Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Parenthood, "Wassup": The five-timers club

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?


Amy Bennett said...

So, so agree on Julia. Do not believe/care about her character one iota. The endings of this episodes get me though. Had tears at Haddie and Adam.

LA said...

I definitely like this show more than you do, Alan, but your criticism of Erika Christensen as Julia is spot-on. Parenthood needs way less Julia and much more Crosby and Jabbar.

I loved the masturbation story. Adam quoting Woody Allen to a teenager during "the talk" was priceless, as was Zeke busting in on Drew in the bathroom and waxing poetic about the Braverman men.

J.B. said...

It may be because I am an early thirties lawyer like Julia, but I do like the character. I think it only seems miscast because we have these expectations of what lawyers (and other professionals) look like. People assume you are the legal assistant or nurse and not the lawyer, doctor because you look so "young." There are a lot of really smart young professional women out there that do not fit the mold of what a doctor, lawyer, accountant have looked like historically or on tv.

Anonymous said...

I lOVE Julia! I also really love Kristina and Adams relationship. They are definitely comfortable with each other without being boring - as is the whole family. This was a great episode because many of the characters interacted with different family members. My favorite being Amber, Sarah and little Sydney. It was so natural how they interacted with one another. I also loved how after Sarah hugged Amber she said "Lets go raid the liquor cabinet"!

Not at all loving Jabbar and Crosby. They are not strong actors and both seem very forced and fake. Very hard to watch.

I do agree with the fact that the whole Braverman family togetherness is kinda nice. It just works and I think a show that makes you feel happy inside is a definite keeper. I also LOVED when Lauren saved Sydney from the fire they didn't make it all sappy - Oh you saved her but instead Lauren stuck her tongue out and Julia made a funny face - it just seemed more real and not soapy or trying to teach us a lesson.

Lia said...

J.B. - the problem is, Erika Christiansen is not in her early thirties, she's 27, and I'd say she looks even younger. Someone that age would be a low-level associate, and in a big firm (which I assume is where she's supposed to work) would not have any kind of power or authority. She'd definitely be working long hours, but she just wouldn't be that important. If she is in fact supposed to be in her early thirties, then the character is certainly believable, but the actress is not. They should have cast someone who looks (and carries herself as) several years older.

Lia said...

And I also should have added, the other actors playing the siblings are 44, 43, and 35. Definitely not impossible that they could have a 27-year-old sister, but it does look to me like the character was in fact probably intended to be at least in her early thirties. Erika Christiansen just doesn't look anywhere near that old.

Lia said...

Oops, maybe I could learn to spell Christensen correctly. Oh well, next time.

TrueBloodfan said...

Lia, Elisha Cuthbert is 27 and she plays an FBI agent. Gillian Anderson was 25 when she started on the X FilesouTou do know that Lara Flynn Boyle was 27 when she started on The Practice. But, those actresses come across as authority figures and look older.

TrueBloodfan said...

Correction: You do know.

Bob Timmermann said...

For a show set in Berkeley, it is capturing what Berkeley is like. I'm surprised everyone in the family has found jobs close to Berkeley. The big Braverman home looks Berkeley-like, but other neighborhoods look remarkably like Southern California.

They've really toned down the politics. Or even removed them.

princessapr said...

Last night was the first episode my husband watched. He loves Erika Christensen ever since Swimfan so he doesn't care what she does or says. We actually find Lauren Graham's character the weakest link. Maybe it's because she seems too much like Lorelei to us.

I'm enjoying the show. I liked this episode more than last week. It's not my favorite, and I do think it's cheesy that the families get together so often, but it's better than the lot of reality shows out there. I liked the Haddie storyline in the way that the show didn't marginalize her in favor of Max. My husband, the giant sap, got manly emotional over the father/daughter portion of the show. I, dutifully, made fun of him. Our daughter's only 2 and he's worried about a future boyfriend.

LA said...

@BobTimmerman Douglas, Racquel's husband, is a semiotics professor. Now that's Berkeley!

Anonymous said...

I had a deja vu moment in that scene where Jibar and mom goes to Crosby's place to stay over.

The scenes were so identical (both times it felt like it was the first time Jibar stayed over at Crosby's place with the mom) I was half thinking it was a repeat episode! It seemed strange, somewhat lazy, and careless to have two scenes that were so similar THIS early in the show's first season.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed some of the teen's dialogue, which I thought was spot on. Haddie's overreaction to being spied on, Amber's "don't need to waterboard me," even Drew's embarassment ... Thought the younger cast members really did a nice job here.

blinky said...

Sappy, sappy, sappy.
Everyone in this show has a heart of gold. They all try their best to be the best darn ginormous extended family ever! Every week they get together for a huge outdoor dinner with the entire cast and crew.
And at the end of every episode they play the tug-my-heartstrings ballad of the week.
I want to like this show but I find myself fast forwarding thought the bleeding obvious situations and give-me-a-break moments.

