Prenthood is one of the few shows on network television that can address a grave illness from an original perspective and with emotional complexity. One reason to give Monica Potter’s Kristina breast cancer this season had to be an attempt to raise the show’s ratings, but like everything Parenthood does, it bypasses cynicism and the easy way out. The result has been one of the fall season’s most delicately moving subplots.
Which is not to say that Parenthood has become a hushed sepulchre of discreet seriousness. In an excellent move, the show introduced Ray Romano as a shambling, grumpy-yet-sensitive photographer who has a crush on Lauren Graham’s Sarah. Romano has added to Parenthood‘s already healthy streak of sarcasm and knack for portraying slackers and losers as people capable of wisdom.
Since its 2010 debut, Parenthood has juggled a large cast with a sometimes adroit, sometimes frustrating earnestness — you get the feeling it wants to grant every character equal time, so you cut it a break. I’m never going to get to all of them in this space, so let me give praise to some of the many worthies: Peter Krause is doing Emmy-caliber work as Adam — husband to Kristina, father to Max Burkholder’s teen-with-Asperger’s Max, business partner and brother to Dax Shepard’s wise slacker Crosby. For Adam, the term ”beleaguered” is putting it mildly. And Mae Whitman has carved out screen space as Sarah’s daughter, Amber, against the numerous-subplot odds. She’s terrific at navigating the tricky romantic shoals of a new relationship with an Afghanistan-war veteran played by Friday Night Lights‘ Matt Lauria. (The dear departed FNL and Parenthood have the same executive producer, Jason Katims.)
The one false step the show has made this season: introducing yet another character, Victor (Xolo Mariduena), a boy adopted by Erika Christensen’s Julia and Sam Jaeger’s Joel, when they already have a perfectly good child — daughter Sydney (Savannah Paige Rae) — upon whom to heap their delightfully neurotic parental overattention.
Airing opposite CBS’ new Vegas, ABC’s Private Practice, and FX’s Sons of Anarchy, Parenthood has a tough time reaching either a mass audience or the kind of social-media cult crowd who can make a show part of the pop cultural conversation. But the series provokes intense loyalty and passion; I see it in the comments anytime I post about the show on EW.com. Can I confess something? There’s a part of me that wants Parenthood to kill off Kristina. Not because I want Potter to leave — quite the opposite. She and the show have created such a vivid character, I want to see how this wonderful series would rise to the occasion of such a crucial crisis. A-