It’s Chick-fil-A Tuesday on the set of Parenthood, courtesy of Lauren Graham. The costar of the NBC family drama has commissioned the fast-food favorite to provide a smorgasbord of spicy chicken sandwiches and sweet tea for her cast and crew to enjoy as a midmorning snack. ”Our script supervisor, Diane, used to work on Friends,” Graham explains. ”And Courteney Cox used to bring Chick-fil-A for everyone. Diane talked about it, like, one too many times to me. I was like, ‘Listen, Cox is going down! She’s not going to be the only person who brought Chick-fil-A to a set!’ So it’s Chick-fil-A Tuesday. And I’m telling you right now, it’s going to be a tradition.”
Now that the show has received a second-season pickup, it’s safe for the cast to start talking about traditions. Initially one of last year’s most troubled series — its 2009 pilot had to be reshot after original cast member Maura Tierney dropped out to undergo treatment for breast cancer, leading to Graham’s casting and a six-month premiere delay — Parenthood (an update of the 1989 Steve Martin movie) has emerged as NBC’s most promising scripted hour. A touching and relatable look at the four adult Braverman siblings (Graham, Peter Krause, Erika Christensen, and Dax Shepard) and their extended Northern California family, the series debuted in March to mediocre ratings — episode 3 attracted only 5.8 million viewers — but eventually found its footing and a younger audience, regularly topping the CBS hit The Good Wife in the 18-49 demographic. For the cast, NBC’s 22-episode order means a sense of stability. ”There’s this settled-in feeling because you know that you’re in it for the long haul,” says Christensen, who plays type A lawyer/mom Julia. ”We’re all discovering when each other’s birthdays are, the transportation guys are talking to us about our cars, we’re making sure we know each other’s names.” And with 15 regular cast members, it’s not easy to remember them all.
At least they don’t have to work as hard to remember their lines. Exec producer Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights) prefers a naturalistic, free-flowing style, where three cameras are filming at any given moment and improvisation is welcome. ”I’d come from a world with Aaron Sorkin or Alan Ball where you really wanted to get the text down just right,” says Krause, who previously starred on Sorkin’s Sports Night and Ball’s Six Feet Under. ”Jason wants you to get the moments just right, and not get hung up on the words necessarily. It took a while for me to feel okay with that.”
Apparently viewers needed to get used to it as well. ”In the pilot, there were so many characters thrown at the audience, it was a lot to keep track of,” says Katims. ”It takes a few episodes to settle in with the show and figure out who’s married to whom, this one’s this one’s sister, et cetera. Once you do, you’re free to enjoy the show as opposed to trying to keep up.” Graham has anecdotal evidence to back that up: ”Halfway through the season I started hearing people talk about it,” says the actress. ”And people I know were watching it not just because they feel they have to because they’re my friend.”
The Bravermans will have plenty of new drama to face in season 2: Christensen’s Julia decides to tell her stay-at-home husband, Joel (Sam Jaeger), that she’d like to have another baby. ”Joel is not quite on the same level of excitement as Julia is, because he’s the one who’s going to have to deal with it,” explains Christensen. As for slacker bro Crosby (Shepard), whom we last saw professing his plan to move to New York with his girlfriend, Jasmine (Joy Bryant, now a series regular), and recently discovered young son, Jabbar (Tyree Brown)…well, nothing involving Crosby is ever simple. The season begins with the couple living 3,000 miles apart. And in the family-elders department, patriarch Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) and matriarch Camille (Bonnie Bedelia) try to repair their relationship through marriage counseling. It may all sound heavy, but Katims insists it won’t be. ”We wound up in such an emotional place by the end of last season,” he says. ”I felt like if I took that level and went from there, we would really wind up with a very melodramatic show. What I wanted to do is continue to address those issues but pull them back to a lighter place.”
There’s bound to be some choice humor surrounding Graham’s plotline: Her character, scattered single mom Sarah, starts an internship at her brother Adam’s (Krause) shoe company. ”The two of them working together might not be the greatest idea,” says Graham. ”Would you hire your sister?” Once at the office, Sarah embarks on flirtations with two different co-workers: forklift operator Mike (True Blood‘s Kevin Alejandro) and Adam’s moneyed business partner, played by guest star William Baldwin. ”Not only is she not used to going out with rich guys, but it’s also complicated by the fact that it’s her brother’s boss,” says Katims. ”It’s a really loaded situation.” Speaking of: Last season, gossip websites had a field day riffing on rumors that onscreen siblings Krause and Graham had started an offscreen relationship. ”It’s life, you know? You meet people at work,” says Graham. Asked about dating his costar, Krause responds, ”You know, Dax and I love each other, and I am proud to say that.” Then he turns serious: ”There’s a reason why they call it a private life.”
Anyhow, it’s a good thing the Parenthood cast members like each other so much, since they’ll be working together for the foreseeable future. Though at least one lead actor hasn’t grown too complacent. ”Instead of staying awake for three hours every night obsessing about my future,” says Shepard, ”now I only think about it for a half hour, because I know I have 22 paychecks coming.” Sept. 14