Jason Katims' Parenthood (2010-15) proves that the second time can be the charm. After a failed 1990 TV adaptation of the popular 1989 film, Katims arrived with momentum from Friday Night Lights and developed Ron Howard's production into a realistic 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 enjoyed a respectable amount of success during its six-season run before declining popularity led to budget cuts and a shorter final year than originally planned. This also forced later episodes to leave out certain main cast members...but the good news is that Parenthood---and, by extension, the Braverman family---survived these roadblocks and went out with dignity. If nothing else, it proved popular enough to surpass the 100-episode mark and recently began a syndicated run on NickMom. Also, what's a NickMom?
Despite Parenthood's semi-serialized format, the show rarely falls into "appointment television" territory; that's not a jab at the show's reliably strong writing and solid performances, but its decidedly level-headed approach to serious and everyday life events---such as dealing with an autistic child (Max Braverman, played superbly by Max Burkholder), balancing work and family, changing careers, child-rearing and discipline, infidelity, road trips, starting a new school, accidents and injuries, cancer, school dances, date nights, moving, leaving your comfort zone, new babies, weddings, and more---makes it more of an "at-your-own-leisure" series than a candidate for binge-watching. That's not to say that Parenthood is capable of delivering third-act gut punches and surprise twists out of nowhere, and these conflicts and cliffhangers rarely feel soapy or unearned. And though this slight lack of urgency may leave first-time fans less than rabid about watching more than a few episodes back to back, Parenthood feels like the kind of dependable show that will hold up to repeat viewings and possibly get even better the further you look back at it.
As strong as the main cast performances are, several supporting roles anchor sections of Parenthood that may have otherwise fallen into repetition (and, though some feel like stunt casting, these instances are few and far between). Larger recurring roles are filled by the likes of Jason Ritter (Joan of Arcadia), Ray Romano (Everybody Loves Raymond), Tina Lifford (Blood Work), John Corbett (Northern Exposure), Skyler Day (The Adventures of Ociee Nash), and Tyson Ritter (The House Bunny), while short-timers or "very special guests" include familiar faces like William Baldwin (Backdraft), Richard Dreyfuss (Jaws), D. B. Woodside (24), David Denman (The Office), Sonya Walger (Lost), and more. Overall, they blend seamlessly into Parenthood's established world...even while mixing up a few established formulas, which is something of a necessary evil for shows that live beyond three or four seasons. All too often, the "comfort zone" is what ultimately kills long-term interest in just about any drama (or sitcom, for that matter)...or even worse, it leads to characters becoming distorted caricatures of their former selves. Luckily, Parenthood escapes these dangerous traps and has relatively few low points during the bulk of its 103-episode run.
Universal churned out the first five seasons of Parenthood like clockwork every August between 2010 and 2014, which means the simultaneous release of Season 6 and this complete series set has arrived three months early. Oddly enough, only the first three seasons were sent out for review; not surprising, since the extras on the last three are basically nonexistent. But let's look on the bright side: some popular shows don't even get a full run on DVD...so while the lack of a Blu-ray option is disappointing, a few outlets also stream Parenthood in HD if you'd like to go that route. This low-priced 23-disc set collects all six seasons in slimmed-down keepcase packaging, which makes it the more practical option for those who'd like to own the series on disc but haven't fully committed to it yet.
Complete Episode Listing
(Click each "Season" column for episode synopses)
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
As expected, the entire series translates well to DVD with no major problems: episodes are presented in their original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9 displays, with the end result hovering somewhere between original broadcast quality and a higher definition stream. Parenthood definitely employs a natural "slice of life" visual design and color palette, often favoring warmer hues and the somewhat muddy (but still quite watchable) appearance of low-lit indoor scenes. No glaring digital imperfections (edge enhancement, excessive DNR, pixellation, combing, etc.) could be spotted along the way, rounding out the visual presentation quite nicely. Overall, Parenthood remains a good-looking drama and, aside from the lack of a Blu-ray option, I can't imagine many fans complaining about this.
DISCLAIMER: The promotional stills featured on this page are decorative and do not represent the DVD under review.
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. Low frequencies are obviously limited but present on a few occasions. No dropouts, sync issues, or other problems were detected during the sampled episodes. English SDH subtitles are also included for each episode.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The simple menu interfaces provide smooth, trouble-free 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 23-disc set is housed in six multi-hubbed keepcases (as opposed to the slightly bulkier digipak season releases) which are tucked inside a sturdy outer slipcover. Brief episode descriptions and additional content listings are printed inside.
Everything from the previous collections and nothing more. Season 1
includes an Audio Commentary
during the pilot episode, plus a handful of Deleted Scenes
and a Featurette
. Season 2
ups the ante with three Audio Commentaries
("If This Boat Is A Rockin'", "Just Go Home", and "Do Not Sleep with Your Autistic Nephew's Therapist"), a few Deleted Scenes
, and another featurette entitled "From Page to Screen"
. Season 3
offers just two Audio Commentaries
("Remember Me, I'm the One Who Loves You" and "My Brother's Wedding") and a few more Deleted Scenes
After that, it looks like the budget for bonus features got pretty much wiped out, because the only other one we get is Season 6's "Farewell: A Parenthood Retrospective" (divided into "The Braverman Siblings", "On Making Parenthood", and "Reflections on Parenthood" 15 minutes total). The short running time pretty much spells how surface-level this featurette actually is, but we do get a few interesting comments from Jason Katims and select members of the cast and crew. Still, it feels more promotional than anything else, and a relatively popular six-season series deserved better than this. As with previous releases, all of these bonus features include optional English subtitles.
Parenthood lasted six seasons for obvious reasons: it's a reliably well-written show with solid performances, strong chemistry between cast members, and the good sense to treat most of its serious issues in a mature, reasoned manner. The show's early handicaps were overcome in relatively short order and, with the addition of a few new characters during its last few seasons, things were periodically shaken up before the formula got too stale. Universal's new boxed set collects the entire series in slimmed-down keepcase packaging...but it offers nothing new beyond the individual season sets (aside from a lower price), so it's only recommended for fans who want to own Parenthood on disc but haven't committed to it yet. A/V quality is on par with most modern DVD releases, but the bonus features remain a little disappointing (especially for the last three seasons). New and casual fans should probably just stream it instead, but this affordable boxed set is still worth a look to all interested parties. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, hanging out with his amazing wife, and writing in third person.