Parenthood: Season 4
Parenthood, at least the television series on NBC representing the latest incarnation of the title and basic themes has lasted for four seasons; about to enter its fifth. While not unprecedented for a prime time drama revolving around an American family it is still a laudable achievement. There is a problem intrinsically built into a series of this nature; the cast is subject to aging. While the arrow of time can be altered in speed, babies to toddles in a single season, for example, for most of the characters there is only so much latitude afforded to the writers. One of the primary factors in the persistent consistency in the quality of this show is the people involved with it are professionals that know how best to exploit the inevitability of change. Many series fall victim to the trap that begins with the second year; retain the elements that work while simultaneously changing them to keep the stories fresh and the character development arcs on track. ‘Parenthood’ appears to have discovered the enigmatic sweet spot of balance that maintains a reliable level of quality. I find the series as entertaining today as when I first started watching in 2010. The found the mantra from success to be "embrace the natural chances in a family dynamic; don’t try to work around them".
The bedrock that provides the foundation for the myriad of story threads is the elder Bravermans; Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) and the wife of his youth, Camille (Bonnie Bedelia is prone to some flighty moments his is at heart a loving husband, devoted father and dotting grandfather. Camille has been id rudder all their lives together and has extended that stabilizing influence to their family. The eldest son, Adam (Peter Krause) has a solid business sense to him and his propensity for being the balanced of the second generation Braveamans making him the one on speed dial for family crises. Next in line is Sarah (Lauren Graham) who came back home after her divorced. She is bright and caring but has problem finding focus. The opposite of that persona is Julia (Erika Christensen. Julia is obsessed with success which brought her top a senior position in a major law firm as the series preceded she felt the growing need to reprioritizes her life and focus more on her family. This included adopting a 10 year child in the previous season. The one between Julia and Sarah in birth order is easy to mistaken as the youngest, Crosby (Dax Shepard). More much of the early season he eschewed roots living on a house boats until the discovery he was a father forced him to grow up faster than he ever expected.
Stevie Nicks once wrote; "Children grow older, I’m getting older too." This could very well be the subtitle for this fourth season. As it starts the series faces the loss of a major character, Haddie Braverman (Sarah Ramos) is Adam and Kristina's (Monica Potter), oldest child. She was extremely intelligent and always viewed as the ‘good girl’. Her biggest issue with her parents was dating the ‘wrong guy’. It was that he was black her parents had issues with a teenage girl involved with a man living on his own and a recovering addict. Now she is off to fly from the nest to attend Cornell University. This is an example of how the writers handle the normal changes that help define a family. Even though her story lines of this character were robust and popular it was time for her to move on. She did return when her mother was diagnosed with cancer. Haddie was always extremely kind and patient with her younger brother, Max (Max Burkholder) who has Asperger syndrome. Haddie was understandably close to her cousin Amber (Mae Whitman) the proverbial wild child daughter of Sarah. Her maturation has been an integral part of the series being the first to move into her own loft. One of the major plot lines for her this season was reconciling with her absentee father , Seth (John Corbett),working on repairing a much damaged relationship steadily over this season.
Romantic relationship issues are not confined to the third generation. Sarah undergoes an amazing transformation from the unfocused young woman tending bar to get by. She has a talent for writing with culminates with a play she penned being produced. She also becomes romantically involved with a younger man. Mark Cyr (Jason Ritter). Although they appeared to be exhibiting a degree of stability Mark breaks up with her midway through this season citing her inability to fully commit. This relationship was a source of discomfort for Sarah’s youngest, Drew (Miles Heizer) who was too young to remember his father’s indiscretions the way Amber had.
As mentioned one of the most robust and interesting character development in the series is with Crosby. He takes his passion as an audio engineer ultimately building a studio with Adam as the business end of the partnership. His former girlfriend Jasmine (Joy Bryant) to his young son Jabbar (Tyree Brown) which initially was quite a shock but by this season was the greatest stabilizing influence in Crosby’s life. The socially liberal family had no issues at all extending the boundless Braverman love to a biracial limb of the family tree. Rather than take the cheap plot lines here the series consistently takes the high road of a loving supportive family. Sure there were rocks on the shoreline but they were always expertly navigated by the core values instill in the second, third and fourth generation by Zeek and Camille.
The series faithfully represent the natural propensity for change that every family must face. This resulted in a very pleasant and entertaining mixture of drama and comedy without allowing either side to overwhelm the other. The typical tendency to slide hopelessly into an overly melodramatic soap opera is avoided by maintaining a dedication to a level of integrity in depicting this large family. By inserting four generations into the mix there is never a shortage of themes to explore or ways to connect with the audience. Some faction of the Braverman clan is certain to connect with any given member of the audience on an emotional basis. Perhaps the show will never reach the pinnacle of its genre but that’s perfectly understandable. In faithfully representing a stable American family like the Bravermans is achieved by not forcing a contrived celebrity of other artificially induced elements. The series works because it represents millions of its fans.