TV Review: NBC Family Sitcom "Parenthood"

This last Christmas I flew home to Denver hoping to drop in for a quaint family holiday, only to find the same bizarre personality flaws, micro-rifts, and histrionics that can make the most wonderful time of the year an exercise in patience and impulse control. It was enough to make me declare that I was going to sit out Alston Family Christmas 2010. I say this all to make the obvious point that family is vital and draining and we spend our adult lives being alternately drawn in and repelled by people we always love but don't always like, and can never get rid of, even when we try to.

Which is why I was left cold by Parenthood, NBC's latest attempt to turn Ron Howard's 1989 film into a series about a quirky family with its subtleties and trials, this time the Bravermans. Sure, the show is fine for what it is. The cast is stunning: Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Craig T. Nelson, Monica Potter, and more, all doing fine, nuanced work. It's well written, too, deftly walking the line between comedy and drama. What's more, it's observant—it nails the large-family dynamic with stinging accuracy. And that's why, while I enjoyed the pilot, I can't imagine watching the show every week. It's just a little too relatable.

Realism is a sine qua non for contemporary television, and for good reason. The more authentic a fictional environment, the more likely I am to invest in its characters and their outcomes, especially when it's a world foreign to me, like that of the renegade bikers in Sons of Anarchy. But the family show is the exception to the rule. I don't want a realistic portrayal of the American family, because I have one of my own. If I need a good sibling fight, I can call my brother, which would also mean I could check "call brother" off my to-do list. Sitcoms like Full House and Family Matters aren't remembered fondly. When John Stamos announced a plan to reunite the cast of the former for a movie version of the TGIF staple, the blogosphere erupted in laughter—and not the good kind. I still count myself a fan of both shows. Granted, they were incredibly unrealistic (Family Matters shot Steve Urkel into space at one point, for God's sake), but their cloying, escapist take on the family experience is exactly what I like about them. They have the type of Christmases you rarely get to enjoy as an adult until you have kids of your own.

Don't get me wrong, my family isn't screwed up in any major way; we've just got hairline fractures here and there. In other words, we're perfectly ordinary. Parenthood does an extraordinary job of portraying an ordinary family, but until we're further out of the wake of the holiday season, I'd suspect that verisimilitude is not what everyone's craving.