'Parenthood' season premiere review: 'I hear you and I see you'

Parenthood got off to a fine second season on Tuesday night, even if the distinct implication that Lauren Graham might eventually make out with William Baldwin triggered a silent scream in my head. In a snappy premiere written by Jason Katims, almost everyone got ample screen-time while contributing to the overall shape of the series. (Note to Alan Ball: Look at how a good network show can juggle multi-sub-plots before writing the next installment of True Blood, please.)

The show forged a nice new link between Graham’s Sarah and Peter Krause’s Adam right from the start: Her idea for his footwear company solved her big problem last season — getting a job. I don’t know how popular a device that would locate a missing shoe would be in what we laughingly call the real world, but it made Adam’s boss, William Baldwin’s Gordon, raise his woolly-mammoth eyebrows in approval. Bingo: After Sarah asserted ownership of the idea, Adam offered her an internship at the company.

Another clever connection was made: Jabbar (Tyree Brown) and his impending visit prompted the idea of a sleepover with young Max (the amazing Max Burkholder). Granted, this was mostly background to the bigger plotting at work — Dax Shepard’s Crosby and Joy Bryant’s Jasmine can’t make this long-distance relationship work, or even successfully execute “Skype sex.” And Max is still very much in need of Minka Kelly’s babysitter/autism coach (sorry, I can’t come up with a more concise term for her function in the show, but I’m glad she’s there to distract Crosby — sexual tension is always good for more drama).

We witnessed the benefit of the marriage counseling Craig T. Nelson’s Zeek agreed to undergo after last season’s woes with Bonnie Bedelia’s Camille: a neatly hair-cut, meeker Zeek, who caught himself when he started to thunder egomaniacally, dialing it down to a therapy mantra: “I hear you and I see you.”

I think I’ve waited long enough to quote the out-of-the-mouths-of-babes cute quote of the night, courtesy of the young daughter of Erika Christensen’s Julia and Sam Jaeger’s Joel: “Did I come out of a vagina?” asked Sydney (Savannah Paige Rae). This bit brought some much-needed comic relief to the Julia/Joel pairing, which last season was one of Parenthood‘s soft spots of sourness. Even better was Joel working this night with Zeek on some roof repair; the show was acknowledging that we haven’t seen much of these two together, and they played out their awkward bonding very satisfyingly.

The best acting of the night was done by Sarah Ramos as Haddie, now 16 and learning to drive, sorta, courtesy of her high-strung mom, Kristina (Monica Potter, once again bravely tackling an unsympathetic role and making it compelling). Haddie’s frustration, her imitation of her mother in front of her father, and her scenes with brother Max were all marvelously rendered by Ramos with great expressiveness.

Yep, Parenthood is no doubt one of the best family shows on TV. By which I mean a show about family, not a show families will probably watch together (the time period; the Skype sex; the “Did I come out of a vagina?” would seem to work against that). I’m glad it made its premiere before The Good Wife starts its new season in the same time period, and some of us begin a weekly indecision over which to watch and which to record; Parenthood needs the viewers. (Do you hear that, NBC?: Parenthood needs more promotion.)

As the series has proceeded, what initially looked like a bunch of talented but disparate actors has cohered into a believable clan. Many of the straining-credulity set-ups, such as the rebellious Sarah and her equally rebellious daughter Amber (the terrific Mae Whitman, minimally seen last night) moving back home with Mom and Dad, now have traction, sense, and crackling interaction.

So I have some questions for you:

• What did you think of Parenthood‘s season premiere?

• William Baldwin: Good addition, or not? (I don’t think my joking remarks made it clear, but I come down on the side of “good.”)

• Peter Krause’s Adam: Is this man a saint, or what?

• Would you buy shoe-locator footwear?

Follow: @kentucker

Comments (132 total) Add your comment
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  • Tony

    I thought the premier was delightful. Katims’ writing, and masterful juggling of storylines and characters, is pitch perfect. The acting, as usual, were brilliant… Haddie in particular. It’s really impossible to single out any particular character or couple, though… they are all so good. I’m on the fence about Stephen Baldwin; his appearance gave me an initial reaction that Parenthood was veering dangerously close to Brothers-and-Sisters territory. Hopefully, the amazing writing will protect us from that fate! All in all, I found myself just thinking, “I really missed this show!” Happy to have the Braverman’s back in my life on a weekly basis.

  • kim in kentucky

    LOVE this show – so glad that it came back for a 2nd season. Agree – NBC needs to promote it more. When I mention to people at work, they’ve never heard of it! Unsure about Billy Baldwin – have never really cared for him (even on Dirty Sexy Money) – but he may be good for the Lauren Graham character. And how can you not love Bonnie Bedelia and Craig T. Nelson ??? Agree – Peter Krause’s character is reaching sainthood. And I’m surprised that no company in the real world hasn’t come up with the shoe locator!

