Tag Archives: TV

A new generation of family ties

by Ashley Kemper
ArtsPost staff writer

'Parenthood' photo provided by NBC.

There’s something to be said for sticking with your gut when you’ve got a winning formula on your hands. There’s something completely different to be said for stabbing your competition in the gut, stealing his winning formula and running for the hills.

If this spring’s new family drama “Parenthood” (NBC Tuesdays at 10/9c) feels altogether familiar in more than one way, that’s because, well, it is. Inspired directly by Ron Howard’s 1989 movie, “Parenthood” has also drawn heavy comparisons to ABC’s Sunday primetime standby “Brothers and Sisters,” now in it’s fourth season. While the Walker family of California notoriety looks to a sassy Sally Field for its dose of unwanted motherly influence, the new “Parent” on the block is a bull-headed but well-meaning patriarch played by the Coach himself, Craig T. Nelson.

The endearing combination of family togetherness and sibling rivalry that has earned “Brothers” seven Emmy nominations, including one “Best Actress” win for Field, seems to be missing from the new drama, which focuses more on the second generation children than their thirty-something parents. Lauren Graham makes a sudden return to the small screen as Sarah after Maura Tierney, who was originally cast in the slot, pulled herself out of the show to battle breast cancer. Tierney’s unexpected diagnosis caused network execs to pull the show from their fall lineup and re-shoot several episodes with Graham (who enjoyed much better writers in her “Gilmore Girls” days) stepping in place.

Now nine episodes into their opening run, “Parenthood” has already dragged the viewers along through the discovery of a new son, grown daughter Sarah (Graham) moving back in with her parents and fistfuls of teenage angst as three grandchildren enter the high school ring. Often the only saving grace in this show appears in the form of Max (Max Burkholder), one of the youngest members of the Braverman clan who is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in the show’s pilot. Despite the embarrassment of this older sister Haddie (Sarah Ramos) and the chagrin of his parents Adam (Peter Krause) and Kristina (Monica Potter), Max wants nothing more than to wear his pirate costume to school every day and play baseball with his cousin Drew (Miles Heizer) at night. Max’s socially inept nature makes him so refreshingly unaware of his own eccentricities that the rest of his family comes off as flat and guarded.

Another point of frustration in this parenting nightmare is the fact that it’s impossible to keep the relationships straight. While the siblings on  “Brothers and Sisters” have an established rapport with one another that distinguishes them from their spouses, viewers of “Parenthood” need a certified road map to recall whether in fact it’s Adam or Kristina who is related to the clan as well as which interchangeable child belongs to which branch of the family tree.

For all its positive attributes, however, “Brothers and Sisters” still has not reclaimed the holding power it enjoyed three seasons ago. Calista Flockhart, Rachel Griffiths, Matthew Rhys and Dave Annable still bring a believable and enjoyable presence to the show each week as four of the Walker siblings. Though they fight like cats and dogs for forty-five minutes at a time, the family invariably ends up sitting around their mother’s dining room table at the end of the night, sharing a glass of wine from the family vineyard to toast averting another crisis. The first season or two of this robust drama provided the plot twists of a telenovela but delivered them in a polished, witty and (generally) logical way. The latest episodes, however, have shown us a magical cure for cancer, a green card that arrives just in the nick of time and job offer for Senator McCallister (Rob Lowe) just vague enough for writers to give Lowe an easy exit when plans for him to join the cast of “Parks and Recreation” become final.

If all of this heavy drama is weighing viewers down, have no fear: at least there’s one “Modern Family” (ABC, Wednesdays 9/8c) in town. Or, as the show’s tagline says, “one big (straight, gay, multi-cultural, traditional) happy family.” Perhaps hoping to spice up its midweek lineup, ABC has essentially taken “Brothers and Sisters” and broken it down to a snappier, spicier, showier version. Instead of an aloof, gay, lawyer for a brother, we have Cam (Eric Stonestreet), who makes Liberace’s costume designer look reserved. Instead of an upstanding senator for a brother-in-law, we have Phil (Ty Burrell), who has the emotional maturity of a twelve-year-old and recently spent the entire half-hour slot playing with his trendy new iPad.

Standing at the head of this comedy of errors is retiree Jay (Ed O’Neill) who recently married trophy wife Gloria (Sofía Vergara) and took on her chipmunk-cheeked, preteen son as his second shot at being a father.

The thing that makes “Modern Family” a show worth returning to next week is not the star power of O’Neill as was originally anticipated, but the continually surprising and genuinely funny performances of supporting cast members. In a move that’s got even “Glee” starlets thinking twice about pre-written acceptance speeches, the entire cast of “Modern Family” (including O’Neill) has just announced their plans to enter the Emmy race in supporting categories.

The truly ensemble spirit of the show shines through in a way that makes even the most degenerate cousin consider attending his family reunion after all.

