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Review: Season 3 of NBC's Parenthood – Sometimes Erratic, But Still Exceptional

I don’t write about ‘Parenthood’ as a general rule, and the reason is simple. I love this show. It is my Appointment TV, Can’t Miss, Must-See show of shows. In order to write about it, I need to analyze it and I’ve always been reluctant to do that. It’s been enough to just sit back and savor the Bravermans. But as Season 3 comes to a close, I’m going to take a deep breath and try to review what was.

Parenthood’s greatest strength lies in its quiet grace. The Bravermans aren’t super wealthy, don’t visit their plastic surgeons on a regular basis, and don’t live in McMansions. They struggle with the same issues most of their TV audience does and they do it with all the flawed decency the rest of us do, too.  

One of the longest arcs this season revolved around oldest brother Adam’s job loss and constant worry about how to support his family–with a newborn baby, a son with special needs and a daughter about to go to one of the most expensive colleges in the country, Adam (and wife Kristina) felt the strain.  When he agreed to take a huge risk and open The Luncheonette (a recording studio) with his younger brother Crosby, this storyline could have easily become a “let’s go into show business” cliché, but actor Peter Krause is so good and so brilliantly subtle that I understood his motivations.  And by season end, when Adam seriously considered selling out The Luncheonette to solve his money worries and ensure his family’s security, I got it. I was mightily disappointed in him, but I still got it. This was a man who just needed to ensure his family was safe.   

Moreover, Dax Shepard as younger goofball brother Crosby has been a continued revelation. Who would have known he would prove to be such an appealing, integral part of this show? But somehow he has and is now one of my favorite characters. In fact, Crosby factored in two pivotal story arcs this season, the just-mentioned Luncheonette storyline and the winning-back-ex-fiancée-and-mother-of-his child-Jasmine-storyline.

The culmination of the Jasmine and Crosby storyline illustrated again Parenthood’s sweet magic with those “this is how it would really happen” moments. When Jasmine and Crosby realized they still loved each other, it wasn’t in Paris under the Eiffel Tower, or after surviving a terrorist attack, but during a rainy camping trip with their son, leaky tent and all. It was soft and real and poignant.

And when Adam had a calm but certain epiphany about his decision to sell out the business, and the importance of brotherhood, it didn’t feel corny or cheesy. It was just perfectly, subtly played.

I almost hate to point out anything negative (another reason why I choose not to write about the show) but to be honest, Parenthood has a weak point. There are storylines that just don’t get the same thought and attention and this is where Parenthood sometimes stumbles.

Case in point: the Amber loves her Boss storyline never gelled for me, mostly because I never bought the chemistry between Amber and Bob.  Nor did I understand either the hysteria with which her Aunt Kristina greeted the news that the two were planning on sleeping together or the almost complete apathy shown by her mother, Sara. It wasn’t the best thought out story arc and perhaps that’s why it ended with a decided whimper – at least for this season.

Similarly, the Joel and Julia want to adopt Zoe’s baby storyline didn’t totally work for me for one crucial reason: from the first moment Julia locked eyes with the pregnant coffee cart girl, you just KNEW this was going to end very, very badly.  And without that suspense, there was a feeling of “hurry up and get this storyline wrapped up.”  The saving grace for this particular plotline was, as always, the superb acting.  And way more interesting was the last scene of the season finale–no spoilers here, but suffice to say, Julia and Joel’s life just got way more complicated.  

Finally, the Sara and Mark older woman/younger man storyline was both wonderful and, at times, awkward. Lauren Graham is always appealing and Jason Ritter is perfectly cast as the earnest, charming younger boyfriend. Again, broken record: wonderful acting is a given with the show. And there is definite chemistry between the two. But I found myself often wondering if the writers have any idea where this s/l is headed. The news that Jason Ritter has been cast in yet another NBC pilot casts even more doubt with the future of this pairing, too.

But as I said at the outset, Parenthood’s strength (other than its cast) is in its potent realism. Woven into all those bigger story arcs are the smaller pieces of life that make this show such a gem. Zeek’s road trip to visit his mother, Julia and Joel’s realization that they’ve turned Sydney into a sore loser, Kristina’s failed Family Night are all brilliant little nuggets that make the viewer say, “That’s me.”  

There is still no official word on the future of Parenthood. Will there be a Season 4?  I can only pray to the TV Gods. I love trashy reality shows as much as the next guy but there has to still be room on the schedule for the charm and grace that is Parenthood.  

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  • After reading your column I decided I had to watch the last episode (first time I had ever watched the show!) and now I’m hooked.

  • I totally agree.  From the first episode, I have been touched by this realistic portrait of family life.   The actors are so fantastic.  Story lines are (for the most part) well thought out and realistic.  The writing and directing are thoughtful – they give the scenes enough time to play out properly.  I swear you can read the minds of the characters.  I’ve always thought they do “uncomfortable” well – maybe conflict.  It’s so honest.  It’s everything that people turn to reality tv for, but never get.