Each Friday in The Televangelist, Richard Clark examines the met and missed potential of television.
What show should you be watching that you probably aren’t already? NBC’s Parenthood, a dramatically careful and remarkably relevant drama that manages to be touching without feeling forced or manipulative. The obvious selling point is that it provides a gripping storyline that doesn’t feel overly melodramatic, and keeps us watching primarily because the characters are fleshed out and likeable. All of those things are enough to make the show worth watching.
One of the most fascinating things about Parenthood is how it manages to deal respectfully and tactfully with problems that typically remain under the surface. Whether we’re embarrassed or just don’t want to burden others, sometimes we just don’t jump at the chance to talk about what we’re going through with others. This is especially odd considering the huge impact they have on us when we are experiencing them.
In Parenthood, individuals lead very different lives, but they are connected by an intense respect for family – even extended family. It’s in this context of trust that the issues float to the surface – a crucial step in every case, because it’s clear that going through these things alone wasn’t working.
A nod to the fact that no man (or family) is an island is all well and good, but it’s par for the course – the startling development that has me watching every week is the degree to which the show instills in me a deep sense of empathy for its’ characters. When Max, a young child suffering from Asberger Syndrome, experiences a setback, you experience a similar heartbreak as his parents do, because you’ve been there with them for years now along with his slow climb to normalcy. You find yourself aching for Crosby, who wants little more than to provide a normal nuclear family for his son, despite the constant barriers to that goal. A couple wants to have another child, but find themselves unable. Now they are desperate to adopt. All they can do is wait.
Television’s great contribution is the gift of prolonged staring. I know people in situations like these. Some I consider myself to be extremely close with – but I rarely have the occasion to stare into their lives in the way I’m staring into this extended family’s life. This family may not be real, but their problems and experiences are very real. Part of the show’s genius is that they keep everything grounded – instead of swelling music or exaggerated dialogue they let the problems and the fallout speak for themselves. This family gives me a context for practicing empathy – not just for a fake television family, but for families like them in similar situations.