Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Parenthood, "Man Versus Possum": The Bob Dylan of autism

A review of tonight's "Parenthood" coming up just as soon as I forget my worry beads...

"Parenthood" has a huge cast, and this early in the series, I'm sure there's both internal and external pressure to service them all as much as possible. Down the road, I wouldn't be surprised to see episodes where, say, we focus largely on Sarah and her kids, with the other family members seen only from Sarah's perspective. For now, though, Jason Katims and company want "Parenthood" to be clearly an ensemble, and that means some stories wind up more undercooked than others.

Once again, the plot with the strongest sense of focus was Adam coping with Max's Asperger diagnosis - or, rather, living in denial of it until being set straight by "the Bob Dylan of autism."(*) Peter Krause did a very good job at playing the confusion and need for a quick-fix that many dads would feel in that situation, and I thought Adam and Kristina's half-intimidated, half-horrified visit to meet the Asperger-veteran parents was really funny without really seeming to make too much fun of the other couple. (By the end, you could tell the Braverman's were suffering from information overload but were also kind of impressed that the Lessings know so much, even if sometimes they just let their own kid jump around the house and play loud music.)

(*) Bob Dylan did, in fact, have several albums hit number one, both here and in the UK, so is Max limiting his definition of "record" to mean "single" (where he got as high as #2 a few times)? Or did the creative team screw up not with the Asperger's, but with the music knowledge? I also found it interesting that, after the pilot featured Dylan's "Forever Young" at several points, an episode that repeatedly namechecked Dylan instead closed with Paul Simon's "St. Judy's Comet." I suppose they don't want to get pigeon-holed as "that show with the Dylan soundtrack." That, or his songs ain't cheap enough to license every week.

There was also another very entertaining scene with all the siblings (plus their mom) coming together after the auction, and partaking of the weed Adam found in his yard. These actors work very well together, and while seeing the whole clan get together this often is probably the show's biggest fantasy, seeing the brothers and sisters interact helps give us a clearer sense of who they are when they're each off in their own stories.

And those other individual plotlines were a bit sketchier than Adam's. Crosby, in particular, feels like he's not getting enough screen-time - and I'm surprised to be making that complaint about the Dax Shepard character in a show that co-stars Peter Krause, Lauren Graham and Erika Christensen - as I really enjoyed his breakfast date with his son (the grown-up questions thing, delivered deadpan by Shepard, was quite funny) and want to have a better sense of his relationship with Katie, which is mostly played as a goof.

I feel like I've seen the exact story with Julia feeling jealous of the stay-at-home mom on another show, but I'm blanking on what show that was. (Did Rachel Griffiths go through the same thing on "Brothers & Sisters," maybe?) Right now, Julia's the sibling who most verges on cliche, so I want to see where they take her in the future.

And Sarah actually got two stories in one, with her losing out on the dream job (though it was ambiguous whether she ever really had a shot, or if even the positive first interview was the guy sucking up to Adam by proxy) and then going to bat for Amber with her principal. Graham has the most experience of anyone in the cast on trying to do comedy and drama simultaneously, and you can see the creative team leaning on her for that, as we get to see Sarah be amusingly bumbling at picking out a good interview outfit, then awkward but ultimately charming in that interview, and then full-on mama bear in trying to get Amber out of the 10th grade. I also think Graham and Christensen play well off each other (or appear to, since their interactions are usually over the phone).

What did everybody else think?

50 comments:

Claire said...

Yep, it was definitely Rachel Griffiths on Brothers and Sisters who went through the working mom routine thing, because I thought the exact same thing. :)

Kathleen said...

He's referring to singles because the number of Beatles records he mentions could only mean singles not albums

Claire said...

I loved this episode. I liked it more than the pilot; it seemed better paced and I thought Graham in particular had some wonderful moments. I loved seeing all the siblings together and hope we get more scenes like that. I can't wait to see more of this show!

John Sturgeon said...

I like the show a lot so far and hope the ratings stay decent enough that it will get a full season next year. With Idol, Lost, and Glee and Justified coming, Tuesday is a good tv night once again.

Hannah Lee said...

While Paul Simon closed the episode, Dylan opened it, didn't he?

I had to laugh at Adam giving up googling "Autism Cures" when the results were overwhelming and switching gears to search for ways to get rid of possums.

Andy Hutchins said...

