The Limits of Parenthood’s Reali-Scapsim

In 2012, former Washington Post Celebritology blogger Jen Chaney coined the phrase ‘reali-scapism*’ to describe NBC’s Parenthood:

But what really, truly, above all else, makes me love “Parenthood” is that it’s a perfect piece of what I’ll call reali-scapism: A television show that tackles subjects many of us confront in our own lives — hectic working-parent schedules, playdate politics, the strain of an unemployed spouse, the frustration of not being able to communicate with an autistic child — and dips all of it in just enough escapism to make it enjoyable to watch.

I’m thinking of her post now in light of this frustrating season of Parenthood, where the writers have tended a lot more to the ‘escapism’ part of the phrase, with mostly negative results.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room, the flummoxing irritant that is Sarah Braverman. Her chronic dilettantism has really taken her to new heights this season. Remember that time she was a playwright (with no experience) who managed to get her play produced by a Broadway suit, nabbing the endearingly awkward English teacher Mark Cyr in the process, before dumping his ass for a grizzled, frog-throated Ray Romano (who, yes, has been doing great work this season). Now she has inexplicably become the landlord of an apartment complex, bewitching the likes of a charming doctor who apparently can only afford to live in said shoddy apartment. Her on-a-whim apprenticeship with photographer Hank Rizzoli  has suddenly yielded her a plum gig as an ad photographer. I mean, really? She’s like your arch-nemesis in high school, smiling her way into things you worked hard for. Who knew it was all so easy?

Then there is the overwhelming power duo that is Kristina and Adam Braverman. After a serious, deeply touching cancer scare last season, Kristina runs for mayor, nearly winning (meaning we reach the heights of implausibility before tumbling back down to Mother Earth). Now the duo is starting a charter school. Doesn’t that take a lot of work and years of planning, fundraising and the like? Nope! Turns out it’s really easy to get approved. All you need is Julia Braverman, some quick fade in shots of Braverman speaking rapid fire legalese,  Zachary Knighton looking really impressed and voila–there you have it, charter school!

Yes I understand that to a certain extent, “Parenthood” has always been slightly unrealistic. But one of the key components of the show, the reason why it is so habitually tear-inducing, is because of its fidelity to some sort of world order we, the viewer, recognize.  We watched Kristina almost die last season and we’ve tracked the near dissolution of Zeke and Camille’s marriage. The latter couple’s happiness now is sweet (too sweet, warns AV Club’s Todd VanDerWerff forebodingly) because we have witnessed their journey.

A lot of the accomplishments this season simply don’t feel earned. I’d like Sarah Braverman to encounter a significant setback—one that doesn’t involve men. I’d like Kristina and Peter to deal with the very real consequences of having a kid with Aspergers, in a way that doesn’t involve them taking up a hopelessly intense and expensive campaign and implausibly succeeding. There are limits to what one white, photogenic couple can do.

Otherwise, the show is just going to increasingly draw my indifference and derision. Which I don’t want. Bravermans forever!

*Not sure how many legs that phrase ever had

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