By Stacey Harrison
If NBC has a hit on its hands with Parenthood, it’ll certainly have earned it.
The network first attempted to adapt Ron Howard’s 1989 dramedy as a half-hour show back in 1990 — a straight-up adaptation with Ed Begley Jr. in the Steve Martin role. It lasted one season and is memorable now mainly as an early screen credit for Leonardo DiCaprio and David Arquette. Twenty years later, the concept was revived with a new set of characters and situations to explore. Howard was back as executive producer, and the all-star cast included Peter Krause, Craig T. Nelson, Monica Potter, Bonnie Bedelia, Erika Christensen, Dax Shepard, and in a critical role as troubled sister and single mom Sarah, Maura Tierney. The pilot had been completed and sent out to critics for the show’s premiere last fall. Before that could happen, though, Tierney announced that she had to leave the show to fight her newly diagnosed breast cancer. That left the production having to recast the role and shoot a new pilot.
Enter Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls), who joined the cast and has sought to make the role her own, having to answer just as many questions about Tierney as anything else. That should all be over tonight after the pilot premieres. The many plights of the Braverman clan — the pilot alone covers overbearing sports fathers, adult children moving back home, teen rebellion, work/life balance, an autistic child and unexpected paternity — provide plenty of drama that could make it NBC’s first step toward making amends for The Jay Leno Show.
I spoke with Krause and Christensen at a recent press tour to get their thoughts on their characters and why they connected to them.
(To Krause) Your character, Adam Braverman, has a young son with Asperger’s syndrome, which is a form of autism. When you learned that the show’s writer, Jason Katims, also had a son with Asperger’s, did that add pressure on you in your performance?
Krause: No. Jason and I became fast friends. He’s a terrific writer, and I’m honored that he would choose me to portray this character and put that storyline in my hands along with Max Burkholder, who’s a great young actor. I don’t know if you’re a fan of Friday Night Lights [on which Katims was a writer], but Jason, in his work on television, he’s very different from everyone else.
Where did you come in during the casting process?
I was among the first. I knew that there was Maura Tierney, and I heard that Craig T. Nelson might be joining. I made my decision based on the writing and on Tommy Schlamme, who’s an old friend from Sports Night.
Once the cast started lining up, you had to be pretty pleased.
Oh, yeah. It was sort of like Dirty Sexy Money all over again, except this time everyone agrees now what the show should be. On that show, Donald Sutherland, Jill Clayburgh, all the other cast members, Natalie Zea, were great, but the direction of the show wasn’t always clear. But I like working with great actors and great writers.
After some edgier roles in Six Feet Under and Dirty Sexy Money, how is it playing a nice, suburban dad?
It’s great to play him. I love playing a caring, responsible father. I think that’s a great role to play on TV.
(To Erika Christensen) Your character, Julia, is the classic career mom who’s worried she might be neglecting her kids and husband. Were you worried that portrayal could be seen as penalizing women who try to “have it all?”
Christensen: I’m not a feminist. I’m not really worried about it. I consider myself a career woman, but I definitely want a family, so exploring the inherent issues in that is kind of cool for me personally. As far as the character goes, she has her flaws for sure, but that’s what’s great about playing a character is you see her mistakes and you can learn from her mistakes. It’s just one of the things that’s true to life. There are five moms on the show and we’re all very different from each other. I don’t know what people are going to think.
How was it dealing with all the delays in production?
Most of us just felt that, in the bottom of our hearts, this thing was happening, even though it could take forever. And it was frustrating, we want to get started. We were all excited to go. Now we’re here.
Photos: (top) © NBC Universal, Inc. Credit: Art Streiber (Krause, Christensen) Credit: Mitchell Haaseth