The scene with the siblings smoking was fantastic: Cool, fun, and very much the kids being kids. That's what got me to buy in at least for this season.

Also, Sarah's feelings not being hurt by Julia's "she doesn't even work" comment signaled to me that there's room for Sarah going back to tending bar and Julia huffing at that later. I can't imagine that Julia's going to shake her type-A, status-conscious attitude for a while.

And Erika Christensen -- who always reminds me of Julia Stiles -- playing a character named Julia is going to confuse me often.

Mark said...

Yeah, it looks like Forever Young is the theme song, played over the opening titles. Maybe they spent all the Dylan money on that.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Ah. Screeners didn't have the title sequence. A nice choice, given how well it was used in the pilot (ala The OC appropriating "California" as its theme after the pilot).

Hannah Lee said...

I liked the addition of the title sequence.

Even though it was a little corny, the "cast as kids" pictures were a nice touch.

bratcat said...

After episode 1 I was cautiously optimistic about Parenthood, but 19 minutes into episode 2 I turned it off. I'm done, the whole thing feels like a big sloppy sandwich with too many ingredients that won't stay in the bread. I desperately wanted to connect with a character but just couldn't.

Let's start with the poor man's Julia Stile's (PMJS) story line of the ignored working mom. It's just too clichéd. I mean, the Buddhist soccer mom in the kitchen, with her passive aggressive digs and openly flirting with the dad, and the child named Harmony, and teaching PMJS’s kid to say I love you in Mandarin? GAG.

The guy from Punk'd acting like his son showing up after 5 years is ..amusing? Where's the outrage, where's the fear? He just had a bomb dropped on him and he's acting like his buddy asked him to feed his iguana for him next weekend. Shouldn't he be having some major words with his baby mama? I know I would.

And lastly the Asperger story line. I found myself reading about the condition more online after last week's episode (and the reminder that Abed on Community has it) and I appreciate that this is a very personal subject for Katims, but it just lost me. Their friends with the index cards and the messy house and the guitar wanking, it just felt so forced and too clichéd. Would Katims have approached it this way on Friday Night Lights? Never, and that subtle, nuanced reality at the heart of FNL is lacking in Parenthood, and that’s a deal breaker for me.

Hoosier Paul said...

Watching the Max storyline is a bit of a surreal experience for me. My younger brother has Asperger's, but wasn't diagnosed until he was 25. And yet, watching this show? It is absolutely uncanny how much Max is like my brother at that age. The details differ (though not as much as you might thing -- for example, with my brother it was a cowboy and not a pirate outfit that he wore every day) but the broad strokes are exactly the same. So kudos to the producers.

Andy L said...

I am on the fence about this show. I saw potential in the pilot, but don't feel like they capitalized on it here. I am in for a few more episodes, but right now I feel like the bad outweighs the good by the slightest of margins.

The main complaint I have is the Erica Christensen character. I have never been a big fan of hers, but she can do fine in the right role. This is not it for her. For one thing, she has no credibility saying things like "I have a meeting with a Supreme Court Judge..." when she looks all of 20. Just throwing a business suit on her and giving her a bluetooth doesn't suddenly make her seem like a hard nosed and successful lawyer. She just doesn't fit in with the rest of the siblings because they all look 15 years older than her.

I also don't like either of the teenage girls. I feel like we have seen both of those characters a dozen times before (and I think Mae Whitman played the exact same one on "Thief" with Andre Braugher, right?). Especially the Type A teen who is Peter Krause and Monica Potter's daughter. It seems like every show these days has that same character (Castle, for one, And I think Shark had the same type, too). Besides that, they had a Hall Of Fame Cliche where the new girl catches the attention of the cute boy in class on the first day. To borrow from a source far greater than myself, "Her?" Mae whitman isn't even close to cute enough to justify that exchange. I know it is sexist or whatever to say, but she is kind of dumpy.

I can't decide if I like the Dax Shepard character or not. He feels like a type more than a person, but he is very well suited to that type. I think he will get more and more irritating as the series goes, but for now I will keep him on the "win" side of the ledger.

I don't like the idea of Coach as an ex-hippie burnout. There. I said it.

The rest of the cast is solid enough (although with Monica Potter, it is only because she hasn't completely sucked yet. Yet), and I especially like the Asperger's storyline because it has an authenticity and specificity that seems lacking in the rest of the storylines.

Crapshoot said...

