TV's latest dysfunctional family is an earnest but confident production that will slip perfectly in behind Packed to the Rafters for Seven.

I’ve said this before, and I will probably say it again: Television just loves the dysfunctional family.

Whether it’s in comedy or drama, they lend themselves to ensemble casts and moments many of us identify with.

Ron Howard’s big screen Parenthood (1989) was a highly satisfying look at a dysfunctional family, yet this small screen version is the second to try to capture its magic. The first, in 1990, was notable for Joss Whedon as a writer and Leonardo DiCaprio and David Arquette amongst its cast.

Howard is well-known to us for, amongst other achievements, his central role in one of television’s most beloved families on Happy Days. There wasn’t much dysfunction then, aside from whether Joanie could hear Richard get a lecture from Howard before being sent to her room. Of course, Arrested Development is one of the finest in the genre.

For NBC’s newest incarnation Ron Howard is one of several Executive Producers (longtime collaborator 24‘s Brian Grazer is another). Despite some promotion by Seven as “Ron Howard’s Parenthood” he is neither a writer nor director of the Pilot. I rather wish he had been, because it might have matched the humour of the feature film. This one feels like it has been filmed with a Brothers and Sisters filter.

At the centre of the Braverman family universe is Adam (Peter Krause), husband of Kristina (Monica Potter) and father to Haddie (Sarah Ramos) and Max (Max Burkholder). In the Pilot they will learn that eight-year-old Max is diagnosed with Asperger syndrome.

Sarah Braverman (Lauren Graham in the role vacated by Maura Tierney) is Peter’s sister and single mother to Amber (Mae Whitman) and Drew (Miles Heizer). The three are moving back in with her parents at the top of the series, a kind of US Rafters perhaps?

Then there is also Crosby Braverman (Dax Shepard), Julia Braverman-Graham (Erika Christensen) plus assorted kin.

As the patriarch of the family is Craig T. Nelson as Zeek Braverman and Bonnie Bedelia as Camille Braverman. Nelson gets some of the best lines in the Pilot episode, as the worldly father too old to hold back on his emotions anymore.

The Pilot jumps straight into the relationships at a furious pace, seemingly asking the audience to keep up as it cuts from scene to scene. It’s a nice change from slowly unpeeling an onion. It touches upon issues of commitment, security, communication and independence in a broad but confident tone. At times it is awfully earnest, even opting for that cliche of Adult Contemporary track washing over a montage of smiling family members at the end of the episode. Throw in Sally Field smiling through tears an it wouldn’t be out of place here.

But there are also smart moves in making these likeable characters. Fans of Krause’s former Dirty Sexy Money would remember they were fascinatingly dysfunctional -but it was hard to warm to many of them.

This is a pretty-perfect match to follow on from Packed to the Rafters, with one life-affirming series dovetailing out of another. It’s seriously lacking Steve Martin’s spontaneous humour, but Parenthood nevertheless gets off to a good start.

Parenthood airs 9:30pm Tuesday on Seven.

16 Responses

  1. Well I think Packed is the closest thing we have to Modern Family (even though it’s a drama and MF is a sitcom) and I love that Seven are finally showing it, although they should have started several weeks ago with the Rafters.

    As for the uneven pilot well it was half re-shot when Lauren joined the cast so that might be the reason, the show only gets better as the season goes on. Remember there are only 13 eps in the first season but S2 is starting in the US Sept 14.

  2. @salf what i said was within a comparison between the two shows. Parenthood has a lot more members in their families (there’s basically 3-4 different families in one, whereas the Walkers feel like one family).

    Watched Parenthood last night… It was very uneven. Has good bits and bad bits… Am only impressed by Peter Krause and that’s why I’ll keep watching (though I love Monica Potter and Lauren Graham too)

  3. Hate to harper the point but Parenthood is a dramdy and not a sitcom so should not be confused with Modern Family.

    @Francis what do you mean our own version? Pack to the Rafters is the closes thing we have to Parenthood and it comes right before the new show. That said I have to wonder why mainstream FTA (7, 9 & 10) can’t produce a 30 minute sitcom in this country? Kath & Kim aside when was the last time that happened on the 3 commercial channels?

  4. This screams to me Channel 7’s attempt of a hit show like Modern Family on Ch 10.

    When a show is going successful on another channel why not find our own version of it and beat it.

    I mean, come on!!

  5. It’s not like the extended family is together all the time, mostly they are off in their separate family units. What I like is when the siblings get together, there is a great scene near the end of the 2nd ep that is fantastic.

    None of the set-ups of story lines are outrageous, it’s all stuff that can and does happen in family the world over.

  6. It’s got that huge extended family sort of feel, like Modern Family, 7th Heaven, Rafters, and to a lesser extent Dallas, it looks alright, and it may get a boost being the Rafters lead-out, though All Saints, Private Practice, and others have all flopped despite having the #1 show as their lead-in.

  7. Have been waiting for this series. Its great that its finally here. I dont get why Seven didnt put this after Rafters originally instead of all those other shows. However from what i have heard it gets better as the season goes on so cant wait.

  8. I will be watching when this airs, though I am a Massive fan of Brothers & Sisters and this feels a bit like a forced version of an interesting family…
    I’d say the clan is way too big… Brothers & Sisters works as a family that isn’t too large.

    Also I’m hoping the big extended family isn’t too far-fetched. Simple just too big of a family that it’s a bit unbelievable that they all have so many tv-worthy problems.

  9. I might have a look. I liked Monica Potter when she was on Boston Legal. I know she will be a different character but I think she is a good actress. The ads make it look interesting as well.

  10. It’s worth noting when Maura Tierney dropped out because of her cancer treatments they took the opportunity to change the tone of the show, from all reports the one to air (here and the US) is much lighter than the original.

    About my only criticism is the pilot does seams to jump from scene to scene but you get used to this pretty quickly, the writing is well done but the language has been toned done for network TV. Having read some early scripts a few choice 4 letter words were dropped/changed.

    While it’s based on the 1989 Parenthood movie it’s only a fleeting resemblance and does not follow the movies plot as the season progresses.

    Oh and the pilot is 49 minutes long (without ads), in the US they had Nissan as the main sponsor and limited ads. I note Seven has not allowed extra time but I seriously doubt it will end at 10:30 any way, probably closer to 10:45.

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