Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Reality Television

By Meg Walter

There is one type of television we watch to experience a different world.  For an hour we walk in the shoes of a meth cook, a 1960's advertising executive, a fading country star or a man fighting a zombie takeover. We watch in wonder because their lives are so foreign from our own.   

There is another type of television we watch to see how others experience our own world. For an hour we witness characters walk  in  shoes that  look just like ours, and we watch in wonder because the writers and actors seem to understand everything about the way family, relationships and the navigation of life's inevitable challenges really work. NBC's Parenthood is this television.

Fans of Friday Night Lights lauded the series (and still do) for the rawness of its dialog and the realistic portrayal of is characters' lives. It comes as no surprise that Jason Katims, FNL's executive producer, brought this same raw subtlety to Parenthood, his latest production project. Though Parenthood takes place in Berkeley and the four central families live in spaces that make me drool with envy instead of the humble homes of FNL's small  town  Texas, their lives feel just as real and their relationships just as complex.

The show follows the  Bravermans, Zeek and Camille and their four children,  Adam, Sarah, Crosby and Julia. Each child has a family of their own and deal with an array of challenges that may face any American family, from infidelity, to financial problems, to special needs children, to cancer. It's drama without melodrama, and  the characters are written in  such a way that we're willing to stick with them  through whatever they might be going through, and  we want each  and  every one to succeed.

Much credit is due to the cast, full of veteran television actors, who masterfully act by avoiding overacting. They understand that real conversations don't sound like script recitation, but are instead peppered with awkward pauses and "ummms" and happen more with facial expression than with words. Lauren Graham (of Gilmore Girls) fame, leans into awkward situations like that bold person you know whose confidence is admirable. Mae Whitman (Arrested Development (Her?),"Scott Pilgrim Versus The World), nails the post-high school identity crises without inducing viewer vomit. Max Burkholder is so convincing as a middle-schooler with Asperger Syndrome that I was really surprised to learn that he doesn't actually have  the diagnosis. And Monica Potter ("Patch Adams," "Head Over Heals") whose character struggles to put her breast cancer recovery needs above her family's makes me cry every. single.  episode. As we watched Adam Braverman look on as his wife Kristina (Potter) taught their son Max how to dance before the dance he is attending only because his mom is sick and wants to see her son go to a dance in case she won't have another chance, I looked over to see my husband  wipe away some manly eye water and ask, "Why are they doing this to  me?"

Because they know how.  They know that real people deal with real problems. That marriages have disagreements. That people get sick. That family can be tough. And that real people have real stories that can be told with simplicity and that anyone who is part of a real life with a real  family will watch with appreciation, like I do every week.

Join me. Tonight and every Tuesday night on NBC.


  1. I love it, too. And I really love that it made Stephen cry.

  2. we just caught the fever and have binged on netflix every night for a week. i'll be sad when we have caught up and have to take it at the once-a-week pace.