I'm really enjoying this show, and I say this as a 27 year old single guy; Lauren Graham is more endearing as a character than anyone has the right to be. I do think Erika Christiensen' a bit of a weak spot, but the show really glows when they have the familial moments (btw, major props for not turning dope into an anti-drug commercial).

PY said...

Though it's not perfect, I like it so far. I think we have to give it some time before making true judgments on it. If you want a dramedy with deep characters, you have to give them some time to become deep characters. It's only been 2 eps so far, and it's progressing nicely, I think.

PY said...

I do have to say, though ... they really didn't deal with the "daughter confesses to hiding pot in backyard" that much. I guess they'll come back to it. If not, that will be a pretty glaring example of "too many characters, too many storylines".

Andy said...

That was a LOT of pot. Even for three kids going in on a bag, you wouldn't buy THAT much. That was like a quarter pound of herb in that bag.

MyFawny said...

Surprisingly I like this show. I guess credit for that goes to to Howard/Grazer(SP?) and the wonderful cast. Still a few things strike me as cliche and in the case of the Asperger's diagnosis a little inaccurate.

~From the moment they were busted I knew Amber wasn't the one w/ the pot.

~Like most medical issues on tv, the Asperger's dx has happened a little too quickly & easily. I worked in Early Intervention and w/ developmentally delayed children for many years so it's a chalk on the blackboard thing for me.

Between Sports Night and Six Feet Under I'd say Krause has just as much experience with the comedy/drama as Graham does.

Emily N. said...

I really enjoyed last night's episode, even more than the pilot. I checked out Parenthood mainly due to Lauren Graham's involvement, but I'm going to continue watching because I find the show charming.

However, I would probably stop watching if the show became too much of a downer. I like the balance of comedy and drama they currently have.

Lizbeth said...

I come from a big family (one of 8) but we are nowhere as co-dependent as these TV big families. There simply isn't enough time in the day to go to every school event for every single niece and nephew...or to spend half the day on the phone touching base with your sibs (that's what facebook is for).

That being said, I still am enjoying this show and am willing to see how it develops. I would like to see it distinguish itself a bit more from Brothers & Sisters as it seems to be treading a lot of the same water.

BTW: Why are stay-at-home dads so romanticized in TV and film? As if by staying home with their kids, these men are automatic fantasy figures for desperate housewives... urrgghh.

Anonymous said...

"Record" definitively does not refer to an album. Think "Record of the Year" versus "Album of the Year" at the Grammys.

Not Penny's Boat said...

I agree about Dax, Alan. Before the show premiered, I thought it looked like it had potential, but I always had the "Oh, crap, Dax Shepard is in it. That can't be good." thought in the back of my head. However, the first two episodes have made me forget that Crosby is played by Dax Shepard. Not a minor accomplishment.

Monica Potter and Lauren Graham being so nice to look at is a plus as well.

Anonymous said...

I really like the show and thought the pilot was great.

What gets me here is the same as most everyone (1) Crosby needs more screen time and (2) the working mom thing needs to end. I've seen this before and it's boring to watch; let's get to the heart of the story which is obviously her relationship w/her husband. I like that they seem to be setting that up w/the other woman thing last night.

The show needs some time but I really enjoy it.

I also wish they'd do more w/Sarah's kids and the cousins. It'd be nice to have a show focused around them.

Wordnerd said...

I need some help - quickly! I left the room for a minute during the auction scene -- what did Julia say that was so embarrassing?

Angela said...

Something people should note is the weird distinction between this show and Brothers and Sisters. In this show the focus is very clearly on the siblings with the parents mostly in the background. On the other hand Brothers and Sisters for whatever reason has made Nora, the mother, a central character. Nora doesn't just pop in here and there to dispense motherly advice but for whatever reason the writers on that show utilize her as a leading character with stories of her own.

Anonymous said...

I wrote a comment last week in which I said that the pilot was uneven and that, while I wasn't optomistic, I was going to give it another week out of respect to the actors I like on the cast. I'm so glad I did because I thought this was a huge improvement.

I agree with everything that has been said about the Max story (which, as a parent, is compelling because I would react the exact same way) and Lauren Graham's story arch.

I disagree with the criticism of the Erika Christensen story line. It may be that I'm a young father that is also an attorney with a busy schedule, but I share that fear that my children will have a closer bond with others than with me. Sure its been done, but if they develop it well I can see it working.

