Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Growing More Attached To A Strangely Predictable Family: Parenthood Season Two Succeeds!

The Good: Wonderful characters, Great acting, Decent plot progression
The Bad: Somewhat predictable plot developments, Max is annoying and everyone coddles him!
The Basics: Continuing to develop well, Parenthood in its second season is engaging and is very easy to get invested in almost all the characters.

The last few days, my wife and I have been on a Parenthood marathon. After rewatching Parenthood season one (reviewed here!), we moved right on to Season Two. The second season of Parenthood develops well and continues the growth of all of the characters in the Braverman family. For those unfamiliar with Parenthood, the show is a one-hour drama and the twenty-two episodes of the second season are heavily serialized, making it very easy to sit down and start watching it and suddenly find that they have burned through the episodes over the course of two or three days!

Parenthood centers around the three generations of the Braverman family; Zeek Braverman (an ex-Vietnam vet) and his artistic wife living in California. They have four adult children: Adam, Sarah, Crosby, and Julia, all of whom have families and children of their own. Adam and his wife Kristina have a young son, Max, who has Asberger’s Syndrome, and a teenage daughter, Haddie. Sarah got her daughter Amber and son Drew away from her alcoholic musician ex-, Seth. Crosby has a son, Jabbar, with the dancer, Jasmine. The youngest Braverman, Julia, is married to Joel and they have a daughter, Sydney.

In the second season of Parenthood, the storyline picks up only a few months after the end of the first season. Crosby has been struggling with having Jabbar and Jasmine in New York, where she is dancing, and commuting. Zeek has been struggling in his marriage with Camille and the counseling has shown some clear effects as Zeek is clearly making an effort to listen to her and not leap to imposing his own views. The situation with Crosby changes rapidly; Jasmine comes back and when she heads to Europe to tour, Jabbar is left with her mother, who hates Crosby. In stepping up, Crosby becomes more of a man.

Meanwhile, Adam has serious trouble at work when he hires Sarah as an intern and then she starts dating their boss. Their family is shaken up when the boss sells the company and Adam and his new stoner boss butt heads. When Amber scores high on her SATs, she gets an internship with Julia before collapsing entirely. As Max begins to do better, Haddie starts dating, which causes stress for Adam and Kristina. And Joel steps up to get some respect from Zeek!

Because the plots, which are heavily serialized, are an ongoing family drama, the plots are far less important than the characters. The plots periodically involve characters standing outside rooms where they listen to what others are saying or doing. The characters have a pretty consistent way of spying on one another that would usually add a huge element or melodrama, but in Parenthood, the characters have a way of bringing out the truth exceptionally quickly, so the dramatic tension does not last long. Instead, Parenthood goes for realism much more often than not. In the second season, the very real characters are:

Adam Braverman – With his marriage to Kristina seeming more stable than ever, they are thrown a little when the Lessings, who also have an autistic child, split up. He takes Sarah’s idea for the shoe clicker and runs with it at work and to make up for taking initial credit for it, he gets he an internship. When his boss sells the company, he is left as a serious man in charge of a company run by a stoner moron. He is accidentally stoned by his boss, comes to respect Haddie’s new boyfriend, and pushes to mainstream Max when the boy seems to be doing well in his special school,

Kristina Braverman – She adapts better to Max having Asberger’s and dealing with the chaos in the family. She is more protective toward Haddie as Haddie starts seriously dating,

Haddie Braverman – Sixteen now, she starts volunteering at a soup kitchen with her grandmother, Camille. There, she meets Alex and after showing him that she is not just a flakey do-gooder, the begins dating him. When Adam and Kristina demand she stop seeing the recovering alcoholic 19 year-old, she leaves home and moves in with Zeek and Camille to establish her independence. After prom, she and Alex take a huge step forward,

Max Braverman – A child with Asperger’s, he continues to act out. However, with the help of Gabby, he starts (theoretically) doing better and starts to succeed academically. He gets a bug birthday party, hosted by an entertainer who has Asperger’s Syndrome,

Sarah Braverman – The eldest daughter of Zeek and Camille, mother to Amber and Drew, she briefly dates her boss at the shoe company. When she loses her internship there, she becomes concerned at how Amber is spiraling out of control and she starts writing a play. Zeek helps her get her first play read publicly and she starts dating Mark Cyr again,

Amber Holt – Sarah’s daughter. She tests exceptionally high and gets the grades necessary to get into Berkley. She gets an internship with Julia’s law firm and makes contact with a famous alumni at the school. When she fails to get into Berkley, she goes off the deep end,

Drew Holt – Sarah’s son, he shows up but does very little until he makes contact with his biological father, whose return causes predictable chaos with him, Amber, and Sarah,