  • Liz

    I am on the side of bad addition for Baldwin. He just creeps me out. There’s something about the look of the Baldwin family that just screams sleazeball to me. I missed SArah’s kids. Other than a brief mention of “flow issues” from Amber they were non existent. I don’t like the grating Haddie and Max. Oh well, it’ll pick up.

    • nodnarb

      I vote bad too for Baldwin. His pause-every-other-word enunciation was beyond irritating.

      • Karen

        Baldwin’s character felt really contrived to me. I know it’s inevitable, but I don’t want Sarah with him. The bar was set high last season with her awesome (younger) man, and I don’t think the boss is going to compare.

      • Carla

        As I was watching I thought to myself that NBC hss become the chief employer of the creepy Baldwin Brothers.

    • cheese

      I prefer Sarah’s kids too. The other kids just annoy me…especially the autistic one. I know its not the most polite or PC thing to say…but I call it as I see it…

      • AJ

        Wow, cheese and Liz, you find a child with a social-skills disability to be less than an adorable moppet? Maybe that means the show is doing it right. Let me guess, do you find Artie on “Glee” annoying because he never (well, almost never) gets up out of that chair and dances like the rest of the group, too?
        Max has a diagnosed condition that makes it difficult for him to be aware and considerate of others’ feelings. So what’s your excuse, neurotypicals?

      • marymary

        Wow, such heartfelt feelings on here cheese. For the record the correct PC term is the “kid with autism”. I am the mother of an amazing son who also has autism and I applaud Parenthood for giving such an accurate portrayal of what it’s really like. That actor who plays Max does an amazing job. My son’s autism is more severe than the asperger’s that that character has, but overall they are doing an amazing job showing how it affects the whole family. Monica Potter’s breakdown last night was amazing and really spoke from my heart as well, I often worry who will take care of my son if something happens to me or my husband. Has me in tears just remembering that heartfelt scene. Bravo NBC.

      • cheese

        oh please…I understand that it is a disorder in the brain, but it’s not like people with aspergers are completely helpless. I don’t give people a free pass because of their disabilities. My univeristy has a few blind people with seeing-eye dogs and many people who are in wheelchairs. Yes, people have to provide for them in order for them to function at school, but if I’m walking in a hallway or outside on the sidewalk and they are in my way when I need to get somewhere, I’m not going to delay myself in order for them to not feel like a burdon. I’m sorry, you’re in my way and I know it isn’t your fault that you have your disability, but you are still in my way. Call me selfish or whatever, but I don’t have to feel sorry or compassionate for anyone just because they are different.

      • BethB

        backin’ you up here, cheese–i find Max extremely annoying–and, by the way, none of these kids is an adorable moppet–they are all smart asses–there are a lot of people in the world with a lot of tragic and debilitating conditions–I live with this in my own immediate family–but I can’t stand when max is in a scene–maybe because they only show the problems and none of the “down time’

      • jc in nw

        I’m with cheese and Beth on this.
        This isn’t about AS, it’s about acting and flow. As soon as I saw Max last night, I groaned and wished they had based a child with AS on my own son who, I assure you, is nothing like the Max character.

      • JRE

        Wow! I can very much identify with this family, especially the mom. As a SAHM with a son currently undergoing testing for the autism spectrum, I completely related to the whole sleepover and worrying about the future. I cried for quite a bit after Haddie had the sleepover with Max and her clear love of her brother. It was like looking in our windows at the relationship our son has with our daughters. I pray as they age, they continue to love and value each other the way Haddie and Max do.

    • Jessica

      You’re right. They all look sleazy. I never realized that before, must be why I dislike them so much

    • Danneg

      I agree that Baldwin looks like a sleazeball. That is EXACTLY what I thought when I saw him. Not good.

      • Jenn

        But maybe he’s supposed to?

    • kim in kentucky

      I’m glad that Baldwin also creeps out someone else!

    • Sina

      I’m with you Liz. I hate Adam’s kids and I love Sarah’s. I didn’t enjoy this season preimere because Sarah’s kids wasn’t in. What happened to Amber and Haddie’s ex. They were so sweet last season. More Sarah kids, less Adam’s and less Monica Potter!

  • Goober

    Quickly approaching “Best show on TV” status with me! Anything with Lauren Graham in it has got to be good! Premier was very, very well done!

  • Casey

    This is the first time I watched Parenthood. I wasn’t surprised that the acting was good but was surprised at how good the writing and execution were. I’ll tune in next week. This seems like a nice little family drama.