Erika Christensen

cadfile said...

I'm still on the fence about the show in general. The episode was better than the pilot but I still have trouble with the piling on of trouble on each character. I need to see some positives balance the negatives to be entertained. They tried with Amber getting moved to 11th grade after Mom pleaded with the school - but even that seemed like a fantasy - ever try to plead to the school for anything once they have their test scores and evaluations all set??? My Mom had a big file at my school from all the battles she had to have for me and she didn't win many of them.

I don't know if they did it on purpose but the story keeps coming to Crosby not having much time alone with Adam - they seem to get interrupted each time just as it seems Dax isn't getting much screen time either.

I like how they are setting up keeping Crosby's love child from his fiancée.

I think its interesting that Julia is struggling staying attached to her home life while finding the time to get into Sarah's all the time. One would think if work is pulling her away from her child and husband that her sister would be even lower on the attention scale. What also seems off is if Sarah is the older of the two then shouldn't it be the other way around like the way Adam is in Crosby's business - the older sibling telling the younger what to do.

M said...

I watched on Hulu and the theme song wasn't "Forever Young." Anyone know what the deal is there?

LA said...

I'm totally digging this show. The episode seemed to fly by.

Wordnerd - Julia, as an aside to her father but accidentally in the mic, said "she doesn't even work" about the woman she was bidding against. She was saying it as to question why the woman would need such a prime parking spot since she doesn't have a tight schedule, but of course, it didn't come off as she intended.

Wordnerd said...

@LA -- thanks!

Elena said...

The best parts of the show to me by far are the Lauren Graham and Peter Krause storylines. I felt for her struggling to go to a "real" interview after so long, the hope and then disappointment at not getting it. And I loved Krause going after the possum with such relish, here was a situation he understood, even if the possum continues to get the best of him. But I'm on the fence about the show in general, all the moving parts and some of the characters reminds me too much of "Brothers and Sisters" which is a show I loved in its first season, but then I lost interest when it racheted up the soapiness and became more predictable. For now, I'll check it out at least once in a while, but I hope they don't go down the B and S path.

krystle-ab said...

Loved the episode.

Just one thing kinda bugged me or well it at least distracted me from the acutal show (and I could be wrong) but is Patty in Parenthood the same actress who played Patty in American Dreams?

Kianna said...

The guy from Punk'd acting like his son showing up after 5 years is ..amusing? Where's the outrage, where's the fear? He just had a bomb dropped on him and he's acting like his buddy asked him to feed his iguana for him next weekend.

This is the most unrealistic part of the show for me. They're treating this huge life-changing event as sitcom fodder. The birth mother isn't asking for child support? No mention of a DNA test? No one I know would act the way Dax is acting in this situation, so it's totally unbelievable to me.

The lawyer-mother storyline I just fast-forward through. I don't buy the actress as a lawyer, the storyline is cliched, and her husband and kid bore me.

I started watching for Peter Krause and Mae Whitman (who was amazing in "Thief"), and Lauren Graham has been a nice surprise. Hopefully the focus will narrow to one or two siblings at a time - the sibling interaction is the best part of the show. I'll give it a couple more weeks, but I don't think it'll ever be appointment TV for me.

Anonymous said...

I agree with every single one of the criticisms so far. The only thing I'll add is that I don't find it even remotely believable that Erika Christensen's type A lawyer is the sibling of Dax Shepard's do nothing loser. Yes, siblings can be very different, but I think they're TOO different to have believably grown up in the same household.

steph said...

Who was the actor who played Edwin Chung?

Erin said...

I am really enjoying this show, much more than I expected. Yes, the Dax Shepard storyline is a little undercooked and sit-comish right now but I don't mind.

I can see why the Erika Christensen character might seem a little cliched, but as someone who was a full-time working mom for years and then became a stay at home mom, I really relate to the "mommy wars" theme.

As Alan and others noted, the Asperger's storyline is the best so far. I had tears in my eyes last week and this week because my husband and I have gone through something similar with our daughter. I couldn't believe how similar Max's parents' reactions were to ours.

I really appreciated the sibling interactions in this episode. Peter Krause and Dax Shepard have a great brotherly vibe and I loved the scene with the family at the table at the fundraiser playing off of each other. The parking lot scene was fun too.

I hope this show continues in this vein - I'm hooked.

