It takes guts to be a parent. Anyone who is a parent will tell you that as they're (a) scrubbing crayon drawings off the new flat-screen TV, (b) getting another call from the principal, or (c) raising bail money. Parents may fret about world trade imbalances, the environment health of our planet and what sort of message they're sending by buying a chicken sandwich … but if you want to see them get really stressed, tell them their pride and joy is taking off his shirt and waving it around like a matador cape during snack time.
NBC's Parenthood is based on the 1989 cinematic comedy of the same name and is produced by that film's director, Ron Howard. Don't be expecting a bouncy, one-liner-filled romp this time around, however. The hour-long TV version is much more of a dramedy that unfolds slowly while examining the various frazzled parents who are members of the extended Braverman clan.
Lots has happened since the show premiered in 2010. As we write this latest review update near the beginning of Season 6 (reportedly the last one), Adam and Kristina are raising a boy with Asperger's syndrome, and their grown daughter Haddie is in a same-sex relationship. Single mom Sarah, who's dating divorcé Hank, is now responsible for two grown children, with one of them, Amber, pregnant and preparing to raise a baby of her own—on her own. (Her one-time fiancé is out of the picture.) Julia and hubby Joel are on the edge of divorce, even though they both still seem to care about each other. Crosby, married and a father himself, tries to come to terms with being a grown-up. And while Zeek and Camille are the patriarchs who helm this motley yet lovable crew, the deck of their own marital ship is not always so stable either.
Need a few more curveballs to go flying into the backstop? Try to put a glove on cancer, puberty, drug abuse, high school sex, marital infidelity and abortion. Every trial and moral quandary possible to mankind seems fair game here.
That's a lot for one show to handle. And, frankly, Parenthood doesn't always do the best job of keeping all those moral and relational juggling pins up in the air. Sure, it adequately illuminates how messy family dynamics can be: The parents we see are flawed (good television-based role models went out with The Cosby Show) but filled with the very best of intentions. Everyone wants to do right by their kids … they just don't quite have a handle on what "doing right" involves. Parenthood pounds no lesson harder than "Wow! Being a parent sure is hard," as if the parents were in some sort of touchy-feely childrearing class where good grades are given just for trying.
Yes, the Bravermans are likeable enough. Yes, they mean well. Yes, they love their children in their own ways, and that's really encouraging in context. Yes, the writing here is crisp and multilayered, and the family dynamics we see may feel very—perhaps even too—realistic. Yes, snippets of dialogue seem pulled right from dining room tables across the country. But this particular tribe hasn't fully grasped the idea that raising children well requires more than love and good intentions. It requires patience, discipline, perspective and an ever-firm but ever-flexible game plan. And it requires parents to be, most importantly, good, living role models—templates from which their children can see how adulthood does (or at least should) work.
Even that doesn't guarantee success, of course. Parenting is as much art as science. But it helps.
"These Are the Times We Live In"
Hank, struggling to relate to Sarah, his ex-wife and his daughter all at the same time, confesses that he thinks he too probably has Asperger's. Drew hurts his grandpa's feelings by rejecting an outing with him, then makes it up to him by taking him to a shooting range. Amber—temporary "parent" in charge of Max and Nora—misses a field trip to Alcatraz, which causes Max to freak out. "You're going to be the worst mother in history!" the boy shouts.
Dealing with their looming divorce, Joel gives Julia the house. "It's not an asset, it's a home," he tells her. "If I can't have you in it, I don't want it." But Zeek encourages Joel to not give up on his marriage. "You love her?" He tells him. "Fight for her. Don't leave." And so Joel begins to do just that. He drives to their—Julia's—house and tells her, "I want you back."
Zeek inadvisably pulls out a gun in a liquor store parking lot. Sarah lets Hank's daughter, Rose, watch a television-edited version of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, much to the chagrin of Rose's mother. After missing the trip to Alcatraz, Max spends the evening watching a Chucky horror movie and binging on junk food. "The system has broken down," he explains. Sarah and Amber talk about "poo." Julia shares a glass of wine with her new boyfriend, and he intimates that he wants to spend the night. We hear "h---" (three times) and "d--n" (once). God's name is misused about 10 times.
Drew's girlfriend Amy discovers she's pregnant (we see the two teens briefly in bed together during the "previously on Parenthood" sequence). Amy goes to Planned Parenthood (the clinic's logo gets quite a bit of play) and receives a litany of options, including abortion.
Viewers never actually hear the word abortion, but Amy does. "There's only one option, right?" she says later. Drew tells her that he'll be with her and will support her if she decides to have the baby, but Amy's insistent, asking Drew to help round up the needed money. He does, from his sister, and both cry. "I just don't want to go through with it, you know?" Drew says. Neither Drew nor Amy tell their parents. But Sarah knows that Drew is troubled, grilling him lovingly—and receiving lies in return. "You would tell me, right, if there was something?" Sarah asks. "Yes," Drew lies again.
After the abortion, Drew drives Amy home, both silent. Though the "procedure" seems to have gone "smoothly" and hasn't bothered Amy physically, the crisis takes an emotional toll, and she coldly tells Drew she needs "space." The episode ends with Drew falling into his mother's arms, weeping uncontrollably.