  • mydove

    I thought it was going to be Crosby up in the bunk bed with Max, since they both missed Jabbar so much.

    • Liz

      I thought so too! I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t.

      • peppy

        I had the same thought!

    • sd

      my first thought was it’d be jabbar on skype.

    • Lesa

      me too….but I am kind of glad it was his sister..I think she is goin to bond more with him this season

    • laura

      Me too!

  • Catherine

    “Minka Kelly’s babysitter-autism coach”
    She’s a CAP (Community Alternative Program) worker. Someone who comes into the home to help with an MR (mentally retarded, be it autism or anything else) family member. They work on socializing the family member and helping them to understand more socially appropriate behaviors.

    • Ken Tucker

      Thanks very much, Catherine.

      • Leila

        Ken, she’s actually an ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) therapist.

    • ALM

      Is it still okay to use the term mentally retarded? I thought the PC police had changed it to ‘developmentally challenged’ or some such. Not a criticism, just honestly curious.

      • Doremifah Solatido

        Yeah, me too – do I call them “‘tards”, or “mentals”, or what?

    • Atticus1

      I hope you realize that not all autistic individuals are intellectually disabled. Many are highly intelligent.

      • AJ

        Thank you, Atticus1. Took the words right out of my mouth. And even many who appear developmentally challenged might simply lack the communication skills necessary to pass certain threshhjolds on standard IQ tests.

    • Leila

      She’s not that type of social worker. She’s a behavioral therapist. In California, kids with autism have the right to receive intensive in-home services to improve their communication, social and life skills. It’s different from having a social worker or a respite worker give assistance to a disabled person.

  • sg

    Premiere was good. Best acting is always done by Lauren Graham. Sarah Ramos has improved vastly from last season. I still say Monica Potter is a weak link. She was weak in Boston Legal also

    • LIGrrl

      I thought the same thing. Close your eye and you can’t tellwhich Baldwin brother it is. I vote yes for Billy. Good addition.

    • tren

      Every time Monica Potter is on screen, I have to fastforward through her scenes. I agree she is the weakest link.

  • Glory

    Billy Baldwin is looking and sounding more Alec-esque as he gets older.

    • Rach

      I totally agree! I still can’t get over how he looks and sounds like a slightly younger Alec.

  • Trenton

    Note to Ken Tucker, look how a good critic can stick to the material at hand and not be a prissy f face :)

  • Rob

    Um, you did not just suggest Alan Ball watch this uneven, mediocre hour of mundanity to learn how to balance plotlines. It’s not that “Parenthood” is bad. It’s that it is thoroughly uninteresting, and cluttered with unlikable characters who squawk at each other. Watching the show raises my blood pressure. I only do so for Lauren Graham, whose character is like a shell of Lorelai Gilmore–similar attitude, but not as witty because the writers suck. What a dreadful waste.

    • john_c

      Why are you still watching the show?!

      True Blood is good but it is not great TV. It is not Mad Men or FNL or Lost.

    • Nicole

      @Rob – I disagree. I think the cast is one of the best on tv, and the writing is fantastic. As for your claim that Sarah Braverman is no Lorelai Gilmore, well, that’s the point. She’s playing a different character. Sarah isn’t less witty than Lorelai because the writers suck; it’s because Sarah is a different character. And I think Graham plays the character beautifully – I never feel like I’m watching Lorelai in a different show, and I think that’s a good thing.

      • Amanda

        This is exactly why I love Lauren in this show. I was an avid watcher of Gilmore Girls, and the fact that I can now watch Parenthood and only reference “Lorelai” every once in a while is very impressive to me!

  • S

    Billy Baldwin is creepy, always has been.

    • Sarah

      But the hottest of the Baldwins…right?

      • kim in kentucky

        no, even with the weight gain, I’ll tke Alec over Billy, or any of the other brothers

      • Leila

        Alec is the only cool Baldwin.

  • Sarah

    Great episode, I’m so glad the show is back!

  • Kc

    The only reason I wanted to watch this show last season was Lauren Graham, but after a few episodes I really enjoyed it. NBC needs to advertise more, particularly on some of the cable channels like it does for UnderCovers. As for Baldwin, all I see is smarm and scuzz and I don’t want Lauren to have to interact with sleaze.

    • Jane

      All the Baldwins have smarm and scuzz. Yes. Even Alec.

    • phdsmz

      They are replaying episodes on Bravo which might attract more viewers.

  • Brad

    A really really great show. Keep featuring it EW!! Maybe a cover. If NBC won’t promote it; the fans gotta get others to fall in love with it.

    And yea I thought it would have been more awesome for Crosby to have the sleepover with Max.

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