Parenthood: What I Think So Far

After the fifth person emailed me and said I HAD to watch this new show on NBC, I finally caved and pulled it up on my laptop.

Episode One: We meet the Braverman family based in the East Bay area- more precisely the Oakland/Berkeley hills- judging by their house and my own familiarity with the area. (You don’t get digs like that in the bay area without some serious cash.) So it’s another series about an affluent white family, with their share of problems.

Whether this is good or meaningless, I can’t say, but I can relate. I grew up in the area, and I know them, and their problems are mine. And in this case, it’s truer and closer to home than I care to admit.

The four adult children- Adam, Sarah, Julia and Crosby- and their families are the center of the series. Sarah, played by Lauren Graham, is an artist and mother of two, divorcing her do-nothing drug-addict husband, and trying to find her footing. She is packing up her home and moving back to her parent’s, at the urging of her brother Adam. Adam is a responsible business man and general nice guy, but he is struggling with coming to terms with a son who is diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in the first episode. Julia is a corporate lawyer and plagued with guilt at not being the mom she feels she should be, but really doesn’t want to give up her career. Her husband stays at home and has the primary relationship with their daughter. Crosby is a layabout youngest brother with commitment issues, and is a walking stereotype.

The pilot was filmed on location in Berkeley, but the remainder of the series will be shot in LA. Which is too bad, but no one asked me- the sunlight in the bay area is undupliacatable. Just my two cents.

Episode one was like a raw flaming arrow through my heart. 38 year old Sarah is forced to move home with her teen children after her marriage to a drug-addict musician goes down in sputtering ashes. She is humiliated, grieving, angry and sad, all while trying to be the best mom she can figure out how to be. The tension with her parents, despite the obvious love between them, is spot-on. Her siblings want her to date, but her one dating adventure crashes goes supernova with her role as a mother when her son walks in on her date. She has to rescue her son from his heartwrenching attempt to get his to father, ending with a tear-jerking scene at a rainy gas-station where she tells him “You deserve a dad who loves you. You do. I may not be enough, but I’m all you’ve got, and I’m not going anywhere.”

Adam and his wife have an 8 year old son who wears a pirate costume everywhere and has trouble in social situations. After a gut-wrenching scene at school where he is trying to cut paper hearts and cannot make the scissors work, he bites a classmate in panic and frustration. He is diagnosed with Aspergers. He is kicked out of his school, and his parents begin trying to figure out how to handle and help him.

I’m less interested in Julia and Crosby’s storylines, for obvious reasons. They both come off as more of facets or stereotypes than full characters- but it’s early still.

After episode 2, I’m a little disappointed in how they are handling the Aspergers- but maybe that’s because they’re parked in my driveway. Nevermind that a child wouldn’t make it to 8 without someone noticing something was wrong and he needed help. I suppose it must happen, but this floors me- especially with affluent, educated and involved parents. The child actor is a little too expressive in his voice, and they are taking the over-the-top method portrayal. The parents are being very melodramatic and treating it like a death sentence, which it undoubtably is not. I am holding out hope this is just character development, and they might move on in a less bombastic way.

{addendum: It’s been pointed out to me by several reputable sources that the parents’ reaction to the Aspergers diagnosis is actually pretty common and normal; it’s my reaction that’s atypical. Very interesting. It also means the show is doing their homework and not just talking to me. Here I was thinking I was normal… }

Sarah is trying to land a job after 15 years out of her field (graphic design) and has to answer questions about what she’s been doing with her life and talent for the last decade and a half. Her work is good, but she doesn’t have a college degree so she can’t get anyone to hire her. Meanwhile, her kids are struggling to assimilate at a new high school and her daughter might have to repeat a grade.

So… I’m willing to hang in there and give it a chance to mellow and mature. Tone down the stereotypes and high-drama. The bones are good. The premise is, um, relatable? Yeah. Ya think?

Now I just want my cut of the writer’s pay because they’ve obviously been mining blogs for material.

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17 thoughts on “Parenthood: What I Think So Far

  1. I haven’t watched tonight’s episode yet, but the autism-as-a-death-sentence is something I’ve come across in real life. Usually (luckily) it’s just a phase some parents go through when first confronted with the diagnosis, and they then move past it to figure out what to do for their kid. It’s definitely something I’ve seen real parents go through, though. I don’t exactly understand it, because I never felt that way myself, but I’ve seen it enough not to doubt its validity.

    I can’t relate to the show nearly as much as you can (obviously), but after a few people mentioned the son getting diagnosed last week I did watch the first episode, and I enjoyed it. Hopefully it continues to be good.

    • Vada, that’s interesting. I guess when Bean was diagnosed, I was so relieved there was an explanation for his behavior and there were people who could help him. It a huge relief.

  2. See, what I find interesting here is that it takes a couple of families to handle a portion of your load even in fiction. You should give yourself a break when you don’t do it perfectly or get exhausted or mourn. You’re doing the real thing.