Pamela Jaye said...

I like the show in the way I like Brothers & Sisters and probably Sisters and maybe Eight Is Enough.

It's hard to learn who is who.

>It may be because I am an early thirties lawyer like Julia, but I do like the character.

I am reminded of a character on Grey's Anatomy who fired her nanny as she was jealous that the nanny was more loved than Only Good At Her Job Mommy. I believed the character more in Grey's (where I have also seen Mae Whitman and the the little aspergers' boy)

What I need to see more from Julia (oddly named after the character who I would frequently forget on Brothers & Sisters) is her relationship and a closeness with her siblings. That would help.

At first it was very hard to figure out who were the siblings and who were the spouses.

>I do agree with the fact that the whole Braverman family togetherness is kinda nice.

I agree. I didn't really have a family like that. And then I left home (or home moved to FL and I didn't for 20 years. my brother never married, I never had kids, and my father didn't like my mother to talk to me "long distance", even if I was paying. I made my own family, like Meredith Grey did.)

>They've really toned down the politics. Or even removed them.

there were politics?

and I agree, there are other ways to get into someone's facebook page. Most of my cousins (since my brother doesn't have kids) kids are friends with their parents on facebook, actually.

Facebook Official?
I also don't understand why Haddie's boyfriend's parents knew and her parents did not.

I don't care if it's sappy. If that's so, the world needs more sap. In the meantime, Sarah and her sis need to so shopping together.

Lev said...

I like Julia too, my favorite character actually. I like the actress. I find myself fast-forwarding past the Peter Krause and kids part though - I am tired of that already.

Alanna said...

The show is pleasant enough, though not one I'll make a point of watching. I do wish they'd tone down the music. The choices are too quirky-cutesy, and it often plays way too loudly over the dialogue.

Hannah Lee said...

I'm really liking this show...this episode seemed to have a more even tone than the first few. Maybe writers/cast/crew are starting to get in a groove with it There are a lot of moving parts, but it seems this episode they were tied together more than in previous episodes (e.g. tension between Julia/Sarah and Amber/Sarah tied together in one plot)

I like how close the family is, and how involved they are in each other's lives. It's refreshing to see a tv family that's not all backstabby, or caught up in political machinations. And they've done a nice job depicting the chemistry among the family members.

Stand outs for me right now:

Adam and Kristina - They have a great dynamic, very playful yet earnest and supportive. But they are both overtalkers/overthinkers and sometimes get each other all wound up about whatever that day's problem is. Those scenes can be funny, but also realistc. There are also a lot of nuances and unspoken moments in their scenes together that add depth to the relationship. I think Krause and Potter are doing a great job with the characters. (I also like Haddie and Max too, and this week's focus on Haddie was a nice break from Max's saga)

Amber - She's showing typical teen angst and feigned indifference, but also a lot of depth and complexity, and maturity. And she too can be very funny (after Amber and Sarah have a touching moment over the paper turtles, Amber suggests they raid the liquor cabinet...totally breaking the sentimentality of the scene). Mae Whitman is just fantastic here, playing all sides of Amber (sometimes at the same moment). Each episode she manages to have a scene that really moves me.

Still on the fence:
Sarah and Julia have potential to be interesting, but I don't think the writers/actors have really settled into them yet to create cohesive characters. Their scenes sometimes play as a series of vignettes strung together, and they do well in each one; I can sense the emotional beats or plot points they're trying to hit scene-to-scene, but I don't feel the characters have come to life yet.

And in the "to each his own" category, Alan, unlike you, I'm really not getting into the Crosby storyline. I'd like to see less of that, not more. Maybe it's that the combined irresponsibility of Crosby and Jasmine is just too much for me to take. At this point, I'd say Chandler and Joey were better caretakers with their duck and chick on Friends than Crosby and Jasmine have been with Jabbar here.

Also, I know it's an ensemble and everyone's got to take a back seat sometime, but what's up with Bonnie Bedelia's character? I don't think she even was mentioned this episode.

Conor said...

@hannah lee

Oh. Bonnie was mentioned. In the last ten minutes, Monica Potter's character says something like 'your mom wanted me to finish the salad" when peter krause's character is trying to get laid again ... but that was it. She wasn't even in the episode!

Anonymous said...

Krause: same character as the last two series. Graham: still overacting, still Lorelei. Coach: too spacey. Christensen better that advertised by Alan.

Nickysix said...

