Television review: An old favorite shines brighter than any new show this season

October 3, 2012 – The new television season is in full swing, and the lineup of shows offered by the networks seems rather dull, doesn’t it?

Maybe it’s just me.

I remember the days when I eagerly anticipated the TV Guide Fall Preview issue just to map out what new shows looked promising. Pretty pathetic, I know, but just the mere thought of something new on the horizon after a summer of baseball games and reruns thrilled me.

I didn’t buy that issue this year, and maybe that’s part of the problem. Thankfully, I have a few old favorites to keep me entertained during the long, cold winter, with “Parenthood” topping that list.

With all of the programming on television claiming to be reality, the NBC fictional drama may be the most authentic of the bunch. It is, after all, a program we can all relate to; even if we don’t have kids, we have/had parents.

Almost on the chopping block the last two seasons, and saved just by the skin of its pearly whites once again, the show is one of my all time favorites, and I knew it from the moment I saw the dragonfly doorknocker on the family’s front door.

Last season, the one-hour drama named for and produced by the same folks that brought us the box office hit from 1989 starring Steve Martin, the show drew a 1.9 in the 18-49 demographic with 5.13 million total viewers. To date this season, it is keeping pace with pretty much the same numbers.

They may seem less than desirable, and I’m sure NBC’s executives want to see these numbers multiply, but when you compare them to other current programs, those numbers aren’t great, but they are not too shabby, either. The days of competition stemming from only three networks, and massive viewing numbers are long gone; every network is affected by the plethora of choices on cable channels and by on demand and DVR technology that let’s us watch when it’s convenient.

Parenthood is so good, in fact, I watch it live, and I rarely do that with any other show. Each Tuesday night I follow the trials and tribulations of the Braverman clan, a large close-knit family with plenty of imperfections, drama, petty fights, envy, and compassion. The ensemble cast must be every director’s dream. Led by the patriarch and matriarch of the clan, perfectly cast with Craig T. Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia, Zeek and Camille Braverman have four grown children and eight grandchildren.

Their adult children, played by Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Dax Shepard and Erika Christensen, are just as delightful as their parents and haven’t ventured far from the home where they grew up. The Braverman grandchildren, played superbly by a talented group of younger actors, shine next to their slightly more experienced elders. Among them, Max Burkholder, who plays the son/grandson with Asperger’s syndrome to rare perfection.

Acting since 2003, the fourteen year old did more voice overs in cartoons than in work in front of the camera, but he’s had no trouble making the adjustment to playing a character with special needs. For his role as Max Braverman, executive producer Jason Katims has Burkholder meet with a behavioral psychologist, and together they look over the script each week and work out those scenes involving the Max character. For special scenes, the show employs a second consultant to ensure accuracy. Burkholder is so authentic, even parents of children with Asperger’s claim he’s dead on. When you realize he was only 10 when he began playing the difficult role, it’s even more amazing.

Young Burkholder isn’t the only character among the younger set that thrives in his role. The wonderful Mae Whitman portrays one of the older Braverman grandchildren, Amber Holt, the recent high school graduate who refused to go to college and almost died in a drug/alcohol induced car accident. Acting since her toddler years, Whitman has grown up in the business and she’s learned her craft well. She began playing the rebel daughter of Sarah Braverman (Lauren Graham), but over the last three years her character has matured into a perfectly flawed young woman, who still has that edge that makes her unique. The scenes played out last season, when she confronts her absentee father (played by John Corbett) are the stuff of Emmy reels.

In a series filled with talented and well-experienced actors, it may be the younger generation who stand out the most in “Parenthood”. Why is wonderful show and its talented cast overlooked each year at Emmy time?