(This review may contain spoilers for Parenthood seasons 1 and 2.)
Parenthood is thankfully back for a third season - considering that at one point during season 2 its continuation seemed like a long shot. The critically-praised family drama has returned to see three generations of the Braverman family deal their ever-changing lives and the surprise announcement at the end of last season.
When we last saw Adam and Kristina Braverman (Peter Krause and Monica Potter, respectively), Kristina had just given Adam the news that, as a byproduct of one too many margaritas, and well…you know – she was expecting the couple’s third child. Unfortunately, this otherwise happy news came on the heels that Adam was fired from his job at TSN, the sneaker corporation he helped build from the ground up.
As much as last season was about renewal and stability, the Braverman’s were ultimately left in flux. So it comes as no surprise that at the beginning of season 3, nearly every member of the clan is dealing with transition in one form or another.
Adam is looking for work, settling into the notion that he may no longer be the family’s breadwinner. Crosby (Dax Shepard) is transitioning into his role as Jabbar’s father – but he’s doing it without Jasmine (Joy Bryant), given his indiscretions with Charlie’s Angels star Minka Kelly. Sarah (Lauren Graham) is transitioning into her forties, while rekindling her romance with Jason Ritter – who is welcomed back to Parenthood after headlining NBC’s now cancelled sci-fi series The Event. Finally, Julia (Erika Christensen) and her husband Joel (Sam Jaeger) are working (somewhat unsuccessfully) to become adoptive parents.
At the younger end of the Braverman spectrum, Amber (Mae Whitman) is moving out on her own after failing to get into college, while her younger cousin Haddie (Sarah Ramos) appears to be transitioning into an ill-advised wash-and-wear hairstyle.
That’s the setup to season 3 in a nutshell, and it sounds a bit overwhelming. However, one of the more commendable aspects of Parenthood is the ability with which the series juggles and deftly maneuvers between these various plot lines, crafting an arc for each branch of the family tree to see them through the course of a season.
Few shows come to mind that are capable of turning the notion of teenage romance – like the one between Haddie and her boyfriend Alex (Michael B. Jordan of The Wire and the upcoming Red Tails) – into something as compelling as other topics touched upon in season 2, like: Asperger’s syndrome, infidelity and deadbeat dads. Somehow, Parenthood manages to tackle all of these subjects without undermining the importance of the message, or the show’s characters.
Now that's not to say some couples or characters don’t get a wee bit shortchanged – for instance, Julia and Joel for the majority of season 2 – but, as opposed to other programs with a large ensemble (like, say…True Blood), the time spent focusing on each unique storyline feels organic and well-developed – which makes the time the siblings and their spouses spend amongst one another (either dealing with or ignoring the other’s personal issues) all the more resonant and somehow meaningful.
At the heart of the show, though, it’s Krause who continues to captivate. Somehow, the actor has managed to make his role the true heart of Parenthood. The character is the polar opposite of Nate Fisher, Krause’s character on Six Feet Under. Instead of harboring resentment toward the overwhelming responsibility that is having a family, Adam relishes his home life – but still occasionally struggles to be the kind of husband and father his wife and children need him to be, while avoiding the mistakes of his father Zeek (Craig T. Nelson).
At its core, that is what parenthood is all about: avoiding the mistakes of your parents by making all new ones for your kids to eventually avoid with children of their own, and so on. It's the new circle of life.
When it comes down to it, though, Parenthood is one of the best dramas on television right now. NBC should be proud to have a program of quality comparable to heavy hitters like Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy or Mad Men.
The real distinction should come from the fact that Parenthood achieves this status by being a lighthearted, often sentimental, but never saccharine drama that seeks to form an emotional bond with its audience. In essence, Parenthood is the kind of drama families should be watching with one another.
-Parenthood airs Tuesday nights @10pm on NBC.