The latest “Parenthood” marks NBC’s second stab at adapting that title (an earlier 1990 version aired — briefly — a year after the original movie), and it’s a credible dramedy with the misfortune of arriving after the similar — and better — “Modern Family.” A little muddled initially by its deluge of characters, the pilot settles down and locates welcome moments of humanity. That said, the whole ultimately feels like less than the sum of its parts, and the series likely will need a big assist from the Olympics to stick the landing as NBC seeks to rebuild its 10 o’clock hour.
The show boils down to an extended family, with the action marginally set in motion by the return of Sarah (“Gilmore Girls’?” Lauren Graham, a last-minute replacement for Maura Tierney), a single mother who moves from Fresno back to Berkeley to be closer to her family and escape a feckless husband.
Sarah is one of four grown siblings, part of a brood headed by rambunctious father Zeek (Craig T. Nelson). The most interesting thread involves her oldest brother, Adam (Peter Krause), who is dealing with the pain that his kid might not be merely eccentric but rather afflicted by Asperger’s syndrome.
“Please don’t make me be alone with this,” Adam’s wife, Kristina (Monica Potter), says of the problem — one of several unerring, resonant lines found in Jason Katims’ script.
Frankly, “Parenthood” might be stronger if the Braverman brood were less far-flung, and the series becomes less interesting when the focus shifts to sister Julia (Erika Christensen) — a corporate attorney with a stay-at-home husband — and brother Crosby (Dax Shepard), whose commitment-phobic ways are abruptly thrown for a loop.
All those plot threads could be beneficial in sustaining the series on a serialized basis, but “Parenthood’s” multifaceted vision of family risks feeling too precious in places — as if every permutation on domestic bliss must be used as fodder. That worked well enough in the movie, but the template risks becoming “Brothers and Sisters Lite” (which is already pretty lite, come to think of it) delivered on an episodic basis.
Katims has worked magic with “Friday Night Lights,” and some of the family drama here is certainly promising. Castwise, moreover, the bench is impressively deep.
Taken together, those elements make for a solid-enough show, but coming out of the Jay Leno experiment, NBC could use a rainmaker right now. “Parenthood” doesn’t feel like the kind of thing destined to rattle the rafters, but if you wind up in its neighborhood, it has the makings of a reasonably pleasant place to visit.