Thursday, March 11, 2010

NBC Tries to Rebuild with Planned "Parenthood"

Image:: Current cast of NBC's Parenthood

NBC is clearly in a rebuilding mode and has been struggling with programming for a few years now, as evident in their Jay Leno 10PM experiment and the resultant Leno/Coco debacle. They are currently third this season, but would be fourth if it weren't for the Vancouver Olympics. There's a good case to be made that they will be fourth in the 18-40 demo.

I've watched the first two episodes of Parenthood, the second TV show spawned from the 1989 Ron Howard film. The show is clearly meant to be a quality drama and I wonder if NBC will allow it to find its audience. In its second week, it slipped 16% to get a 2.6 rating. While I'm not a big follower of family dramas, I am interested in characters, story, and TV in general. What I've seen thus far has potential, if some of the writing tightens up. While the dialogue is clever, although a little witty banter goes a long way in my book, the development of the characters is uneven. It's hard with such a large cast, so this may fix itself over time, but I worry that some may never get beyond stereotype and cliché. The show tries to balance the dramatic with the comic, but there seems to be an emotional jumpgate that the audience needs to pass through every 8 minutes.

The pilot seemed to have everything wrap up in a neat package, as if orchestrated by Christos in The Truman Show {1998}, but the second episode was trying to keep it more real, dawg. Nevertheless, it seems a bit too planned and contrived. The show is slick but doesn't have the oily sheen of overproduction. It helps that there's talent in the cast. So, what needs to tighten up in the writing, specifically? We see just surface glimpses of what makes many of the characters tick, so when we see them in deep emotional contexts, we're trying to figure out why they're acting a certain way. Lauren Graham's character {Sarah} is one that's easier to follow and relate to, since it's a variant on a familiar trope. {I still think of her as Bad Santa's bartender girlfriend. As an aside, Lauren replaced Maura Tierney who was undergoing treatment for breast cancer which conflicted with shooting.} I'm not quite sure if Craig T. Nelson {Zeek} as overbearing-but-well-meaning patriarch is to be taken at face value—boring, or if I'm supposed to be looking for something more complex. Erika Christensen's Julia is a lawyer stereotype cookie-cutter cutout and Peter Krause's {Adam} conventionality and striving for normality is a bit overwrought. The nuance is all in the social interactions, showing how the family relate to each other, but while some characters get more fleshed out through the storylines, others are left in caricatureland. While it could be said that the audience needs to let the characters develop over time, I'm not sure the audience will have the patience to do so.

I'm hoping that the show makes it and that NBC nurtures it a bit. The overall concept offers more degrees of freedom than other dramas with more rigidly-defined settings and contexts, so there's the opportunity to draw audiences in with interesting story arcs. I'll continue to see how the show evolves, but if anyone on the show non-ironically uses "Frisco" to refer to the City, I'm out.


Twitterversion:: NBC's rebuilding efforts continue Parenthood. Ratings not stellar & writing needs to tighten up. Potential though. @Prof_K

Song:: Wooden Stars-"Orphans"

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