NBC's 'Parenthood' isn't great, but it got better

Published: Tuesday, March 2 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

The cast, from left, is Monica Potter, Peter Krause, Sarah Ramos, Dax Shepard, Max Burkholder, Craig T. Nelson, Bonnie Bedelia, Lauren Graham, Miles Heizer, Mae Whitman, Erika Christensen, Savannah Rae and Sam Jaeger.

Art Streiber, NBC Universal, Inc.

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PASADENA, CALIF. — Most of you have no way to verify this, but let me assure you — the version of "Parenthood" that airs Tuesday is much better than the one that was supposed to air last fall.

It's essentially the same episode of this new drama/comedy about an extended family that is based on the 1989 movie of the same title.

But there are two important changes to the premiere of "Parenthood" (9 p.m., NBC/Ch. 5). First, Lauren Graham has replaced Maura Tierney in one of the lead roles.

Second, the tone of the show has been lightened up quite a bit.

And the second has a lot to do with the first.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a huge fan of Tierney. Loved her in "NewsRadio," "ER" and pretty much everything else I've ever seen her in. And I'm hoping she wins her battle with cancer, which forced her to drop out of "Parenthood."

But Graham ("Gilmore Girls") brings a lighter touch to the role of Sarah Braverman, the 40ish single mother of two teenagers who moves in with her parents, Zeke (Craig T. Nelson) and Camille (Bonnie Bedelia).

"I do think the newer version of the show does play lighter," said executive producer Jason Katims ("Friday Night Lights"). "It was a combination of the two things. I think Lauren brings so much to the role. One of the things that she brings is this incredible humor.

"But ... there was also the second chance on doing some other things, as well."

And one thing they did "very purposefully ... was to lighten the tone."

Which is not to say that "Parenthood" is a great show. But it has gone from being DOA to being, well, a show with possibilities.

Like that 1989 movie that starred Steve Martin, nobody is having an easy time of parenting. Sarah's two kids (Mae Whitman and Miles Heizer) are not happy about the move.

And Miles is even less happy when he walks in on his mother and her old boyfriend getting, um, romantic.

Sarah is just one of the Braverman siblings.

Adam (Peter Krause) and his wife, Kristina (Monica Potter), have a precocious teenage daughter (Sarah Ramos) and a son (Max Burkholder) who has a serious problem. So serious that Adam can't acknowledge it.

Julia (Erika Christensen) is a workaholic lawyer who's worried that her young daughter prefers her stay-at-home father (Sam Jaeger).

And Crosby (Dax Shepard), who's suffering from Peter Pan syndrome, can't commit to his current girlfriend and is thrown for a loop when his old girlfriend shows up with his son.

Oh, and dear old dad, Zeek, seems to have a little secret he's been hiding.

While the tone has been lightened, this is still a rather dark show. Those happy little ads NBC has been running throughout the Olympics aren't altogether accurate.

Yes, there's a happy little ending tacked onto the premiere, but it's just some seriously misguided audience manipulation.

There are some good things about this version of "Parenthood," which is the second attempt to turn the movie into a TV show. (The 1990 sitcom failed quickly.) It has a very good cast, and Katims has a great track record.

But he doesn't seem to have quite figured this one out yet.

He seems to be getting there, however. The second episode is better than the first. That's a good sign.

This "Parenthood" might work. At least it has a chance now.

e-mail: pierce@desnews.com

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