Jason Katims' Parenthood proves that occasionally, the second time's the charm. After a failed 1990 TV adaptation of the previous year's popular film, Katims arrived with momentum from Friday Night Lights and developed Ron Howard's production into a semi-realistic, slice-of-life drama that eased up a little on the comedy. Armed with a strong ensemble cast including Peter Krause (Six Feet Under), Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls), Erika Christensen (Traffic), Bonnie Bedelia (Die Hard), Craig T. Nelson (Coach) and more, the series has enjoyed a steady level of success that's lead to an upcoming fourth season. As expected, this third collection of episodes arrives on DVD just in time for old and new fans to play catch-up, and what they'll find is another satisfying effort that continues the natural evolution of previous years.
As with most ensemble dramas, Parenthood is carried by an abundance of character relationships...and it's their major life events that ultimately drive the show's direction. Season 3 sees a number of changes, including a new business venture between Adam (Krause) and brother Crosby (Dax Shepard), Julia (Christensen) and Joel's (Sam Jaeger) attempts to adopt a child after unexpected health issues, an ongoing relationship between Sarah (Graham) and Mark (Jason Ritter), the struggles of Sarah's daughter Amber (Mae Whitman - her?) as she attempts to live on her own, and much more...even a wedding.
The only downside to Parenthood's massive (and still growing!) cast is that it occasionally spreads itself too thin, yet it often manages to balance its focus quite well. Even Max (Max Burkholder)---who I initially dismissed as "the token Autistic / Asperger kid"---manages to fit in the puzzle more naturally this time around, as he continues to grow and find his place in the family. In this reviewer's opinion, a show's lasting effectiveness rests largely on the strength of its cast (even more so than the actual stories), and you'd be hard-pressed to find a more well-rounded one than Parenthood. The two "leads", for lack of a better term, are perhaps the show's most consistent strengths: Peter Krause does well in his usual role of "generally sane man surrounded by chaos", while Lauren Graham fills a strong role that originally went to Maura Tierney (and Helen Hunt, almost). Further down, there aren't any weak links in the chain.
Universal's four-disc collection of Season Three episodes dials it back a little, unfortunately. Though the technical presentation is as good as ever, this shorter season of only 18 episodes is accompanied by a smaller amount of bonus features. If the content itself wasn't exceptionally durable, I'd imagine more fans would have a hard time shelling out so much money for it. Below is a complete content list with a brief synopsis of each episode, while the technical stuff is further down. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
As expected, the series continues to translate well to DVD with no major problems. The original 1.78:1 aspect ratio has been maintained, and the episodes are enhanced for 16x9 displays. Parenthood definitely employs a natural "slice of life" visual design and palette, often favoring warm colors and the somewhat muddy (but still quite watchable) appearance of low-lit indoor scenes. No authoring errors or digital eyesores could be spotted along the way, rounding out the visual presentation quite nicely.
The audio aims a little lower, but that's to be expected from a relatively action-free drama. Front channel dialogue obviously dominates this Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, though rear channels are used for occasional outdoor ambiance and music cues. Optional English (SDH) subtitles are included for each episode.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen below, the plain-wrap menu designs offer a simple interface and easy navigation. Each episode has been divided into roughly half a dozen chapters, "Play All" options are available and no obvious layer changes were detected during playback. This four-disc set is housed in a multi-hubbed digipak case with a slipcover. Brief episode descriptions and additional content listings are all printed inside.
Not much, but what's here is of good quality. First up are a few Deleted Scenes
present on each disc, including a "Deleted Storyline" on Disc 3 (which is, apparently, a big enough deal to advertise on the front cover). These are of varying interest but all are worth a look; like previous volumes, they're presented in anamorphic widescreen and look quite good. English (SDH) subtitles are included.
Also include is a pair of Audio Commentaries on Disc 4: "Remember Me, I'm the One Who Loves You" features series developer Jason Katims, while the season finale "My Brother's Wedding" pairs up director / producer Lawrence Trilling and actress Mae Whitman (is she funny or something?). These commentaries are frequently enjoyable and informative, but it's a real shame that more of Parenthood's ensemble cast weren't available. No featurette this time around either, yet the unusually high price tag remains.
Parenthood's third season is another step in the right direction, deepening many character relationships and adding several new faces to to an already great cast of characters. Universal's DVD package marks another passable effort...but with less episodes, bonus features and discs than Season 2, the asking price is definitely a little unfair. Either way, it's worth grabbing if you've invested in earlier seasons or want a quick refresher course, though more casual fans should wait for a price drop. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey from Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.