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December 18, 2014

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Family dysfunction

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This family reunion feels a fairly familiar.

A 20-year-old movie is probably not the hottest source material for a TV show in 2010, but Parenthood (NBC, Tuesdays, 10 p.m.) doesn’t really have anything in common with the 1989 Ron Howard film it’s ostensibly based on, other than the titular subject matter. While Howard’s Steve Martin-starring film was a fairly light family comedy (and was adapted into a short-lived half-hour sitcom in 1990), the new series version is serious to the point of becoming maudlin, and has more in common with ABC’s sprawling-family drama Brothers & Sisters.

The Details

Parenthood
Two and a half stars

Make that a lot in common with Brothers & Sisters: From its pilot-episode theme of the prodigal daughter returning home (here it’s Lauren Graham as wayward single mother Sarah Braverman) to its raucous family meals, Parenthood is like Brothers & Sisters’ somewhat more lighthearted cousin. Graham, Peter Krause, Erika Christensen and Dax Shepard play the four adult children of Zeek and Camille Braverman (Craig T. Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia), and all of them have kids of their own. It’s not easy to introduce and develop 13 main characters in one TV episode, so it’s to be expected that Parenthood’s pilot can feel rushed and overstuffed, with some characters getting only cursory screen time.

What’s more distressing is how unlikable all of these people are, and how disconnected they seem as family members. Brothers & Sisters may have descended into soap opera over time, but it does manage to retain a warm sense of family togetherness, which at least right now is lacking from Parenthood’s depiction of a brittle, defensive clan.

Creator Jason Katims spent several years running Friday Night Lights, probably the best depiction of family relationships on TV in the recent years, so he deserves a little time to work out the kinks of this new show. But the pilot definitely indicates an uphill battle in making this family worth spending an hour with each week.

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