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'Parenthood': Is it too real for its own good? Or just mine?

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Image Credit: Danny Feld/NBCNear the end of last night’s Parenthood, Adam (Peter Krause) asked Amazing Andy (guest star Michael Emerson), a man with Asperger’s who entertains at children’s parties with his bug collection, if he was happy. “Yeah, sometimes,” Amazing Andy said. Then he asked Adam the same question. “Yeah, sometimes,” Adam answered. That’s really the best response any of us can hope for — at least at some points in our lives — and it’s that honesty that we appreciate about this show. But does the realism ever get to be too much? 

I posed a similar question last September after it took me 36 hours to finish watching Parenthood‘s Season 2 premiere because I had to pause it when Sarah (Lauren Graham) showed up at the office of her brother Adam to confront him about stealing her idea for a LoJacked kids’ shoe. As I wrote then, Graham, Krause, the show’s writers are not people afraid of letting an awkward, tension-filled scene breathe, and I just wasn’t in the mood to be put in the middle of that situation. After this season’s Halloween episode, I found myself starting to fast-forward through hours until I simply stopped watching altogether. Last night’s episode was the first one I’d seen in the new year. (Who doesn’t want to watch Lost’s Ben play a man with Asperger’s?) I feel guilty about it. The Parenthood cast has some of the most believable chemistry on TV, and the issues the show’s writers raise are ones you don’t see addressed on other shows. (Is it wrong not to hire a man with Asperger’s to entertain autistic children because it will cause you even more stress? Is it wrong to admire a young man for overcoming a difficult upbringing and an addiction, but not want him to date your teen daughter?) But I understand it: I don’t want to be reminded on a weekly basis that happy endings are rarely 100 percent happy and that as soon as you come to terms with one situation, it’s time to deal with another. Now that could just be me being emotionally worn down from having a father in hospice care for 16 months and counting. But I’ve had conversations with friends, also in their mid-30s, about the true weight of aging: The older you get, the more problems you experience because they’re not just yours and your family’s, they’re also your friends’, their friends’, and their families’. Illnesses, layoffs, infertility, lack of balance between work and personal life — it can feel like everyone has so much going on in their own lives, they can’t possibly stop and help you deal with something in yours. Good friends and family will, of course, somehow make the time. But the people we can turn our backs on — TV characters.

It’s because I was so invested in you, Braverman family, that some weeks I have to let you go. The idea of Kristina (Monica Potter) and Adam losing their autistic son’s top-notch therapist (Minka Kelly) because she slept with his engaged-but-on-a-break uncle? Too much for me to shoulder, even if it looks like Potter delivers a performance I’ll be sorry I missed in next week’s episode. Seth (John Corbett), Sarah’s douchey ex with anger problems and annoying facial hair, thinking it’s great that their son Drew (Miles Heizer) got into a fight at school when the bully was actually walking away? No! Julia (Erika Christensen) and Joel (Sam Jaeger) trying to make a second baby? Sure, it was some nice comic relief last night, but I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop. I miss the days when Amber (Mae Whitman) liked Steve (Asher Book). Yes, he was her cousin’s (ex)boyfriend, but that kind of teen drama still felt like an escape for me. I think that’s why I prefer The Good Wife in this Tuesday at 10 p.m. timeslot. It’s another well-written and acted adult show, but those characters — high-powered Chicago lawyers and politicians — are still foreign enough to me that I can separate myself. That’s the kind of drama I can handle now, along with the more lighthearted Castle, supernatural and fast-moving Vampire Diaries, and sun-drenched Hawaii Five-0.

Have you ever needed to take a break from Parenthood? How guilty did you feel?