A review of last night's "Parenthood" coming up just as soon as I look for anything that smells like Yo-Yo...
One of the best, most unexpected parts of "Friday Night Lights" is the portrayal of the Taylor family - not just the compelling equal partnership between Coach and Mrs. Coach, but how the two of them have dealt with teenage daughter Julie's growing pains over the last few years. And one of the stylistic trademarks Jason Katims and company took to that show, and specifically to depicting that family unit at the center, is how much is left unsaid in the dialogue and left to very expressive actors like Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton and Aimee Teegarden to convey. You learn as much about the Taylors' parenting style from what they don't say as from what they do.
With "Parenthood," Katims has taken a different, more overt approach. Everybody spells out their feelings and motivations at every turn. That's probably a more commercially-viable approach (people don't always look to their heartwarming family dramas for rich subtext), but the contrast in styles was particularly noticeable in an episode like "Wassup," which spent so much time focusing on the teenage members of the extended Braverman family (plus arrested adolescent Crosby). "FNL" hasn't always been perfect in how it shows Julie's teen rebellion, but watching Haddie at odds with her parents, or Drew shrink in embarrassment at everyone trying to talk about masturbation with him(*), or Amber confront her mom about being spied on, I found myself wishing for less telling and more showing.
(*) That plot, by the way, more or less comes from the movie, where Dianne Wiest catches Leaf (soon to be Joaquin) Phoenix with a paper sack full of pornos. I will say, though, that even in 2010, at 10 o'clock on a network that aired "Friends" at 8 o'clock forever, that seemed to be a franker, more extensive discussion of masturbation than I was expecting.
As I said on Bill Simmons's podcast yesterday, when there's a cast this big, there are going to be characters and stories that you like, and then others you have to endure to get to the ones you like. So beyond the speechiness (which I would say wasn't too different from previous installments), I also didn't love "Wassup" because they were spending a lot of time with characters I'm either not invested in yet (Haddie) or ones I don't particularly like (Julia). With the former group, sooner or later the show has to start giving the minor characters material if we're ever going to care about them, but with somebody like Julia (where Erika Christensen seems very miscast), what can you do? This isn't a hospital show where George Clooney can leave and Goran Visjnic can come in; the Bravermans are the Bravermans are the Bravermans, and if they have to resort to bringing in the long-lost second cousin from Duluth to fill the void of a sibling who isn't working out, that'll just be awkward. Julia's moment with Crosby on the houseboat was nice, but she still has a long way to go before I believe her as either a member of the family or the high-powered career woman she's been sold as.
Didn't love the episode (and have to assume there are easier ways for parents to find out what's on their daughter's Facebook page than to hack her own laptop), but hopefully next week the focus will shift to some other stories I care about more.
What did everybody else think?