Loved the 1989 Ron Howard film, but the television series fails to stand out

Unless there’s a funeral home, “sister wives” or a multiple personality disorder at the center, it’s tough to stand out as a “family drama.” And as much as I love Ron Howard as a person and a director, his new TV show Parenthood fails to stand out.

If basing a television show on a successful movie could work — see Crash, The Sarah Conner Chronicles, and My Big Fat Greek Life as evidence that it doesn’t — you would think two entertainment powerhouses like Howard and his career-long business partner Brian Grazer (24, Arrested Development) could pull it off.

Howard and Grazer based much of the very funny 1989 Parenthood movie on their own experiences: At that time, Howard, Grazer and the film’s two screenwriters had 14 young children between them. Howard recently said, “[Parenthood] remains the most personal movie I’ve ever made.”

After 21 years, with all their children grown, maybe Howard and Grazer are too far removed.

The new Parenthood follows the Braverman family, a crowd of strong actors with uninventive characters. Craig T. Nelson (Coach, The Incredibles) portrays Zeek, a loud, overzealous grandpa prone to sideline coaching and tough love, but with a heart of gold (yawn). There’s Julia, an attorney who suffers for her success when her daughter prefers dad at story time (zzzz). Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls, the sharpest, hippest TV mom ever) plays divorced mom Susan, whose flashes of sarcastic wit are wrought with insecurity and sadness. (Depressed single mom? Fresh.)

The most consistent, funny character is the noncommittal music producer, Crosby (Dax Shepard, Baby Mama), who finds out he has an illegitimate son. Peter Krause (Six Feet Under, Dirty Sexy Money) has the talent to be the Braverman patriarch-in training, but the script’s not taking him there so far.

The first attempt turn the movie Parenthood into a TV series was on NBC in 1990. It helped Leonardo DiCaprio and David Arquette’s careers, but failed after one season.

Maybe families can only be hilarious and poignant in one two-hour dose — no spreading it out over an hour a week for 15 weeks. Perhaps Parenthood as a TV series is a “Disneyland Dad’s” attempt to be a primary caregiver.


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About The Author

Lisa Fairbanks-Rossi

A former TV news producer and teacher, Lisa Fairbanks-Rossi has been a freelance writer for The Inlander since 1994.