  3. You do know this is based off of the movie “Parenthood” from 1989? Come on now….”When you’re sliding into home and your stomach starts to groan, diarrhea, diarrhea” In the pilot episode of the show they pretty much outlined the entire movie with some slight twists or role reversals, but the asperger’s was the little blonde son of Steve Martin, Justin. At the end of the movie the great grandmother does an awesome roller coaster analogy that leaves me crying till the movie ends. I don’t know if the show will make it, but I own the movie and watch it repeatedly….it’s a classic!!!

  4. The roller coaster scene at the end of the Parenthood movie is one of the best scenes in all of moviedom- and one I have imagined myself in more times than I can count. It’s been a while since I saw it, and it probably deserves a re-watch.

  5. Some kids wouldn’t make it to 8? Really? I read John Elder Robison’s book (due to you!) and he made it to adulthood before anyone said anything, but you can’t really say his parents were educated or involved. Also, maybe Asberger’s wasn’t really a diagnosis when he was young.

    I haven’t watched the show, maybe I’ll give it a shot. But yeah, multiple families dealing with your stuff, that’s got to be a party to watch. I don’t know how you do it. When things are way too close to home for me, I turn them off. I’m living it, I don’t need to watch it on TV, thank you.

  6. Aspergers wasn’t a diagnosis when John Elder Robison was a kid. I’m sure it still happens, but I hope less and less frequently. Teachers now days are better trained, I think, to notice if a kid can’t cut or write, and referrals to RS are more common. If a kid is struggling to manage scissors in 3rd grade, I hope someone would have noticed by then. Bean’s inability to hold a pencil or cut were two markers that helped him get intervention.

  7. Asperger’s probably won’t be a diagnosis for much longer–and right now it’s probably both under- and over-diagnosed. There’s such a huge range in the degree to which people are affected. I find it very, very easy to imagine a kid making it to eight or 10 or 12 with parents just thinking they’ve got a quirky, difficult or immature kid, and finding the diagnosis devastating because they figured the child was just a late bloomer and would catch up eventually. Haven’t seen the show, though, so I don’t know what over-the-top looks like in this case.

  8. Agreed, Kristine.

    Aspergers is being taken out of the 2012 D.S.M.-V (fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and will likely carry a label now of PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified).

    I don’t know if this is a good or bad thing, but it’s happening. I do know of adults who found solace in the label of Aspergers (JE Robison and Temple Grandin being the most prominent) because they finally had something succinct that described their unique viewpoint and quirks. PDD-NOS is now just part of the larger Autism umbrella (which Aspergers always was too)- only it leaves out a tidy modifier for those effected.

    Perhaps I am the anomaly and the the rule in how I responded to my son’s diagnosis. To me, it was such a huge relief, I never thought to be devastated. And for me, I couldn’t imagine brushing my child’s obvious difficulties aside without seeking help. Perhaps our issues we bigger and less subtle than others’ so it was impossible to gloss over. I don’t know.

    Clearly though, there are parents who’s experiences more closely match those on the show- and my dismissal was premature.

    (p.s. If you have some time, watch Temple Grandin’s TED lectures. Fantastic.)

  9. Tracy,

    I just watched it right now and I can see why people would want you to watch it (but on the other hand..why? You are living that life…). I had a family over for dinner last night who have a child that is (I suspect) BOTH SID and possibly Aspbergers… and they refuse to see it. Well, mom see’s it, dad will not see it. So, I get how some people would move moutians to deny this… but I get it. I also felt that the diagnosis of Gracie was the worst thing ever. I wanted nothing more than to un ring the bell, etc…. I have a feeling that if the show is listening to what parents really felt, then before too long we will see the parents being their child’s biggest cheerleader. For some of us, we have to grieve and get used to the idea of our kid not being all the things we dreamed of, then we move on. You are just super special. 🙂

    I’ll give it a few more episodes. It is fun that it is being shot in the area. They are using a few houses here and in the east bay for exernal shots. I heard they are going to film here a few times a year and do the rest in LA… 🙂

    You are the best. I always love your input on this stuff. What do you think of the Abed charachter in community? He reminds me a lot our cousin with Aspbergers who is 20…. in a Hollywood way….

  10. I didn’t realize it was set in the East Bay until I heard somebody mention Berkeley and my ears perked up. Yep, I’m rather familiar with the area, too, so it makes me sad they aren’t continuing to actually film there. There are a lot of things set on the peninsula so I was excited to see something set in Oakland and Berkeley. And yep, I had the same thoughts about where they must be living. They certainly weren’t living in my area.

    Also? I love Lauren Graham.

  11. I tried to watch this show and lasted about 10 minutes before I was turning the channel. Just not my kind of thing at all.

    Abed (from Community) is totally Aspberger’s.

  12. I know of someone (about 30 now, I’d guess) who made it through college and a mission before being diagnosed with Aspbergers. I really can’t comprehend how this is possible, since I suspected he had Aspbergers within about 10 minutes of meeting him. I later found out that I was correct and that he had only been diagnosed a couple of years previously.

    So crazy/bizarre…

  13. By the end of the 2nd episode, I felt like the parents were starting to come around a little bit, so hopefully bek is right that they will become the child’s cheerleader in future episodes. I love that it takes place in the East Bay but am disappointed they are going to do most of the filming in LA. I had hopes of tracking down Lauren Graham. Love her & Monica Potter so I’ll continue watching for now.

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