about the characters.
I want Joel and Julia to live happily ever after. I will be upset if Zeke dies (and more upset if Camille does). I don’t care a whit if the Luncheonette makes it, but I want Crosby and Adam to remain friends. I want Max to succeed in life and Amber to raise a happy and healthy child, for it not to take her as long to straighten her life out as it took for her mother.
Despite everything, I care deeply about these characters, even the miraculous disappearing-reappearing Haddie. I am rooting for them in a way that I don’t normally root for TV characters.
The series ends on January 29th, and by the time 11pm rolls around, we’ll have gotten all the answers we’re ever going to get from the show, but for my money, if ever there were a drama series that deserved to be analyzed and pulled-apart in a book, it’s “Parenthood.” Hopefully someone wiser than I will tackle it.
photo credit: Colleen Hayes/NBC