NBC gave “Parenthood” season two a jump on premiere week by debuting it after the first half of the “America’s Got Talent” finale. My quick review of the proceedings coming up just as soon as I build you a desk…
Because “Parenthood” has such a big cast and whips back and forth between comedy and drama, there are times when it feels the show is sliding out of control. The first half of “I Hear You, I See You” felt like one of those times, with most of the stories – Adam getting pressure from his caricatured playboy boss(*) to not spend so much time on his family, Zeek stubbornly making the roof worse in the process of fixing it, Kristina not letting Haddie learn to drive, etc. – feeling broad and loud and obvious. It felt very much like NBC gave Jason Katims a whole lot of notes during the hiatus: “We want lighter! Breezier! More relatable! Stop bumming people out! Go watch the movie again, okay?”
(*) Played by William Baldwin, in both a “Dirty Sexy Money” reunion with Peter Krause and a bit of a nod to big brother Alec’s gig on “30 Rock.” Now we just need to put Daniel onto “Outsourced” and Stephen onto “Outlaw” and we’re done.
But then sometime around when Max barged into Haddie’s room uninvited, the episode began to rebound. Not only was this a surprisingly rare scene for the siblings together without their parents, but (probably because the source material is so close to home for Katims) Max is the one character on the show who never feels inauthentic, and he kind of pulls everyone toward him. So when Adam, Kristina and Haddie were all raising their voices about the driving lessons and everything was getting silly, Max’s offer to teach them his coping mechanisms helped give it a real level, even as it was a funnier joke than anything else in the scene. Max’s freak-out over Jabar’s change of plans for the sleepover was really well-played by Max Burkholder, and ditto Dax Shepard at showing Crosby really understanding for the first time what his brother’s family is dealing with.
Even when the individual storylines are lax (and none of them really grabbed me tonight), the sweet spot for “Parenthood” is in showing the messy intersections of those stories, both within the individual family units and as they cross. Tonight, Max provided a strong intersection point. Hopefully, the goofiness of the premiere wasn’t a network-mandated makeover but the production team being a little too happy to be back. The latter happens and is easily correctable, but no good usually comes of the former.
What did everybody else think?