Monday, April 27, 2009

Pilot Script Review - Parenthood

Written By: Jason Katims
Draft Date: January 23, 2009
Pages: 72 (!!)
Network: NBC
Category: Thumbs Up

Not a remake of the shortlived 1990 sitcom based on the 1989 movie, but an hour-long family drama that shares only its title with the 1989 movie (as opposed to all the characters and the family name... though they are similar archetypes, stories, and themes).

The new Parenthood is not set in the suburbs of St. Louis with the Buckman family, but in and around Philadelphia with the Braverman family (all I could think about for days after reading this pilot was the "Reunion" episode of 30 Rock where Jack adopts the identity of one of Liz Lemon's high school classmates, Larry Braverman... best episode of the season by far... I digress...)

This is a difficult script to comment on because, as I said in my review of The Eastmans, family has to play on screen and you can't fully get whether it works or not from the page. Unlike The Eastmans, Parenthood has a whole slew of different places it's coming from and going all at once... perhaps too many. Between sexagenarians Zeek and Camille, their four kids (Sarah, Adam, Julia, Crosby), spouses/paramours (Kristina, Joel, Katie), and the kids' kids (Drew, Amber, Max, Haddie, Sydney) there are, what, 14 main characters to follow (not to mention the supporting, non-family players in each story)? It's a lot. It's a lot of a lot and the script tries to get it all into 72 pages (which, y'know, it very long for an hour-long pilot) and generally succeeds but there were definitely times in the read that I was wondering where the other characters were and what was going on in their storyline that hadn't been visited in some time. Not all of the characters truly get a chance to shine, and the stories approach rote (but with only a few beats per story because of the sheer number of things going on, that's to be expected).

The centerpiece, for me, of the pilot was Adam coming to terms with his son Max's autism (which, I'm now noticing, is another similarity with The Eastmans).

Julia has a plot about trying to balance her home life (husband Joel is a stay-at-home dad) with her career... just as she's being promoted to partner at her law firm. Sarah is a single mother being set up on a date with an old flame, while moving back with her parents as she searches for a job. Crosby has Peter Pan syndrome and is in the process of moving to the next level with his girlfriend when a random hookup shows up on his doorstep... with his 5-year old illegitimate child. Amber hangs out with Haddie and they're busted for possession of pot, Haddie lets Amber take the blame when it was Haddie and her friends' drugs. And I'm sure there's much, much more.

Financially... 14 main characters is a lot and that's going to make Parenthood an expensive investment for NBC. But, including the younger children, there are just as many regular characters on Desperate Housewives and almost as many on Brothers & Sisters, so this isn't exactly unprecedented in today's TV market.

What can I say? I'm a sucker for a good, thoughtful family / relationship drama...

... although I really do wonder if the scene with the four kids lighting a joint up and passing it around as they converse about their lives is going to get past the censors...


Tara said...

I thought some of it was kind of cliched and predictable, but overall, I really loved it. It helps knowing who has been cast in the lead roles because I could totally see Peter Krause, Maura Tierney and Craig T. Nelson in particular saying their character's lines.

For me, the Adam and Sarah characters and their storyline were the strongest and the ones I'm most looking forward to if NBC picks it up - which they'd be insane not to. Thanks for the review, it was a good read!

Douglas said...

They're filming in Sausalito right now, though we have an unseasonable weekend of rain which is probably not in the script. One of the NBC producers onsite just tragically collapsed and died a few days ago in a basketball game near the set, which may set things back some and change the emotional timbre of the cast. But what a cast!
Check the Marin IJ newspaper website for their reporting on the producer, who was a surprisingly young woman for this untimely fate.