NBC’s “Parenthood,” now beginning its second season, is one of the most warm and affectionate television dramas I’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing. There’s not a character in the amazing ensemble cast that I don’t like. Everyone is endearing, and — over the course of the series so far — has been fairly well fleshed out (although Joel and Julia are lagging behind a little). There’s not an episode that I’ve seen where, by the end of it, I didn’t want to have another child, or six.
That’s maybe the best compliment I could give the show: “Parenthood” makes me want to breed. It makes me long for a large, close-knit family full of problems, but lacking in dysfunction.
It’s taken me this long to review “Parenthood” because there’s a part of me that wants to keep my relationship with this show to myself. There’s also another part of me that doesn’t want to open up a discussion about “Parenthood,” wherein our readers will feel compelled to quibble with the show. I don’t want to subject “Parenthood” to snark. It may have its faults (though if it does, they are few), and it may not instantly appeal to everyone. But to me, it feels like a supremely honest show. Earnest and unironic, witty, and effortlessly intimate.
“Parenthood” takes the reality of family life, condenses it, dramatizes it, and packages it into 42-minutes of coziness. For the most part, each member of the ensemble gets equal play, though Peter Krause’s Adam Braverman, if anyone, is the center of the show, if only because he represents the responsible son, the dependable husband, and the reliable brother. He’s magnificent in the way that he interacts with his family and deals with his autistic son, Max. Lauren Graham is the unreliable single mother, sister, and daughter, a well-intentioned and hard-working mom who can’t seem to get out of her own way when it comes to both her career and family. Meanwhile, Dax Shepard — who has a much better and more likable presence than you could ever hope for in the guy from “Punk’d” — is trying to raise an illegitimate son he only recently became aware of, five years after the boy’s birth. His situation is the only one on the show that feels contrived, but only in its conceit — the way he handles that situation, however, feels as honest as anything on the show. Then there’s Julie (Erika Christiansen), the ambitious corporate lawyer who feels like she’s missing her daughter’s childhood, and her husband, Joel (Sam Jaegerman), the stay-at-home Dad, who is grappling with the sometimes emasculating reality of that position. He’s a licensed contractor who has been relegated to juice box dispenser, but he doesn’t dismiss it. He understands the importance of his role. The family patriarch and matriarch here are Craig T. Nelson’s Zeek and his wife, Camille (Bonnie Bedelia), who ironically are the only family members whose marriage has legitimately been endangered, but only after decades of marriage.
Much of “Parenthood” feels to me like the family life of Coach and Tami Taylor on “Friday Night Lights.” But where “FNL” leaves me with the desire to be a better person, “Parenthood” makes me want to be a better Dad. The characters here are good people dealing with the small realities of everyday life, trying to control chaos and raise their children appropriately. There were a few growing pains last season, as the characters worked to come into themselves and grow out of their setups, but in season two, the drama has already hit its stride. It’s comfortable with what it is, and as long as it remains small in focus — like “FNL” — it’s likely to continue to be the best family drama in years, buoyed by superb and charming cast, crisp writing, thoughtful characters, and honest developments.