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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2009-2010 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on either a cut screened to us privately or a copy supplied by a third party NOT a screener provided by the network in question. All were received or screened prior to the networks' official mailings that went out in mid-June.]
(Wednesdays at 8:00/7:00c starting this fall; TRT: 51:26)
The network's description: "From the executive producers of the box-office hit "Parenthood" -- Ron Howard and Brian Grazer (Oscar winners for "A Beautiful Mind"), and writer/executive producer Jason Katims ("Friday Night Lights") -- this contemporary re-imagining of the blockbuster film depicts the colorful and imperfect Braverman family -- four grown siblings sharing the headaches, heartaches and joy of being parents. The star-studded cast includes Peter Krause, Maura Tierney, Craig T. Nelson, Dax Shepard, Bonnie Bedelia, Monica Potter, Erika Christensen and Sarah Ramos. When Sarah Braverman (Tierney, "ER"), a financially strapped single mother, returns home to her parents and siblings in Berkeley, Calif. after packing up her Fresno apartment and uprooting her two inconvenienced kids, Amber (Mae Whitman, "In Treatment") and Drew (Miles Heizer, "ER"), she is greeted by her opinionated father, Zeek (Nelson, "Family Stone," "Coach"), and strong mother, Camille (Bedelia, "Heart Like a Wheel"), who are privately dealing with their own marital issues. As Sarah is reunited with her siblings -- sister, Julia (Christensen, "Traffic"), and brothers Crosby (Shepard, "Baby Mama") and Adam (Krause, "Six Feet Under") -- all struggling with issues of their own, it's clear that the Braverman reunion is just what they need to face the everyday challenges of modern family life. "Parenthood" is a production from Imagine Entertainment and Universal Media Studios. Emmy winner Thomas Schlamme ("The West Wing") directs the pilot."
What did they leave out? It really has nothing to with the original feature than being about, well, parenthood.
The plot in a nutshell: The Bravermans are like any other multi-generational family - they fight, they tease and of course, they love. Sarah (Maura Tierney), the only member to leave the confines of the Berkeley area, is returning home from Fresno in the midst of financial woes to live with her parents - Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) and Camille (Bonnie Bedelia) - with her teen children (Miles Heizer, Mae Whitman) in tow.
There she's reunited with her siblings - golden boy
Adam (Peter Krause), workaholic Julia (Erika Christensen) and slacker Crosby (Dax Shepard), who in turn have their own foibles: lawyer Julia is riddled with guilt after realizing her daughter (Savannah Argenti) is bonding more with stay-at-home dad Joel (Sam Jaeger); music producer Crosby is under pressure from his girlfriend/boss Katie (Marguerite Moreau) to commit/have kids; and Adam and his frazzled wife Kristina (Monica Potter) are confronted with a potential life-changing diagnosis for their quirky son Max (Max Burkholder).
Being family (or on television) then it's no surprise that everybody stumbles their way into each other's problems: Zeek thinks Max just needs some tough love despite Adam's efforts to shield him and daughter Hattie (Sarah Ramos) from the kind of parenting he was raised under; Julia wants to set Sarah up with Jim (Mike O'Malley), her "one that got away" that's now a Starbucks barista/aspiring poet; and Crosby seeks Adam's approval to keep his dancer ex on the back burner while he sorts out the Katie issue. Much to their surprise however things turn out to be much different than expected, whether it be schlubby Jim's beguiling charm or overbearing Zeek's unexpected tenderness. The same applies to the youngest generation as Hattie is tasked with showing wild child Amber (Whitman) around, when it's actually her with the real issues. All in all, while parenthood may not be what each of the Braverman clan expected, it's their family that will get them through it.
What works: Essentially a NoCal version of the Walker clan from "Brothers & Sisters" (with a dash of "Life Goes On"), "Parenthood" strives for the same sense of humor and pathos. And while it's far from perfect, there are plenty of seeds sown that promise potential greatness ahead. First and foremost of these is Maura Tierney, who brings an effortless charm and gravitas to the proceedings. Her Sarah is enjoyably broken without being shattered as she somehow finds a way to smile while standing at the precipice of despair. There's also a genuine sense of time and place as the trappings of Zeek and Camille's hippie days linger in the background along with a soundtrack that didn't meet an acoustic guitar it didn't like. The familial relationships also feel quite natural: while obviously not on par with the various Walker dinners or phone trees (a show which also took some time to find its footing), the Braverman gatherings are infused with a subtle closeness that illustrates their connections without being showy about it. It's also nice to see a third generation offer up an additional mirror to the proceedings as they catch things that go unnoticed by the adults. Overall, especially considering its pedigree, there's plenty of reasons to stay tuned.
What doesn't: Too much of the show - particularly Adam's storyline - borders on maudlin as we're hit over the head with things best left unsaid. Not satisfied with the obvious ramifications of learning your child has Asperger's, the show goes out of its way to have Adam's heart sink at the sight of a laughing, carefree father and son - a relationship he'll never have. And while said event is designed to set up the closing shot - he is fine with it! - it's the kind of lazy shorthand you'd never catch on "Friday Night Lights." I was also taken back by Zeek's general cartoonishness (we get it - he yells) and Camille's invisibility (I honestly had nothing about her in my notes), making them feel more like figureheads than actual parents. Julia and Joel's storyline also gets the least serviced as outside of two brief scenes, we don't really get to know much about them that isn't radioed in. All in all though, let's just hope these are growing pains rather than perpetual flaws.
The bottom line: I'm somewhere between slightly disappointed and cautiously optimistic.