Most avid TV viewers have one show, at least, that we absolutely adore even though it is not avidly recapped, dissected, meme’d and GIF’d online. For me, that show is “Parenthood,” which, to the great relief of its fans, is finally back with new episodes Tuesday night on NBC.
I love this show. I love every single member of the Braverman family, from perpetually impulsive patriarch Zeek Braverman (Craig T. Nelson) right on down to wee babe Nora Braverman, who, having semi-recently been born, is too young to start aggravating her parents by secretly dating boys named Steve or complaining that brother Max gets all the attention. But this will come in time.
I love that the Bravermans are always up in each other’s business. I love that they randomly show up at each other’s work places unannounced and start talking as if they’re just picking up a conversation where it left off 10 seconds ago. (Seriously, is there no front-desk security at Julia Braverman’s law firm?)
I love that executive producer Jason Katims is constantly inserting alumni from his “Friday Night Lights” cast on the show. During last season’s finale, when Derek Phillips, previously known as “FNL’s” Billy Riggins, showed up on “Parenthood” as a drunk dude also named Billy, I actually rose from my sofa, walked across my family room and hugged my television.
I love staring at the houses the Bravermans inhabit and have decided that I would like to spend a long weekend camped out on Zeek and Camille Bravermans’ screened-in back porch, where I can stare at the twinkling globe lights strung atop their verdant backyard and pretend that I am Sarah Braverman (Lauren Graham) having deep thoughts about my relationship with Mark Cyr (Josh Ritter). I feel confident that Zeek and Camille would be totally okay with this, as long as I wash my own dishes and don’t overstay my welcome .
But what really, truly, above all else, makes me love “Parenthood” is that it’s a perfect piece of what I’ll call reali-scapism: A television show that tackles subjects many of us confront in our own lives — hectic working-parent schedules, playdate politics, the strain of an unemployed spouse, the frustration of not being able to communicate with an autistic child — and dips all of it in just enough escapism to make it enjoyable to watch. It’s the sort of show that reminds you to embrace the people you love when you’re not watching TV, a series, in fact, that reminds you that you probably shouldn’t watch so much TV, except, of course, when you’re watching “Parenthood.” Fine, and maybe a few of the dramas on AMC.
No one on “Parenthood” is raising our blood pressure by manufacturing crystal meth with a DEA brother-in-law under foot. No one on “Parenthood” is gaining a silent partnership at their advertising agency by sleeping with a sleazy client. No one is a vampire or solving grisly murders or singing to impress Simon Cowell or running away from zombies. The characters on “Parenthood” are just fictional people trying to do the fictional right things every day, in a way that makes them seem completely real.
Are they, admittedly, white people dealing with white people problems, even though some of the characters are not technically white? Yes, some would probably make that argument. But those problems are also the same problems, as I noted earlier, that many Americans, regardless of their skin color, are dealing with, too.
A friend of mine recently said she doesn’t watch “Parenthood” because she thinks it would make her too sad. I suspect she meant that it would make her feel too emotional about things that matter, at the end of a long day when she can’t take any more reminders of bedtime battles and parental shortcomings. I could understand where she was coming from; a lot of people prefer their television to be pure escapism, with no reali- involved. Life’s hard enough without TV reminding us that, oh by the way, life is hard. I get that.
But the emotional element, at least for me, is what makes “Parenthood” so great, almost, but not quite, as satisfying as Katims’s “Friday Night Lights.” I want it to make me reflect on what makes us all human and what it means to be a good mom, wife and sibling. I want it to put a big ‘ol solid lump in my throat every week. And just about every week, it manages to live up to that reali-scapism promise.