by Meredith O'Brien
I’ve got my fingers crossed. Big time. Why? The new NBC drama Parenthood  which premieres Tuesday March 2. I’m hoping that it’ll do for the TV family drama what Modern Family and The Middle are currently doing for family comedies, elevating the form.
If the pilot episode is any indication, Parenthood will be jam-packed (a bit over-stuffed, to be honest, but that might just be the pilot) with an array of child-rearing issues and a variety of moms including a couple of single moms (one divorced with no job, one never married), a couple of married ones and one wannabe mom with a commitment-phobic boyfriend. The kids give these women a run for their money: There’s a rebellious 16-year-old daughter who smokes and almost gets busted, an angsty 14-year-old boy who misses his unreliable drug-abusing dad and an 8-year-old boy who dresses as a pirate and is freshly diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome.
A large focus of the premiere episode is placed on Sarah Braverman, played by Lauren Graham, who made a name for herself with Gilmore Girls in the role of Lorelai Gilmore. (Lorelai, as you might recall, was a character who grew up in an affluent home yet got pregnant at age 16, refused to marry the baby daddy, ran away to an inn where she made her way up from being a maid to the owner of her own business.) However Graham’s new single mom character has a different backstory, she’s divorced from the drug using musician, has no job, no money, must withstand the criticism of her more successful younger sister and has to move back home with her parents, bringing her teenaged children with her including a daughter who seems to possess a particular talent at getting herself into trouble. Sarah’s life is a mess. So are her kids’ lives. How will she survive living in her parents’ home? Can’t wait to find out.
Sarah’s aforementioned critical younger sister is Julia (Erika Christensen). She’s a hyphenated last name, BlackBerry-obsessed corporate lawyer whose husband Joel feels quite comfortable with being an at-home dad to their young daughter Sydney. As much success as Julia has achieved with her career, she’s jealous of her husband’s bond with Sydney and feels a sadness in her bones every time she’s pushed aside by her daughter who openly prefers his company and his assistance with everything.
Julia reminds me a great deal of the Sarah Walker character from Brothers & Sisters . As that ABC family drama commenced a few years ago, the career-focused Sarah Walker Whedon (played by Rachel Griffiths) also had an at-home dad as a husband and her children resented her long work hours. However that marriage ended in divorce and with Sarah having to readjust her life to accommodate zany work hours with single parenting. When I read that upcoming episodes of Parenthood will feature Julia growing uncomfortable with her husband’s budding friendship  with, according to the web site, “an attractive supermom,” I worried that the show might plod down a predictable path and have Julia “learn” that typical chiding working mom lesson, that the career isn’t everything (a lesson not often taught to male career-oriented characters). A scene when her BlackBerry keeps going off during a family day at an amusement park doesn’t bode well for Julia, but I’m choosing to be optimistic and that the Parenthood writers will be a bit more creative with her character and not have her punished for her ambition. If my optimism is unwarranted, well . . . we can address that in a future column.
There’s also an at-home mom among the Parenthood cast in the form of Kristina Braverman (Monica Potter) who’s married to Sarah and Julia’s older brother Adam. (Peter Krause) She made the opposite choice from Julia in that she put her career on hold in order to raise her 15-year-old daughter and her 8-year-old son whom, she just learned, has Asperger syndrome and has to find another school because his current one doesn’t want him there anymore.
According to previews of the show, NBC says that parenthood is “why some animals eat their young,” “saying exactly the right thing at exactly the wrong time” and “too short.” Well, we’ll see if Parenthood, the TV show, is too short or not once we’re a few episodes into it.
After the March 2 premiere, you can watch the first episode  online at the NBC web site.