Crosby Braverman – He fights for his relationship with Jasmine and for his relationship with Jabbar even harder. He has serious conflicts with Jasmine’s mother Renee and her brother. The principal of the school Jabbar and Sydney go to asks him to spice up the school play, which puts him at odds with Joel. When the play goes haywire, he has to get Joel back on board with directing the play. When he is continually rejected by Jasmine, he gets drunk and sleeps with Gabby, ruining things for Adam, Kristina, and Max. At the height of his conflict with his family, he sells his houseboat and buys a house as a hail mary, which brings him and Joel closer,

Jabbar Trussell – Crosby and Jasmine’s son, he and Crosby bond quite a bit as Jasmine travels more. He shows no real reaction when Crosby and Jasmine get engaged . . . or when they stop living together,

Jasmine Trussell – Moves back to California with Jabbar, but then goes off to Europe to dance, leaving her son behind with her mother, who is hostile to Crosby. When she gives up dancing overseas, she and Crosby begin a serious relationship. Even so, she gives in to her mother quite frequently, which draws a wedge between her and Crosby. She resolves not to forgive Crosby when he cheats on her,

Julia Braverman-Graham – Wife of Joel, mother of Sydney, she is a powerhouse lawyer. When Joel begins to stretch his legs away from their family, she accidentally snaps at him about how much money she makes. She and Syndey actually begin to bond finally. She decides she wants another baby, which Joel does not seem to want as much. She gives Amber an internship and is disappointed when Amber begins to screw up on the job,

Joel Graham – Househusband to Julia, he begins to stretch his wings. He helps Zeek repair the Braverman house, even when Zeek continually screws things up there. That leads him to return to doing some contracting work, which causes some stress between him and Julia. He makes Sarah a desk, feels displaced when Crosby takes over the school play, and feels needed when Crosby makes his hail mary house play,

Sydney Graham – Steps in for Jabbar on the school play when Jabbar gets stage fright. She has drama with classmates involving playdates that various friends are not invited to,

Camille Braverman – Patching up her marriage with Zeek, she begins taking a class that her fling is temporarily teaching, which makes Zeek jealous. Otherwise, she continues to support her adult children in their various enterprises,

and Zeek Braverman – Working at changing his longterm behaviors, he and Camille find themselves on firmer footing. He reads for Sarah’s play and kicks Seth’s ass. He becomes very worried for Adam when Adam punches another man at the supermarket (when the guy calls Max “retarded”). He is characteristically protective of his family this season.

On the acting front, the second season of Parenthood has the impressive cast of Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Mae Whitman, Craig T. Nelson, Erika Christensen, and Monica Potter falling flawlessly into their roles. Sarah Ramos (Haddie) is given more to do this season and she rises to the occasion well, playing off Michael B. Jordan (Alex) exceptionally well.

But the real winners in the diverse and large cast in the second season of Parenthood are Dax Shepard and Sam Jaeger. Shepard continues his dramatic ascent as the conflicted and rapidly maturing Crosby. Crosby has a fantastic character arc this season and Dax Shepard, who usually plays stoners, scammers, and losers, continues to adapt to the serious role of Crosby with an adeptness that many would not have guessed he could pull off.

Sam Jaeger is given a vastly more meaty role in the second season than he was in the first. In the first season of Parenthood, his Joel was relegated to a house husband whose daughter was overly attached to him. The character was pretty flat and Jaeger was not given much to do with the part at all. In the second season, Joel and Julia and Joel and Crosby have major arcs and their relationships are given much depth. This allows Jaeger to add more dimensions to Joel and in the second season he is funny, serious, and loving and he portrays the full range of emotions well.

In the second season of Parenthood, Max’s character is a little more annoying in that characters talk about how he is doing much better in terms of behavior, but that is not actually evident on screen. That said, the character remains interesting and actor Max Burkholder plays the part with a sense of conflict and awkwardness appropriate to the character. Max is difficult to watch at times, especially when the character learns he has Asperger’s Syndrome and exactly what that means.

In the second season, Parenthood establishes what some of the traditional conceits for the show will be. In addition to the various characters listening outside one another’s doors, each season there is an adult dance party scene which is charming and season two’s is even better than the one that introduced “The Fever” to season one!

There are few television families that I actually get invested in anymore; the Bravermans are definitely one of them, though. The writing for Parenthood is sharp – funny and dramatic – with wonderful characters who are well-performed, making for solidly entertaining and socially relevant television worth watching over and over again.

For other works with Dax Shepard, be sure to visit my reviews of:
When In Rome
Old Dogs
Baby Mama
Let’s Go To Prison
Employee Of The Month
Without A Paddle


For other television program and DVD set reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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