The not-so-typical family comedy

By Arrien Davison

ArtsPost Staff Writer

“Modern Family” may seem familiar with its mocumentary structure that mirrors30 Rock” and familiar faces from other family comedies, Ed O’Neill from “Married…with Children.” But this new comedy is in a league of its own. The show is quite complex, the story of one big family with a host of characters. It may seem difficult to follow along with eight main characters, but under the guidance of veteran producers Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd the show flows effortlessly from one funny punch line to the next. Levitan and Lloyd produced comedic hits such as “Wings”, “Frasier” and “Just Shoot Me!” So it’s no surprise that “Modern Family” is a hysterical hit in only its first season.

The show gives viewers a taste of three different types of families. The first is the winter-spring combination played by Ed O’Neill and Sofia Vergara, as Jay and Gloria. O’Neill is best known as Al Bundy, but “Modern Family” viewers will now see him in a new light. He is a sophisticated older gentleman trying to balance being a grandfather and a newlywed to a sultry Latina more than 25 years his junior. In previous roles, Vergara may have been seen as simply the “hot chic,” but this show really puts her comedic timing on display. In every episode it is funny to watch her attempt to turn her older husband into a romantic lover. This household also includes Gloria’s 10-year-old son from a previous marriage, Manny. This child is wise beyond his years and takes the typical awkward, chunky kid to a new plateau.

The second household is that of Jay’s adult daughter and her family. Julie Bowen and Ty Burrell play Claire and Phil. They are the more common television types, suburban parents with three kids. But Claire is not your typical housewife, she is totally in charge. Phil may make the money, but he knows who really wears the pants in the family. He is a complete goofball who is constantly trying to convince everyone, during his talks to the camera, that he is hip and the coolest dad on the block.  But his children are embarrassed by him most of the time.

The third household may be the funniest of them all. It consists of Jay’s son, his partner and their adopted Vietnamese daughter. Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Cameron and Mitchell, are in a constant, laugh-out-loud struggle to fit into straight society. Cameron is a stay at home dad who takes the baby to playgroups and toddler parties and does his best to fit in with the rest of the moms. Mitchell is a strong willed attorney constantly trying to convince his dad, Jay, that his being gay is not an embarrassing factor. The two move beyond the stereotypical gay characters seen on other shows and show what it’s like to be a real family, but with a twist.

“Modern Family” is on the road to becoming a smash hit sitcom because it offers something for every one.

“Modern Family” airs Wednesday’s on ABC at 9 p.m.

‘Caprica’ not your ordinary sci-fi

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

caprica

A scene from "Caprica" of Daniel Graystone and his daughter Zoe. Photo from Syfy.

While fans of the critically acclaimed hit series Battlestar Galactica might be a bit put off at first, the new SyFy series Caprica is a promising insight into the world that started it all.  Despite an unfortunate 9 p.m. time slot on Friday nights and scant promotion leading up to the show’s premiere, Caprica shows significant promise and beautifully melds science fiction with modern day relationships and social issues, grounding the back story for galactic battles and robot armies in a world much like our own.

For some, the idea of creating a sci-fi/fantasy prequel is brand suicide, ruining all that was good about the original work and tainting its memory with unnecessary and migraine-inducing characters (here’s lookin’ at you, Jar Jar).  However, Caprica allows Battlestar producers David Eick and Ronald D. Moore to reimagine the universe in a way that is distinct from, yet as richly layered as, its predecessor.

Set 58 years before the fall of man, the series takes place on the planet Caprica, capital of the 12 human colonies.  In this alternate polytheistic reality, humans worship the ancient Greek gods and those who espouse monotheistic beliefs are considered to be religious radical outcasts.  The plot follows the interconnected storylines of two families, the Adamas and Graystones, in their quest to make peace with the deaths of their loved ones while simultaneously shaping the fate of humanity.  Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz), a smug, computer genius and corporate tycoon skyrocketed to the upper social strata after inventing the holoband, a device that allows people to connect to a virtual reality version of the Internet through life-like avatars.  Joseph Adama (Esai Morales) is a lawyer from the planet Tauron who constantly struggles to reconcile his Caprican life with the traditions of his homeland and his connection to the Tauron mafia, known as the Ha’La’Tha.

The lives of both men are thrown into disarray after Daniel’s daughter, Zoe (Alessandra Torresani), and Adama’s wife and daughter are killed in a terrorist attack.  The attack, executed by Zoe’s boyfriend, was organized by the monotheistic organization Soldiers of the One, to which Zoe also belonged.  Following the suicide bombing, Graystone searches for a way to bring his daughter back and, consequently, save his company from ruin using a free-thinking, self-aware avatar which Zoe created in her own image.  This avatar goes on to become the first Cylon, a race of cybernetic beings that eventually destroys most of humanity in Battlestar Galactica.

