Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Parenthood Update

A few weeks ago, I issued a strong two-thumbs-up to the new NBC drama Parenthood.  With the sixth episode airing tonight, I want to offer an updated assessment.

First, I’m enjoying the show immensely.  It is strong and well-crafted.  But it is not entirely free of weaknesses:

  • Many of the scenes are overdone.  The writers are unwilling to let the cast members communicate meaning with a single word, glance, or gesture when a dozen of these things can be squeezed in.  This tendency especially aggravates Mrs. Φ (who has consented to watch a few episodes with me) to the point of exasperation; we both want to scream at the T.V., we get it already!  Which is so regrettable because it is so unnecessary. The actors are all experienced and in top form.  They shouldn’t have to beat everything to death.

  • Thematically, the show succumbs to the usual clichés where children are Founts Of Wisdom bringing enlightenment to their parents, instead of being little savages needing a good thrashing.  This is particularly annoying coming from the teenaged daughters, both of whom are, in fact, guilty of significant breaches of the law and good family order.

  • Several aspects of the plot point involving ne’er-do-well brother Crosby’s illegitimate son could have been made stronger.  Big sister Julia, an attorney, counsels him to ask the mom, who had kept the son’s existence a secret for five years, for a paternity test, talking vaguely about the “legal repercussions.”  Now, this may, in fact, be a good idea, but it would depend on the specifics of California law, and isn’t obvious considering that the mom hasn’t asked Crosby for anything other than to be involved in his son’s life.  (I suspect that, by such involvement, Crosby is “holding himself forth” as the child’s father in a way that makes the paternity test legally moot should it ever come to a child support award – for which the California DSS can sue even without Mom’s involvement.  If this understanding is correct, the show should have the guts to state clearly what "family law" really is.)

  • The advice Crosby should have gotten was to tell his current girlfriend Katie, who inexplicably wants Crosby to father her own child, about the new development as soon as possible.  Yet this occurred to nobody until the fifth episode, and Crosby delays informing her well past the point where it starts to look furtive and dishonest.

  • While I’m at it, the show’s single greatest implausibility is Crosby’s relationship with Katie.  Katie is evidently a successful professional of some sort, while Crosby is . . . well, he’s got a job working at a recording studio, but he doesn't apppear especially successful.  Nor is he especially stable, or virtuous, or handsome, or charming, or dominant, “bad-boy”, “alpha”, sociopathic, or anything else that a woman like Katie might find attractive.  Dax Sheppard plays him only marginally less cretinous than he played “Frito” in Idiocracy.

  • While I’m at it, another implausibility is that Adam and Kristina’s young son Max’s Asperger’s Syndrome would have gone undiagnosed in public school as long as it supposedly did.   Max is well played by Max Burkholder, who turns 13 in November; I don’t recall how old his character is, but I’m guessing no younger than eight.  In reality, teachers would have flagged his behavior patterns within the first few months of first grade.

But frankly, these are so far mere quibbles next to what I like about the series:  strong acting, compelling themes, and poignant situations.

One of the things that regularly occurs to me as I watch this television show is:  I’m really glad I’m a Christian.  It’s too bad the show, like virtually all television shows except The Simpsons, can’t give any major characters a mainstream religious affiliation.  But since it doesn’t, its characters are left to go through life making up their rules as they go along, and this turns out pretty obviously to make their lives a lot harder than they would otherwise be.  I appreciate that few people can tolerate theological overhead to which they do not subscribe, but most of the time, the Christian life is vastly superior to its alternatives.


Anonymous said...

It's a bit surprising to see the Crosby/Katie relationship in a TV show as opposed to a movie. Showing a loser-ish man with a highly desirable woman is naturally going to go over a lot better with men than with women, and that fits in more appropriately with movies and their male-skewing or at least 50-50 audiences than it does with TV shows, which attract primarily women.*

Of course the wisecracking-but-wise children cliche has been done to death by any number of movies and TV shows. It's harder to figure out to whom exactly this stereotype appeals.

Out of curiosity, has your identification as a Christian ever been challenged by someone who claims that Presbyterians/Lutherans "aren't really Christian?"

* = advertisers who want to target men have little choice except to run their commercials during sports programs, hence the plethora of cars/beer/mutual funds/Flomax/Cialis ads during sports.


Dr. Φ said...

has your identification as a Christian ever been challenged by someone who claims that Presbyterians/Lutherans "aren't really Christian?"

Never in so many words. A lot of children of missionaries, who represented various "fundamental" denominations, attended my little expat high school, and I came in for some suspicion initially. My own specific theological identification was a lot weaker then.

A lot of these attitudes are created by "converts", probably inevitably. The fundamental churches have a number of refugees from mainline and RC churches where, definitionally, their spiritual needs were not being met. They tend to pass on only the bad stuff, as well as their own misconceptions. The converse is also true: refugees from fundamental churches only tell bad things about their experiences.

Dr. Φ said...

I also have to explain to people the difference between, say, the Missouri Synod and the ELCA, or between the PCA and the PCUSA.