By Ken Tucker
Updated November 10, 2010 at 05:00 AM EST
David M. Russell/CBS

What a shame that Parenthood and The Good Wife are time-period rivals. Both shows are so high-quality, and the rest of 10 p.m. network prime time is so overloaded with procedural series, that it would be great if these two could air on separate nights. As it is, they compete with each other for what’s doubtless a similar audience: we who enjoy stories about tricky family and workplace dynamics, and admire large casts seen from constantly shifting points of view.

Parenthood works on a viewer the way one’s own family members do: You love ’em, but boy, sometimes they’re frustrating. There are moments when I want to shake Monica Potter’s Kristina and say, ”Don’t you realize what a saint you have in your husband, Adam, coping with a tough job, an autistic son, and high-maintenance you?” Of course, that reaction is a testament to how thoroughly Potter, Peter Krause, and young Max Burkholder inhabit their respective roles.

Similarly, I frequently wish I could take Lauren Graham’s Sarah out for a cup of coffee and say, ”Listen, kiddo, stop beating yourself up over your job prospects and your scrambled dating life — you can do better than an internship at your brother’s company and the occasional smooch with your slightly skeevy boss.” Again, that’s a measure of how good Graham and guest star William Baldwin have been at portraying difficult people.

If Parenthood has a flaw this season, it’s in its pacing. The series seems to have trouble keeping all its characters prominent and investing them with interesting story lines. (Erika Christensen’s Julia and Sam Jaeger’s Joel contemplating having another child? First, that’s a boring plot; second — don’t do it, guys!)

Meanwhile, pacing is no problem in The Good Wife‘s second season. What a pleasure it is to watch a drama that’s achieved a seamless integration of domestic tension, courtroom drama, and political intrigue. Yes, we’re engrossed by the marriage and careers of Julianna Margulies’ Alicia and Chris Noth’s Peter, but no other network show has as deep a bench of supporting players whom we root for, argue with, and sometimes dislike. And the Oct. 19 episode, in which Emmy winner Archie Panjabi’s Kalinda took a baseball bat to the car of her new professional rival, Blake (Friday Night Lights‘ Scott Porter) — well, I could almost hear the yells of joyous encouragement in homes across America. It was one of the year’s greatest TV moments.

Parenthood and The Good Wife are both fine examples of TV for grownups, in a landscape filled with adolescent fantasies of escape and ”reality” cutthroat competitions. Why doesn’t NBC cancel Chase and move Parenthood to Monday nights? That’s about as likely as Kalinda retiring her bat. Ain’t gonna happen. Parenthood: B+ The Good Wife: A?