The label “family show” is used nowadays to tell the audience a show is friendly for all audiences, but NBC’s new series “Parenthood” wants to turn family into a standalone genre. With as many parts drama as comedy, none of which are particularly original, “Parenthood” sinks into pure family schmaltz as all the other emotional stimuli cancel each other out.

“Parenthood”

Tuesdays at 10 p.m.
NBC

“Parenthood” is obvious if nothing else, both for the writers and the audience. After the first few staple plotlines of the family saga are revealed, the rest fall neatly into line. A rebellious teen daughter dating a shirtless rocker segues seamlessly into a heartfelt utterance of “It wasn’t my weed.” A dating mother predictably gets caught in a compromising position by her wayward son, who then runs off. The men are macho and want the children to excel at sports. The women are gossipy, mock the men and claim emotional high ground.

But then there’s Max, the youngest male of the Braverman clan. At only 12 years old, actor Max Burkholder (“Family Guy”) brings something pure and real to the Max Braverman character. He has an awkward air about him; he is always slightly aloof, somewhat confused but motivated by the best of intentions. The subtly just-over-the-line abnormalities Burkholder puts into the character are all the more impressive when it is revealed that Max has Asperger syndrome. It’s just a shame that the show also used several less subtle hints, ruining the moment.

Max’s parents also shine as the best adult actors in the cast. Peter Krause (“Six Feet Under”) and Monica Potter (“Boston Legal”) serve as beacons of realism among caricatures. Not motivated by finding a man or being the favorite parent, Krause and Potter focus solely on the fate of Max. They work through his problems, trying to find a way to make him happy when it seems like nothing is working. Their struggle with making a good life for their son and coming to terms with his condition is the only plotline among the barrage of subplots begun in the pilot that stands above pettiness. And it stands extremely far above.

And this isn’t just because of the serious subject or the strong acting; it’s because it epitomizes what a show called “Parenthood” should be about. Before we can delve into the perils of dating with kids or struggles among adult siblings giving each other unwanted love and parenting advice, we need to really see the pure love of a parent.

In one scene, the four Braverman siblings are standing around, joking about the sexploits of the ever-annoying Sarah Braverman (Lauren Graham, “Gilmore Girls”) while Sarah’s son is missing. Yeah, your son could be anywhere right now, but let’s take a moment to joke about a fling you had with an ex-boyfriend while your sister talks about how good of a lawyer she is. Nobody even seems concerned that her son has disappeared until they all receive a phone call saying where he is. Were they even planning on looking for him?

A show about parenting does not work if all the focus is put on the adults, and only Max, both as an actor and a character, is strong enough to save the show. As “Parenthood” progresses, everyone should take some time to remember that in the lives of parents, and in the lives of shows about parents, one thing should matter above all else: making a good life for your children.

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