Parenthood Review: "Family Portrait" (Episode 4.01)

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<i>Parenthood</i> Review: "Family Portrait" (Episode 4.01)

Parenthood is entering its fourth season, but it has been overshadowed by the similarly themed, Emmy-winning Modern Family. Of course the latter deserves all of recognition it gets, but the Jason Katims-created drama deserves some praise too.

In all fairness, I wrote off the family drama until this summer when I blazed through all three seasons. I learned two things about Parenthood. First: it is a well-written show with thoughtful and carefully constructed characters. Second: it has an unbelievably killer soundtrack.

The show thrives on its willingness to not shy away from the tough moments to depict. Usually the cringe-worthy scenes revolve around Adam’s (Peter Krause) family. Over the course of the show Max’s (Max Burkholder) Asperger’s syndrome has been a source of many storylines, and here it continues to drive scenes. I was pleased to see the writers not shy away from how difficult it is to have a child with Asperger’s, but it’s also great to see that it hasn’t become a repetitive story and it grows organically.

Sarah’s (Lauren Graham) relationship with Mark (Jason Ritter, who was nominated for an Emmy nomination as a guest actor) has blossomed, but it continues to be her search for a steady income that is the emotional core of her as a character. Graham, no stranger to fast-paced, heartfelt dialogue, continues to be one of the strongest characters on the show. Pinning her against veteran actor Ray Romano, who signed on in a multi-episode arc, proves Graham can hold her own. Romano didn’t steal any scenes, but he also didn’t stink them up. Sometimes it’s better for a guest actor to play second fiddle and bring out the best in a regular character, and I look forward to seeing more of him.

On the other end of the spectrum is Erika Christensen’s Julia. While the character is meant to be difficult to like, that doesn’t mean she needs to come off cold. It’s not for lack of trying as she did come out of her shell last season, but I instantly felt the stillness in her performance as she dealt with her newly adopted son, Victor.

Because “Family Portrait” is the first episode of a new season the writers try to give every character a warm welcoming, some stronger than others. Crosby (Dax Shepard) gets a one of the previously mentioned tough moments as he and Jasmine (Joy Bryant) need to decide how they want religion to play a role in Jabbar’s life. It hasn’t been dealt with much, but it did provide one of those scenes filled with subtle moments that are so difficult to portray on screen.

Overall all of the characters and storylines were a pleasant welcome back. The addition of Ray Ramano in a guest starring role was a nice wrinkle. It will be interesting to see what they do with his arc.

Parenthood put forth a great jumping-off point this season. It’s one of those turning points in a series’ run. There is a lot of struggling to move on as well as dealing with fitting in. The first three seasons set a good standard and grew stronger every year. While I still find this show incredibly fun to watch, I have a hunch this might be the first stagnant season.