The movie marathon has been broken by a, well, TV marathon. My, I certainly know how to live my vacations to their fullest, don't I? Anyway, between readings and writings today, I've been plowing through the first season of Parenthood. It's a 1 hr drama about the lives of an extended family: four adult siblings, two grandparents, and six grandchildren. I'm jumping into the show mainly because its showrunner is the same guy behind Friday Night Lights, the show I burned through last summer. The fact that its regular cast includes a lot of my faves doesn't hurt either. There's Peter Krause, from Sports Night. Lauren Graham from Gilmore Girls. (And apparently my crush on Lauren Graham has advanced to the point where I'm automatically against any plotline involving boyfriends for her character because it should be me, I guess? Which isn't creepy at all, I'm sure.) And the kids include Mae Whitman, better known as Ann from Arrested Development (her?). At 24, she's probably getting a little sick of playing a teenager--though the guys from Gossip Girl had it a lot worse.
Anyway, in the first dozen or so episodes, the show deals with a lot of family related issues, some general, some very specific: we see Krause and his spouse deal with Max, their son whose recently been diagnosed with Asberger's Syndrome. And another sibling, a powerful female lawyer, deals with the fact that her daughter seems to prefer her friend's stay-at-home mom to her. And another sibling is faced with a son he didn't know he fathered five years ago. And so forth. None of it is particularly out of place for a family (although the variation of the deadbeat father story is getting there), and the show lacks even the football season momentum that provided the backbone for the similar low-key Friday Night Lights. But it works. With good casting and simple stories, it works.
It's making me articulate my feelings towards another, similar show--or at least, one that's similar in broad strokes: Modern Family. I might have mentioned a few times on this blog, but I think Modern Family is overrated. It's got a good cast, and good writing, but it's lazy. It doesn't push any boundaries. It's the same sitcom we've seen a hundred times before, with the "reality TV camera" conceit added on. So what's the difference between that and Parenthood? Why do I think one is quality, and the other is less than it could and should be? And why is my brother's cat still sitting behind the big screen TV, a position it has been in for the last hour? Well the hell is so captivating back there? ...Sorry, I got distracted. I can't answer that last one, but I think the answer to the other is stereotype. Modern Family relies on stereotypes to a pretty high degree; the father's old, his wife sounds funny, the gay couple is Gay, except look, one of them is also "comically" butch, there's a smart daughter and a stupid daughter... it just feels like they're characters playing roles for the sake of a joke. And there's nothing wrong with that--as long as it's a good joke. Otherwise, it's the same act, over and over. Parenthood, on the other hand, feels like it earns its low-key stature, by trying to be true to its characters, by treating them as people. Also, it uses Bob Dylan's "Forever Young" as a theme song. That's clearly another one in the win column.