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Family matters: NBC drama hits stride in fifth season

Fans of Parenthood, a comedy-drama that follows the lives of the Braverman family, breathed a collective sigh of relief in May when NBC announced it would be renewing the show for a fourth season. After a season-three finale that left fans with many unanswered questions about their favorite characters, it wasn’t clear the show would return. The only thing more agonizing for fans than yearning for assurance that the show’s plot would be fulfilled has been waiting for the fourth season’s premiere, which aired Sept. 11.

Since 2010, lovers of the eccentric Bravermans have grown to know the family well. It’s a credit to both the scriptwriters and the actors how intimate the relationship with these fictitious characters feels. Parenthood stands alone among typical relationship-driven dramas in its ability to craft a family dynamic that is almost achingly familiar. While I’m watching Parenthood, it seems I could just as easily be watching my own relatives’ animated interactions. The show doesn’t feel scripted and the humor is never forced. There are no punch lines delivered or one-liners thrown in purely for entertainment’s sake. More often, viewers will chuckle as they think, “My parents act this way all the time!” or “That sounds like something my best friend would say.”

To me, the season four premiere was particularly relevant because of how recently I had encountered many of the issues the Braverman family is facing. In the episode, Haddie (Sarah Ramos) is heading off to college, and the obligation she feels to bond with her family and tie up loose ends before she leaves puts her under immense pressure. Her nerves manifest themselves as ungratefulness, stubbornness and anger. Meanwhile, Haddie’s mom Kristina (Monica Potter) is heartbroken, stressed-out and high-maintenance. Far from being annoyed by the characters, I was sympathetic because I’ve been there. I can also recall with striking clarity feeling cringingly uncomfortable in my own skin and desperate for guidance as I navigated my high school years, exactly as sensitive teenager Drew (Miles Heizer) is attempting to do.

Needless to say, the season premiere did not disappoint. It tactfully addressed such issues as moving away, religion, and adoption, and in a pleasant twist that distinguished it from most shows, all past characterizations remained intact. Watching the episode felt more like coming home again than meeting new friends. Lauren Graham continues to shine as Sarah, the struggling and yet charmingly optimistic single mom to Drew, Adam (Peter Krause) and Kristina, balancing each other perfectly.

My only complaint was the addition of Ray Romano into the cast as photographer Hank Rizzoli, who hires Sarah as his assistant. Throughout the episode, it was impossible to get a grasp on his character, and the issue of a possible Hank/Sarah relationship was tangibly, unsettlingly present. I’m nervous to see how his character develops but still incredibly excited to navigate countless ups and downs with the rest of the Braverman clan this season.

Parenthood airs on NBC Tuesdays at 10 p.m.

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