Do you watch Parenthood? I don’t mean this in some sort of existential, depersonalized way. I mean, do you watch the NBC hour-long drama called Parenthood, loosely based on the instrumental film from 1989, the one that starred Steve Martin and Dianne Wiest and tore your heart out? If not, oh friends, you should. Parenthood had its season premiere last Thursday and it’s not too late to catch up. I am here to help.
The fictional Bravermans are a huge family clan living in Berkeley. Details of all of the characters (and the awesome actors who play them) can be found by clicking here. Basically, this is a show about their quotidian (attractive, well-dressed) lives. If you like realist fiction, you’ll like this show. If you like to afford yourself a good, based-on-nothing-other-than-you’re-a-sentient-human cry fest once a week, you’ll like this show. If, at heart, you’re a sap who grew up in a family where people said “I love you” a whole lot, you’ll like this show. If you like ogling beautiful craftsman style bungalow homes perfectly decorated but appropriately lived in, you’ll like this show. And perhaps most importantly, if, like me, you find yourself appreciating something earnest more and more these days, and you think that letting people know you feel things and you are not an automaton who runs on organic coffee and snark, then, well, you’ll like this show.
I could dissect Thursday night’s premiere episode with you, but who has time for that? We have another episode coming up tomorrow and also, my kids need to be fed. Instead, I am going to focus on one character. Today, it’s Kristina Braverman (played with soul by Monica Potter). Kristina is a mother of three and married to fictional Adam (who will always be Nate from Six Feet Under). She has incredible skin and very shiny hair, but she’s flawed and I love her.
Kristina hasn’t had an easy year. She had a baby–surprise! Her eldest daughter left for college. Her autistic son (another one of my favorite characters on the show, played by Max Burkholder) repeatedly challenged her, and she battled breast cancer. But when this season opens, Kristina is cancer-free, and she’s looking to carpe her diem. In a fortunate turn of events that only happens on the TV, Kristina is offered a job running a mayoral campaign for a guy she doesn’t really like. Still, when he comes to her house and she’s wearing sweatpants and playing with her toddler at what looks like two in the afternoon, she gets excited. That night, we see her cross-legged on her bed, taking notes, poring over something on her computer. She tells her husband she’s not going to run someone else’s campaign; she’s going to run for mayor herself. Far-fetched? Sure. Awesome? Yes. Why?
I’ll tell you why: Because Kristina admits that she loves her kids and she also loves being engaged and excited intellectually and she desires more. No, being home with your kids and being intellectually engaged are not mutually exclusive activities, of course not. And YES one may be fulfilled by just doing one or the other, but she’s not, and I’m not either, and so therefore I relate to her, and finding relatable characters on TV is hard to do, and so this show ranks really high with me.
A few scenes later we see Kristina, coiffed and in a dress, running up the steps to the city council building or whatever, to hand in her papers and start her run for mayor. She is charged. She is seizing the day. There is no waiting.
Today, I went back to work after a long summer at home with my kids. When I stepped off the train this morning, ducked into a crowded subway car and ultimately emerged on the street amidst a handball game and coffee carts and crazy fall sunlight, my heart almost burst open. I was so happy to be headed into a day of adults and thinking and talking and reading and work based on ideas. I am not running for mayor and I know I’m not yet doing my “life’s work,” but I’m engaging and engaged and it’s good to be here.
When we read, see movies, or watch TV, we’re often looking to escape, flip the brain to OFF, unwind. But also, on some level, even if we’re not conscious of it, we’re always looking, scanning, analyzing, trying to find a bit of ourselves in anything–everything–we observe. That’s because we’re human, and to survive, we must relate. But for some reason, relating to others and being truly open about our feelings, well, it’s gotten a bad rap. For some reason, our default is to judge, scowl, make jokes, watch vampires and philanderers, and then get into bed and wonder why we can’t sleep. Parenthood is a salve for all that. Take a dose on Thursdays at 10 p.m. If necessary, dilute with half a dose of Homeland on Sunday. But I guarantee, you’ll be back for more, come next Thursday night. It feels that good.