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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Parenthood: fresh or stale?

NBC has something new.  Ok, so not so new.  Like many, many television shows and movies nowadays, it is a remake.  We steal shows from other countries (The Office, American Idol, Ugly Betty), remake old ones (The Rockford Files, 90210), or do spinoffs (Private Practice, Joey, Law & Order: SVU).  We hire the same show runners to make the same type of show they’ve done before (Bryan Fuller’s Pushing Daisies or Bill Lawrence’s CougarTown), either to give them a second chance, or capitalize on their success.  Modern Family and Parks and Recreation use the mockumentary style that is popular with The Office.  And now, in Parenthood, NBC was not only taken from a 1989 movie starring Steve Martin, Diane Wiest, Keanu Reeves, Rick Moranis, Joaquin Phoenix, and Mary Steenburgen, but it was also a short lived television show in 1990 with Leonardo DiCaprio and Jayne Atkinson (24).  Can’t our culture do anything new?  Is it even worth our time to watch it?
Yes.  The new shows works, but not because of it’s similarities to the old movie.  In fact, while some plots did sort of line up, it’s the differences that make the modern version worth tuning in for.  It has lost the goofy comedy, although there are still funny moments, and added not just a time frame update, but a healthy does of realism.  Yes, the young son still has problems, but now it’s Asperger’s Syndrome, instead of vague ‘emotional disturbances’.  The youngest adult sibling is a slacker, but he holds a job, not gambling and floating around the country on the money he (didn’t) win.  A single mom, struggling with two children, can’t afford her nice home, so moves back in with her parents, instead on inexplicably keeping it.  The two things missing that were great in the movie was the senile but wise grandmother and the parent pushing his child to be a genius.  However, those were done fairly campy in 1989, and so it didn’t gel with the new version.  In fact, I’d say this show is more like ABC’s Brother & Sisters, with a bigger focus on the kids, than the old movie Parenthood.
The other thing that really helps this new show is the cast.  Like the movie, it is packed with names.  While the characters names are different, Peter Krause (Dirty Sexy Money, Sport Night, Cybil, Six Feet Under) fills in for Steve Martin.  Monica Potter (Boston Legal, Trust Me) is his wife.  Dax Shepard (When in Rome, Baby Mama), Bonnie Bedelia (Die Hard, The Division), Craig T. Nelson (Coach, The District), Erika Christensen (Swimfan, Six Degrees), Sarah Ramos (American Dreams), Mae Whitman (Arrested Development, State of Grace, In Treatment) and Sam Jaeger (Eli Stone, Catch and Release) are all also part of the cast.  Again, reminds me of the stars aligned for Brothers & Sisters.  One of the two best parts of the cast, though, are the fantastic young Max Burkholder (Family Guy, Brothers & Sisters) as Max, the child with Asperger’s, and does it well.  The other is the triumphant return of Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls) to weekly television.  She has been sorely missed, and although she isn’t exactly playing a clone of Lorelai Gilmore, in a way she has returned to us.
Check out Parenthood on NBC Tuesdays at 10pm, and if you missed the pilot, it will rerun Saturday at 8pm on NBC, 5pm on Bravo, and Sunday morning at 11am on USA.

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