GabbyD said...

i really like lauren graham's performance here. this show is a surprise to me...

a mundane concept, made awesome by the talents of the cast

JanieJones said...

I agree with some of the comments of the perceived clinches' on the show; however I feel the good outweighs the bad, right now.

I am enjoying Krause' and Graham's story lines the most. There is a certain authenticity that feels quite real.

When I heard that Shepard had been cast, I had silent groan moment. I feel I misjudged him. Having said that, I am interested in seeing his character develop.

Anon 3:40 pm-There are/were five siblings in my family. While we might share some characteristics and even close lines of work (2 of us), one is radically different. Beats to their own drummer, is happy with their life and I commend my sibling for taking a different path than the rest. It's not hard to believe that siblings can be very different.
I think Shepard's story line has potential. I do not view him as a loser, imho.

I will definitely be watching.

Hannah Lee said...

M said: I watched on Hulu and the theme song wasn't "Forever Young." Anyone know what the deal is there?

Oh, yeah, you're right. Rights issues, maybe? The credits say the theme is by Lucy Schwartz. That's weird.

While I like Bob Dylan and "Forever Young", I actually think the Hulu title song fit the show a bit better. It was a little warmer and more joyful somehow. (Though "Forever Young" does have a bit of a frenzied beat, which echoes the busyness of the episode.)

Stacie said...

"Frenzied"?? Forever Young? Maybe you're thinking of the Kanye West version....?

Hannah Lee said...

Trying listening to it again.

There's a slower, more mellow version, but the version they use on the show has a faster tempo, the singing's got a more rushed quality and there's a lot going on in the background.

(It's the Planet Waves version on iTunes, not the Essential Bob Dylan version.)

(And I'm not sure how I feel about that fact that the iTunes version of songs has become my point of reference....pardon me while I go fireup my turntable and put a Beatles album on.)

Anonymous said...

is this what Dax does to prepare for his roles? http://bit.ly/aj2x9w

Anonymous said...

Maybe you think the Hulu theme song fits better because it was written by Lucy Schwartz especially for the main title sequence. Dylan's Forever Young plays on NBC and Lucy's song plays on the internet and international versions.

how are these parents? said...

it amazes me that the "parents" of this show never use the word "no."

(but then you have to understand i was quite successfully brought up in the "because i said so" school of parenting.)

is it any wonder that these children are screwed up?

but of course, we should always just traipse into the discipline of "the child is always right" and put up with their constant mean, ugly and anti-social behavior.

no. i call bullshit.

perhaps this behavior from the little pirate or the snotty daughter would be resolved by a firm admonishment by an actual parent. but then, what would we have to wring our hands over?

i weep for our future if this is how we raise children nowdays.

boo hoo, wring your hands...

my parents knew exactly what they were doing with no more knowledge or insight than these. they just didn't put up with this level of bullshit from immature minds. they were in charge, not us children. how did that get lost?

and god love them for it...

Craig said...

So Lucy Schwartz sung the theme for the international version but what is the song called or was it written for Parenthood?

And will there be a single on iTunes or something?

um... said...

how are these parents? said perhaps this behavior from the little pirate or the snotty daughter would be resolved by a firm admonishment by an actual parent. but then, what would we have to wring our hands over?

The "little pirate" has Aspergers. That's not a parenting flaw, that's a psychological disorder. It's perfectly valid to disagree with the parenting strategies of the characters and to question whether some of the children would behave differently under stricter rules, but I think the episode made it pretty clear that the Aspergers syndrome wasn't the parents' fault.

Anonymous said...

The working mom v. stay-at-home mom plotline reminded me of one of the plots on either Cashmere Mafia or Lipstick Jungle, I'm pretty sure it was Zoe on Cashmere Mafia, she had this competition with the pta mom about planning a field trip.

I totally agree, it's overused and not particularly interesting. hope they go somewhere different with the role

Anonymous said...

also towards the end of the episode when the dad and son are playing pirate there is a song playing....can anyone help me with the name of that song?????

Alain said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

hey steph... the actor who played edwin chung is alain uy. i actually first saw him on sleeper cell - that showtime series a few years back. and have since seen him on a few other tv shows.

am i the only one who thought there was some flirtation going on between sarah and edwin chung? just sayin...

Anonymous said...

Lucy Schwartz wrote and sings the song. It's called "When We Were Young" and it will be a single on itunes within the next few weeks.