Since NBC screeners never make their way to my home office (I'm beginning to think my editors are just pilfering them all for themselves!), I tuned into Parenthood "live" last night at ten, only on NBC. All night long during The Biggest Loser, the channel had been promoting that the episode would be presented with limited commercial interruption, which meant it would be a full fifty-something minutes long, like a Showtime drama, instead of the usual forty-four network. And unfortunately all that meant was almost ten additional minutes for me to wish I had a DVR so I could fast-forward to Lauren Graham's scenes.
After interviewing Graham last month and hearing her talk about just how different her character in Parenthood is from the one that made her famous on Gilmore Girls, I was somewhat skeptical and wanted to see for myself. Sure, Graham's "new" character of Sarah is broke, unemployed, a mother of two who was once married to a druggie musician, but she still has a contentious relationship with her family and manages to fall for the man who can ply her with coffee. I'm not quite sure why Graham, who can develop any show she wants with her own production company, would decide to come back to television with this one. But I do know that she is the reason this show might have a fighting chance.
The few times this show felt real or interesting or simply allowed me to crack a smile (or any emotion) were when Graham tears up on a first date with a high school sweetheart because he saved her ring all these years, her "Mother-freakin-Fresno" outburst, and the moment at the gas station when she tells her son that she's sorry she's all he has. It was clear from the first moments that Graham would be playing the kind of parent who's kids have already figured out they are less of screw-ups as she, their own mother, but to watch that subtle realization play out on her face was something of a breath of fresh air on an otherwise stale show. Graham's was the only character who seemed to have any sort of growth or substance in this first episode, despite the fact that this is being billed as an ensemble and therefore the stakes should be equally high for every character and every actor.
I admit it. I've never seen the Parenthood movie. But I can tell you right now, the show is yet another bastardization of a once-original story. The aspects of familial drama in Parenthood are so stereotypical the writer, the television fan, and the member of a family myself wept. There is the stereotypical big brother who everyone else goes to for advice, guidance, and help, regardless of how old they, too, are. There is the stereotypical "picture perfect" family who is proven to actually be wrought with problems under the surface-- including a pot-smoking daughter. There is the stereotypical working parent who's glued to a Blackberry and then feels "less than" when the kid wants the other parent instead. And there is the stereotypical slacker single younger sibling who makes promises he probably doesn't intend to keep and the stereotypical patsy girlfriend who accepts his word at face value.
And then there's the little autistic boy, played brilliantly by Max Burkholder, who is a ray of light in his own right. Sadly, though, the show so far is not treating him with respect, choosing to say "there's something wrong with [him]." It also severely pissed me off at how oblivious his parents seemed to be that he was different. How did it take so long for them to consider testing him? How could they not have been paying closer attention to him? Lazy/negligent/ignorant parents annoy me more than anything! I don't know why people aren't more up in arms about this. Or actually maybe they are. I didn't read any other reviews/interviews about this show other than my own. But if they're not, they should be. Sure it's a step for a television show to portray an autistic character at all, but it's not one in the right direction if they're going to treat him like someone who's "damaged."
I can't even count the number of times I rolled my eyes at, or audibly talked back to, the screen during the almost-hour the episode was airing. Everything from the opening moments at the Little League game when we see Peter Krause freak out in a way that should be reminiscent of his father-- but without the show first setting up the father's behavior-- that just completely lost all effect, to the ridiculously outdated reference to the Unibomber (was this pilot script written in 1991 when the first incarnation of the show was canceled??), to the incredibly inappropriate way Joy Bryant told Dax Shepard he had a kid all made me weep inside and yell, hiss, and boo outside.
If not for Graham and little Max, I would have turned the show off mid-way through the teaser.
I miss Lorelai Gilmore.
I also miss Craig T. Nelson's "Nefler The Muffler Man."