I really, really loved this ep - it cemented the fact that I will follow this show now as long as it's on (and the quality stays the same, but with Katims at the helm, I'm not worried). People forget that the first season, let alone the first few episodes of a new show have to lay the groundwork and sometimes take a bit of time to get their rhythm. I look back at lots of shows that have weak beginnings and grew into shows I love (Simpsons, Friends, Original 90210, Parks and Rec). And I wouldn't even call the beginning eps of this show weak - it's just that as people have pointed out, there are a LOT of characters that need servicing and I think that with the exception of Bonnie Bedelia, everyone's been given a good amount of screentime. To those who think it's cheesy when they all get together, this is necessary to ground the show, otherwise it would be about several individuals bouncing around with no string to connect them or make us care about them as a family. Just my two cents.

I think Graham is doing a great job of NOT being Lorelai - she keeps amazing me at the subtle changes that really make the character it's own entity. I've been on a GG re-watch kick so Lorelai is fresh in my mind when I'm watching this and the differences are subtle yet dramatic, if that makes sense. She is way less confident, less together, less comfortable with her kids, than Lorelai could ever have been. I think Sarah could grow up to be Lorelai, but they are totally different right now. Her kids are also fantastic, and I loved both stories last night. Mae Whitman - she's so different from Ann/Egg on Arrested Development and she's sooooo good. Since the pilot, I've been predicting that Sarah's son will have a coming out story, which I think this show could do extremely well. If I'm right, I think last night maybe sewed the seeds that he will eventually come to Adam with the issue. I think it could be great - then again, I could be completely wrong about the entire thing.

I also really like Erika Christensen, a lot. I too am a lawyer in my early 30's and let me tell you - if you work at a high-powered firm, you WILL be working those hours, and you WILL feel like your home life is suffering, and her young age does not exempt her from that. I think she looks completely age-appropriate (trust me; I've seen 25 year old lawyers that look like they're in high school, and they work 90 hour weeks). Plus, she was so kick-ass in that swimming scene last week, rocking the bathing suit with a normal body - love her!

I agree that the heartwarming family scene set to an acoustic ballad that seems to end each episode is a bit cheese, but c'mon. They do it so well - last night was great. The scenes aren't there with no purpose - they're a great point of reference for the audience to see how the family is coping with the storylines that lead us to that scene. I teared up a bit, I'll admit it.

This was super long - sorry - but I was shocked that a lot of people, including Alan, were so down on this ep that I had to sing it's praises. Can't wait for next week.

Anonymous said...

Funny you were so down on this episode, Alan, because I was pretty close to bailing on this show and this is the episode that convinced me to give it a little more time.

This is the first episode where I've actually liked Julia. I still think Erika Christensen is miscast, but it was the first time we've seen her character doing something other than being Type A and a bad mother. It was about time.

On the flip side, I couldn't care less about the Crosby/Jabbar storyline. This is the third straight episode where they've had cutesy bonding. The storyline needs to be going somewhere for me to care. And I don't find it believable that in a family that is supposed to be as close as the Bravermans that Crosby would be keeping Jabbar a secret for this long. Also, you really don't need to be a parent already to know tht he should have put soap or lotion on Jabbar's finger. I find it hard to believe anyone have so little common sense.

The masturbation storyline was a little cringe-y at first, but ultimately it was handled well. Though I find these kinds of conversations to be a little too "only on TV." In real life someone would just say "You're sharing a house with four other people. You need to spend less time in the bathroom." And that would be the end of it. And I found it a little weird that Coach said something to Sarah about conserving water and then two seconds later Drew was washing Coach's car for him.

I didn't like the Haddie storyline at all. Totally unrealistic reaction by the parents. Wouldn't the most obvious thing to do be to just ask Haddie "Hey, we've noticed a lot of calls to this number. Do you have a boyfriend?" Maybe if she'd lied and been evasive at that point I could see them snooping, but going straight to snooping seemed a little over the top.

Actually, having said all that I can't believe I liked the episode as much as I did.

Kianna said...

Watching this episode made me want a shower afterward to wash off all the treacle. Krause, Graham, and Whitman are excellent, and sometimes the dialogue is inpired, but overall the writing takes the easy, sentimental way out 90% of the time. The Haddie storyline would have been mawkish without the music, let alone with.

I'm just sick of manufactured happy endings where everyone kisses and everyone grins and everyone cuddles and everyone wins. It's charming children's poetry, but it's sucky television.

Ryan C. Finley said...

I also feel the big "family" moments in the show are a bit too far on the sappy side. Oh, look how perfect the family is at the end of the episode! Bleh.

As far as the cast, I've liked Krause since SFU, and I watched Dirty Sexy Money as well. He is basically the same character, but there are a lot of actors that do the same thing for every role, and I really like him.

I don't have any problem with Julia, and I also liked when she wore the bathing suit the week before and featured a NORMAL woman's body.

As far as Lauren Graham, I find her likable as well. I will admit that I've never seen a single episode of Gilmore Girls, so I can't say if she's recycling her character or not. The only thing I remember her from is Bad Santa, which is a little different. ;)

Anonymous said...

Where, in Berkeley, do you find a big house with a barn?