Elsewhere, Max's parents talk with him about puberty. We hear lots of dialogue about body odor, pubic hair, sexual urges, erections and wet dreams. Locked out of his own bathroom, Crosby eventually relieves himself in the backyard. Angry and resentful, Victor wrongly accuses Julia of child abuse. We hear characters say "a‑‑" (twice) and "h‑‑‑" (once). God's name is misused a half-dozen times. Crosby's mother-in-law talks about "what a beautiful morning the Lord has brought," and we see Crosby move aside her Bible.
Crosby mocks Adam's and Kristina's hyper-regimented lives (complete with times slotted into the calendar for sex). But when Crosby forgets to pick up his own son from school, Jasmine and he submit to a scheduling system of their own. Kristina gets hit with a wallop of a surprise after a breast scan at the doctor's office. (We see her in the examination room, shoulders bare.)
Julia promises Victor that she'll wait in his school's parking lot all day—just in case he needs anything. Sarah obsesses over Drew's recent breakup. Drew pushes his mom away, but seems helped by a conversation he has with her boss, Hank (guest star Ray Romano), who tells Drew he's still "mad as h‑‑‑" over a breakup he suffered 30 years ago and that happy endings are a myth. On the plus side, he also says it's OK to be sad.
We see Crosby and Jasmine post-coitus from the shoulders up, lying on the floor. They talk about where they want to do it the next time, and he later invites her to shower with him. Adam and Kristina call their intimate times "Funkytown" and allude to what might happen during their next trip there. Zeek compares knowledge to a breast, telling Drew he should "suck" it. Drew announces he's gotten spam to make his penis bigger, and he jokes about suicide. Hank blurts out misogynist remarks and suggests to Sarah that Drew should sleep with his ex's best friend. We hear "a‑‑" once and "h‑‑‑" three or four times. God's name is misused nearly a dozen times.
"I Hear You, I See You"
Parenthood's second season starts off with patriarchs Zeek and Camille working on their broken relationship and Zeek implementing relational techniques given to him by their marriage counselor. The session's "seeing and hearing" injections in Zeek's otherwise obtuse norm seem to be working, even though he confesses, "$150 an hour, and I don't understand a d‑‑n word." (The word "h‑‑‑" shows up elsewhere.)
Adam is feeling pressured at work, and he gets his boss off his back by grabbing credit for a new shoe idea that sis Sarah actually came up with—another thing to feel guilty over. At home, Adam's wife, Kristina, and daughter, Haddie, are at each other over highly stressful driving lessons. "Dad, do you guys have some stupid agreement about not acknowledging each other's flaws?" Haddie asks her dad in exasperation. "Yeah, it's called marriage," he replies.
Meanwhile, Crosby is missing his son, Jabbar, and girlfriend, Jasmine, since she landed a dance job in New York. That strain is all the more exacerbated when his "Skype sex" attempt with Jasmine falls flat because of a Wi-Fi glitch and she begs off on a visit. And finally, Julie and Joel have unexpected anatomy lessons to teach when 6-year-old daughter Sydney wonders, "Did I come out of a vagina?"
"Man Versus Possum"
Adam and Kristina learn that their son, Max, has Asperger syndrome and begin to develop a strategy with how to cope. Meanwhile, Crosby, who still hasn't told his girlfriend that he has a son by another woman, skips out on a romantic getaway to spend time with his progeny.
We see Crosby's girlfriend in lingerie and hear joking speculation that Julia's husband may be having an affair. Several profanities ("h‑‑‑," "b‑‑ch" and "a‑‑" among them) mix it up with pseudo profanities ("fudge" and "frickin'") and a half-dozen misuses of God's name.
Conversations between siblings and between parents and kids can sometimes be both poignant and even useful. Other times, not so much. Adam and Kristina disapprove of their daughter smoking dope. But then Crosby and Kristina smoke some while other family members look on and laugh. In Parenthood's ethos, pot smoking—and, by extension, hypocrisy—is seen as one big joke.
Sarah's mortified when Amber runs away and moves in with her boyfriend—and when she smokes cigarettes, and when she and Adam's daughter get arrested for possessing pot. But all is temporarily forgiven when Amber helps Sarah dress "sexier" for a date—that culminates in sex and an embarrassing walk-in by Sarah's son, who then runs away to live with his drug-addicted father, who rejects him. After a sexual romp with his girlfriend, Crosby finds a canister of another man's semen in her fridge: she wants a baby, it seems, so to mollify her, Crosby promises that he'll have one with her … in three years.
Sexuality, if you haven't noticed, is everywhere, from Zeek's hidden stash of condoms to references to "makeup sex" and masturbation.
Adam, while coaching his son's baseball team, screams at the ump and gets kicked out of the game and off the team. His boy, meanwhile, gets elbowed during a driveway basketball game by Zeek, who wants to toughen him up.
God's name is misused about 10 times, and profanities such as "d‑‑n" and "h‑‑‑" share space with euphemisms such as "frigging" and "fricking."