Last TV season I created something of a niche here on Mbird with commentary on NBC’s Parenthood. Although I am excited one of my favorite programs was renewed (after some doubts), I’ve been admittedly uninspired to write on the new season until now. And unlike most posts on current TV programs, this one has no spoiler alert since I don’t give away too much—this is more of a meta-analysis on why I think the show has such a devoted almost cult-like following. Basically, I want you to watch it if you aren’t, and if you’re obsessed like me, perhaps these words might help you see why you enjoy it so much.
Generally speaking I like Parenthood because for my money it is one of the most realistic shows out there. But I’ve also heard it said that this realism causes many not to like the show. They’d rather escape than be reminded of their reality. That’s too bad since my wife and I find a weekly dose of tear-jerking catharsis with Parenthood. The show understands us. In other words, Parenthood, like a lot of good art, is with us and not about us. What I mean is, Parenthood doesn’t so much have a message or moral but it empathizes. In order to accomplish such with-ness, the show’s creator Jason Katims (of Friday Night Lights fame) and his writers have got to be very self-aware folks. They probably get us because they truly understand themselves.
As I said, previous seasons have been more powerful, but this one is heating up. So far, the subplot I can relate to most is Crosby’s. He is the father of a newborn daughter, and the experience is not all gumdrops and lollipops but mostly a cacophonous, sleep-deprived struggle. As he tells his brother Adam,
She’s ruining me. Do you understand that? I am half the person I was three days ago.
I can relate. I appreciate Crosby and his plight more than I do those people and shows and films that want to tell us that we should love every minute of being a parent. Let’s be real. Parenting is basically impossible. It is a learn-on-the-job-throw-you-in-at-the-deep-end-poop-cleaning-daily-crying-battle-of-wills. Still, people around us—folks who are often parents themselves—seem to be always either approving or disapproving of our parenting. Such people are about you but not with you, which is why a scene like this one (mandatory viewing) is so worthy.
But maybe you’re not the father of a newborn. Maybe instead you’re contemplating the “third act” of your life, post-retirement with a long-ago emptied nest. Maybe you are the parent of an adult child who’s getting married, which is surfacing oh so many conflicting emotions. Maybe you and your spouse just adopted a child, but you’re having feelings for another person. Maybe you have an adolescent with Aspergers and you or your spouse just survived cancer and one of you is running for political office. Maybe you’re struggling to run a family business in an industry that is rapidly changing. Maybe your ex-girlfirend’s nephew keeps hanging around, which is a constant reminder of your failed romance. Maybe you don’t have the affection for your newborn that you believe you ought. Maybe you were a successful lawyer but now you’re a stay-at-home mom struggling with your identity.
Maybe you’re none of these things exactly, but somewhere, somehow, Parenthood has plumbed the depths of the struggling American psyche enough that you should get the sense that this show is with you in a way that one wishes more modern shows, commercials, movies, literature, or even communicators/preachers were. This in-touch-ness or with-ness can provide opportunities for catharsis in a rather healing way (i.e., abreaction). You’re not alone. Everyone is actually more like you than you previously thought. In fact, you are understood and accepted.