Reconfigured for primetime for the second time on the same network (NBC aired the initial realignment of the Steve Martin film back in 1990), Parenthood has all the components for a great family drama: struggling siblings, imperfect parents, and a whole lot of heart. The execution, though, is lacking, which is somewhat startling given who's at the helm. As the key, incisive force behind the consistently hard-hitting Friday Night Lights, executive producer and writer Jason Katims is gifted at subtly mapping out the repeated foibles and unexpected triumphs of his characters, revealing layer upon layer of emotional truth. Here, though, the writing falls short of the intimate visceral heft we're used to from Katims. Plus, his valiant effort at creating a complex family dynamic is significantly weighed down by an all-too-known, and slightly less capable, cast.
The series revolves around brother and sister pair Adam and Sarah (Peter Krause and Lauren Graham). Adam is the eldest brother in the Braverman clan, the go-to guy when his younger siblings are in a bind; he's also a husband and father of two, one being an emotionally disturbed, possibly autistic young boy. Sarah is eldest sister and nearly broke, with a drugged-up rocker of an ex-husband who left her alone to raise two angst-ridden teenagers, one of whom is always sneaking off to her tattooed boyfriend's place. Sarah decides to move back in with her parents in Berkeley to offset some financial burdens, forcing her kids to come along for the move.
Krause and Graham effortlessly break free from their past TV personas, while Craig T. Nelson makes an admirable appearance as the Braverman patriarch Zeek, but Dax Shepard, once one of Ashton Kutcher's Punk'd players, hardly rises above his name recognition as Adam and Sarah's youngest brother; it's a distracting, odd casting choice for a drama aiming for deep, heartrending insight. And the inclusion of Monica Potter to the lineup proves a head-scratcher as well; in the role of Adam's concerned wife, Kristina, the blank-faced Potter struggles to hold her own opposite her more formidable partner.
With such a talented writer on board, Parenthood (apparently NBC's answer to Brothers and Sisters) deserves a few more episodes to iron out some of its more trite, movie-of-the-week storylines (Adam's son's bout with autism proves more cringe-worthy than astute), allowing its multifaceted characters, and all their routine tribulations, to organically manifest as life consequently unravels. Until then, it remains to be seen whether Parenthood will be NBC's potential saving grace in their otherwise deflated and presently nonexistent 10 p.m. drama lineup.