This past summer the Sci-Fi channel changd its name to SyFy in an attempt to broaden its audience and steer away from the nerdy, male-centric fan base.  Caprica exemplifies this new brand strategy, contrasting Battlestar’s dark, somber world of space battles and robots with a more vividly colorful human drama.  Caprica clearly focuses on underlying themes more akin to a soap opera than your traditional sci-fi series, emphasizing human relationships and connections.  The show functions more as a drama with sci-fi elements than a clear-cut sci-fi show.  It explores modern themes of racism, terrorism and corruption in a world rife with decadence and excess in the wake of its exponential technological progress.  However, the social commentary can be a bit heavy handed, bordering on moral preaching and blatant cliché.

Although Caprican society is, for the most part, a reflection of modern American society, it distances itself enough from being a mirror image.  Stylistically, it carries an air of nostalgia by mixing 1950s-style fashion with a society much more technologically advanced than our own.  While the mobsters might don their fedoras and drive around in what looks like a 1951 Buick Roadster, their children text each other constantly and use computers that look like nothing more than sheets of paper.

The casting is superb, with Stoltz and Morales giving their best performances as morally conflicted men coming to terms with their grief and the consequences of their actions in the wake of tragedy.  Behind Stoltz’s cool, contemplative demeanor lies a man interrupted by occasional flashes of ruthless arrogance and human frailty.  The chemistry between Stoltz and Paula Malcomson, who plays Graystone’s wife, is palpable, allowing the characters to perfectly complement one another.  While Stoltz may appear more quiet and reserved, Morales shines in the moments where Adama wears his heart on his sleeve, struggling to cope with the longing he feels for his wife and daughter while losing his 11 year-old son to the influences of his Mafioso brother.

In the beginning, Torresani’s portrayal of  Zoe Graystone/Zoe the Cylon paralleled the feel of the pilot episode: drawn out, overdone and exaggerated.  However, as the show approaches its eighth episode, much of the long character development has been replaced with a quicker-paced story arc format.  Torresani, like the screenwriters, has become more comfortable with her character and the flow of the show.

While diehard fans of Battlestar may worry about the focus of Caprica, the prequel remains true to the world it has created while reaching out to a new audience to make a frakking fun time.

Unplanned “Parenthood” could use something extra

By Emma Wojtowicz
ArtsPost Staff Writer

'Parenthood' photo provided by NBC.

NBC’s new drama “Parenthood” premiered and flopped Tuesday night. Created by Ron Howard and based on his hit movie of the same name, “Parenthood” lacks personality and fails to make a good first impression. The show’s concept sounds promising, but the cast lacks chemistry and bores rather than entertains.

“Parenthood” focuses on the Braverman family. Sarah (Lauren Graham, “Gilmore Girls”) leaves her dead-beat husband and moves with her two teen-age children back into her parents’ house. She immerse into the lives of her sibling and their families. Sarah’s sister, Julia (Erika Christensen), a successful lawyer, tries to juggle her career with her family. Sarah’s brother Adam (Peter Krause, “Six Feet Under”) must learn to accept his son’s diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome and the affect it will have on his family. The younger brother, Crosby (Dax Shepard, “Baby Mama”), confronts his commitment issues with his current girlfriend and contemplates his priorities. Zeek (Craig T. Nelson, “Coach”), anchors the family while discovering that he must step back and let his children handle their own families.

The cast of “Parenthood” consists of actors from previously successful TV shows. An actor’s success in a previous show does not guarantee success in future shows. Also, actors run the risk of being typecast; Lauren Graham’s character, Sarah, is too similar to her previous role as Lorelei on “Gilmore Girls.” The first scene of “Parenthood” features Sarah talking a mile-a-minute on the phone; fast-talking was one of Lorelei’s character traits.

The cast’s lack of chemistry is “Parenthood’s” biggest problem. It is difficult to tell who is related to whom and who is married to whom. Viewers should look at www.nbc.com/parenthood to learn the family tree. “Parenthood” pales in comparison to ABC’s family drama “Brothers & Sisters.” ABC’s cast members vary in age and look related – there is no confusion.

The creators try to market “Parenthood” as being relatable to parents, encouraging viewers to comment on the show’s blog and interact with other viewers. Each Braverman sibling is given a parent stereotype – the poor, single mother, the career-focused mother and the overly competitive father. The creators exaggerate the stereotypes and make parents look bad. Sarah’s teen-age daughter is arrested for smoking marijuana and the extent of Sarah’s discipline is telling her she is disappointed and that it will take time for her to regain her mother’s trust.

“Parenthood” claims to be a drama, and features previews that make it look like a comedy. But the show is neither funny nor serious. It is not necessary for television to fall into the comedy or drama category, but it is necessary to emotionally enthrall and entertain the audience.

“Parenthood” is on NBC on Tuesday  at 10 p.m.