Parenthood is So Heart-Warming It Hurts

Photo of the cast of the NBC TV series Parenthood
Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens in 2019

The Parenthood pilot on NBC was the most exhausting television I've endured this season.

The show begins with Peter Krause jogging down a Berkeley, California, street. The jog has left him wheezing for air, in spite of the fact that Krause is physically fit and doesn't appear to have an ounce of fat on him. He gets a call from his sister Lauren Graham. She's moving to Berkeley with her teen-age daughter. Graham needs to know that she's making the right decision by moving, and if she's making the wrong decision she wants to blame Krause. In between his dying breaths, Krause agrees to this deal.

A call cuts in, and it's Craig T. Nelson as their dad. He needs Krause to fix his plumbing, in spite of the fact that he's the kind of curmudgeonly cantankerous coot who would be too macho to let another man fiddle with his pipe. Krause is the family people pleaser, so he agrees to this as well.

Krause goes to Nelson's house and is working on the plumbing when he gets a call from Monica Potter, his wife. She can't handle the task of getting their young son to conquer his neuroses long enough to suit up for that day's baseball game. She wants Krause to do it, since he's forcing the child to relive his childhood by playing the game. Krause -- wait for it -- agrees to this. He goes home and bribes the kid with future ice cream to get him to play, which prompts his outmatched wife to call him a bad parent. (This is a good time to point out that Potter lacks the va-va-va-voom of Mary Steenburgen.)

At the baseball game, manager Krause calls his brother Dax Shepard, who is supposed to be his assistant. Instead, Shepard has assisted an attractive woman out of her clothing and into the slumber of post-coital bliss. Shepard's looking in her freezer when he finds a metal tube of stored semen. Startled, he puts it back, since he prefers to begin his day with coffee.

Next, two parents in the roles originated by Rick Moranis and Harley Jane Kozak take their precocious small child to a fair. This has absolutely nothing to do with any of the other tightly interlocked scenes of family life and the actors are Sam Jaeger and Erika Christensen, the least known cast members who are not children. If this was a football team, the couple would be on the practice squad.

Back to the game, Shepard has shown up in time for Krause to beg his son to take his first at-bat, Nelson to toughlove the kid from the stands and Potter to tell grampa to shut his piehole. The kid dinks out an infield hit but he's robbed by a bad call from the umpire. Krause gets into a screaming Billy Martinesque tirade with the ump, which will of course make his child more eager to play baseball in the future.

This was just the first 10 minutes. Roll the opening credits.

I couldn't make it further but can already see where this is going, and not just because I watched the film Parenthood a dozen times during a phase in my life when I wasn't getting enough Steenburgen.

Producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer are going to warm our hearts with a show about the joys and sorrows of modern affluent white parenting, when there's never enough time in the day to get it quite right. Mom and dad are overworked, the kids are pressured to achieve and enjoy themselves within the confines of a strict regimen of organized fun, and the grandparents are befuddled by how the simple homespun lessons of their own parenting days have been lost.

Ultimately, they won't come together as a family until Lauren Graham's vibrator escapes her purse at a family gathering.

Parenthood gives viewers the same generational roles as the movie, which was filmed 20 years ago about the last generation of parents. Craig T. Nelson is the same age as Steve Martin, who was the people-pleaser dad in the 1989 film. So if the moms and dads of the '80s were stressed-out suburban parents with gruff know-it-all grandparents like Jason Robards, when did Nelson become an old school parenting know-it-all? He raised Krause in the '80s, so Krause was the neurotic kid with hovering parents haunted by Charlie Brown failures at baseball.

Instead of becoming a clock tower sniper, as the original film prophesied, Krause has ended up in the same exact position as Martin. Who's now Nelson, who was not an old-school parent at all back in the '80s.

A pox on all of their families. If I wanted a tired rehash of something that was better a couple decades ago, I could've watched Jay Leno.

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