NBC’s Parenthood: Max-imum Effort?

Normal Scenarios?

The much anticipated new drama from NBC launched last night. No, not the rebirth of Jay Leno and his baby “The Tonight Show”–the Ron Howard reclamation project “Parenthood.” The popular movie starring Steve Martin is back and more dramatic than ever. Sadly Martin’s participation with the show will have to be from a couch, just like you and I, as he prepares for the Oscars. No this time we have a whole new cast of characters to enjoy.

And, just to remind us of the times we are in…Nissan was the proud sponsor who showed all of us, tongue-n-cheek, that they support American families unlike some other car company who is spending more time on Capitol Hill these days than a fox in a hen house or should I say Jake The Bachelor in an ABC green room or….you get the point. With all of the pub around this show and the countless previews I almost felt like I was preparing to watch the last episode of M.A.S.H.all over again.

So with all of the pre-party festivities in place the show began…and boy did it ever! The frenetic exchanges between father and son, mother and daughter, sister and brother and back again to the kids was a bit like the start of the ole Teacup ride at the amusement park.

How many storylines can we have?

I was amazed that they could actually fit so many topics that I just had to jot down a few in no particular order:

  1. Adult moving back in with parents
  2. Clogged pipes at Grandpa’s house
  3. Artificial Insemination/”If you won’t have a baby with me!”
  4. Aspergers symptoms from child with perfect parents
  5. Possible affair
  6. Finding out your a father from a fling years ago…and oh from another race
  7. Men yelling at umpires
  8. Female cousins-One Good/One Bad-Rocker
  9. Gender role reversal storylines where daughters want their dad to tuck them in and….
  10. Arrests, board meetings that take away your little league coaching duties, deadbeat dads, hot guys who are now bald-fat-baristas, sex after divorce, and finally too many family dinners with EVERY member under the romantic glow of landscaping lights and laughter…

Yes…this show had it all! You might think that I am slanting in a negative direction, but not so fast. There were a number of elements that were fresh and based on the reality of today’s American family. For starters, the show actually portrayed the majority of men as fairly Normal, upstanding individuals who communicated far better than most. Whether or not this is based in reality or fantasy is for each of us to consider. The men in this show are, collectively, shown as family oriented, supportive, and compassionate.

Of course NBC made sure to drop in a few stereotypes like the deadbeat musician whose only line of substance was, “Maybe we can catch a game sometime” to his son. I want so bad for that image to be false, but you and I know better. The flip side was that the portrayal of a son in conflict was right on! I commend the writers for the Normal display of emotion from this teenage boy who desperately wants his father in his life–quite refreshing.

The one area, though, that I have qualms about is the manner with which a serious matter was portrayed. The perfect family, at least from the looks of it, has an 8 year-old son who visibly struggles to enjoy the world around him. The parents find out that the educational therapist has diagnosed Max with Aspergers Syndrome. Just as the story sucks us in on the grieving process this family is going through…poof…the young boy is born again, social, and a promising little leaguer. The message sent was that everything was going to be o.k. and maybe even normal. “Parenthood” let a number of parents down. Whether or not this little guy would actually be diagnosed with Aspergers or not is debatable at best. What is not is the pain most parents go through to understand their child’s challenges, access the system, and see tangible results. No one hour drama can do that and if the show wants to be taken seriously then they need to be o.k. with endings that are real and not make-believe.

Focus on what's Real

Despite all of my reservations…it still remains a show worth watching…kinda like getting a stock tip from your ole Uncle Al who just had a feeling. I, too, have a feeling that if this show focuses on a few storylines at a time, we might actually have something to talk about with our spouses, kids, and parents.

Remember this…television will never be a substitute for family planning, therapy, or even reconciliation…well written television elicits thoughtful reflection and communication. Don’t be like this family and wait for the game to begin to figure out that authentic parenting takes place on the practice field…so that during the game our spouses and kids get the honest version of ourselves. We’re not perfect…but we can think about others, place our egos and past grievances aside, and parent with our best foot forward. Your kids will learn to be themselves and you will learn that life is more than righting the wrongs brought forth by your parents.

All the Best!

Dr. Rod
Rod Berger, PsyD The Normal Male

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