*EDITOR’S NOTE: This post has been imported from my Tumblr page, where it originally appeared.*
The Internet is littered with articles that proclaim the best show on TV that you’re not watching. But that these shows are not being watched has become an inevitable way of life. Between networks and cable, between Netflix and Hulu, there are just way too many viewing options. And every season, good quality shows slip through the cracks, leading people to wonder how something so great can go largely unnoticed and unappreciated, while Two and a Half Men remains on the air for 12 years and averages 14 million viewers.
I’ve definitely done my fair share of championing what I felt to be underrated shows in the eyes of the viewing public. The biggest example that comes to mind is Friday Night Lights, which I still believe is the best network TV show of the last decade. It was lauded by a majority of critics, and the final season scored major Emmy wins for the lead actor, Kyle Chandler, and for writing by the head writer and showrunner, Jason Katims. However, its perpetual “on the bubble” status carried it to a brief (by network standards) 76-episode run. Its availability on Netflix and other streaming sites has only helped its cult status and appreciation grow after going off the air, but for loyal viewers like myself who watched every episode on the air, it was too little too late.
Nevertheless, I was all too happy to follow Katims to his new NBC show, Parenthood. I had thought that the series started out well enough. It borrowed FNL’s loose filming structure: Instead of setting precise movements, the camera follows the action of the actors, who are given liberty to move around as they choose, as well as play with some of the script lines. This lends to a more natural feel; the characters talk like how one would expect them to talk in real life, often times talking over one another. The storylines in the first season were pretty average, ranging from the expected teen dating drama to the “career vs. motherhood” struggle. One storyline was the exception, however, when in the first episode, one of the young children, 10-year-old Max, is diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. This story became the emotional anchor for the 13-episode first season, but as the series continued, and all of the characters became more grounded, its emotional core spread throughout the whole of the show. And through its five seasons on the air, I would come to realize that Parenthood, like FNL before it, is one of the best-written shows on TV today. Some stories can often seem melodramatic on paper, whether its Joel and Julia adopting a young boy from a troubled background, or Kristina going through treatment for breast cancer, or even teenage abortion, but every situation is handled with such grace and complimented by understated performances that they never feel bloated. It’s the opposite: the comedic parts are joyous, and the sadder moments are tender, hitting you right in the heart to the point that every episode, whether happy or sad, has the potential to be a tear-jerker.
No more is this the case than with the most recent episode, “The Offer”, an episode I dare say belongs in the top three of the series and had me desperately fighting back tears. The main culprit for my emotion was the story for Max, who was set to go on a school field trip and decided that he didn’t want his mom, Kristina, to chaperone. Kristina was concerned, of course, but her husband Adam convinced her it was a good idea to let him have the teenage independence he seemed to be seeking. However, later that night, they receive a phone call from the teacher who asks them to pick up Max after he had a violent tantrum in the hotel lobby and is being uncooperative. When they arrive, the teacher tells Adam that he thinks it’s the result of bullying from the other kids. Throughout the series, we’ve seen Max appear stoic regarding the laughing and teasing from kids at his school, but during the car ride home, we see for the first time how much his condition has really affected him. To see Adam and Kristina so helpless, it’s almost impossible for the viewer to not get emotional.
Then, in the episode’s last act, we see Drew, who has been staying with his sister Amber in order to avoid his on-again, off-again “hookup” partner Natalie. Drew has been writing a song presumably dealing with his feelings for Natalie, but has been embarrassed to perform it in front of Amber, until she finally convinces him to do it, even offering her singing support. Drew and Amber have an amazing sibling rapport in this series, and it shines through this beautiful performance. Combined with the Max scene from minutes earlier, I became an emotional wreck.
Admittedly, even though the previous seasons are available on Netflix, I don’t expect Parenthood to be one of the shows that finds its audience late in its run. With the surging popularity of shows like The Blacklist, House of Cards, and Scandal, shows that more and more feature antiheroes and nonstop thrills, I feel like the family drama is almost a niche genre at this point. I think that it will remain low-key throughout its run, however long that may be. NBC has begun picking up renewals for a number of their shows, but Parenthood has yet to make the grade. I’m struggling with how okay I am with that. Parenthood will have aired 90 episodes by season’s end, which is a great stretch by all means. But if it continues to put out episodes like this last one, then I don’t think I’ll be ready to say goodbye just yet.