Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Envelope: Parenthood

Ballots to nominate TV shows for Emmy awards were apparently mailed yesterday. Of course, Tim and I don’t work in television and so don’t get to vote. But we do have strong opinions about our favorite TV shows.

One such show is Parenthood, the terrific new series on NBC. Based loosely on the 1989 movie of the same name, Parenthood is about the Bravermans, a fictional yet realistic contemporary family grappling with many of today’s societal issues--impending bankruptcy, parental infidelity, interracial relationships, teenage sexuality, autism--but without the melodrama of other family-oriented shows like, say, Brothers and Sisters. The acting is superb and the writing truly topnotch. There’s not enough action to hold Tim’s attention, but I love the show--especially the characters, who really resonate with me even though we (thank goodness!) don’t have to deal with the same problems they deal with every week.

To highlight superior but less popular shows that might otherwise be ignored by Emmy voters, the L.A. Times conducts a “Primetime Emmy Envelope Screening Series” every year at a local theater. The format is similar to the annual Paley Festival, which we religiously attend: an episode of a particular TV show is screened, followed by Q&A with that show’s creative team (e.g., actors, producers, writers, directors, etc.). Unlike the Paley, however, the L.A. Times events are free, though it’s fairly obvious the series is primarily meant to promote The Envelope, the ads-heavy insert published by the Times only during Emmy and Oscar seasons.

I saw the blurb announcing this year’s Envelope series in the paper last week. Three of our shows--Parenthood, Sons of Anarchy, and Justified--were featured, so I quickly signed us up. I received an email yesterday reminding me that Parenthood was being screened last night. According to the email, guild members (i.e., Emmy voters) would be seated first. If seats remained, then non-guild members would be admitted. The theater was in Hollywood--quite a schlep from Culver City on a weekday evening, during rush hour no less! Still, I decided it was worth the effort. I left the house at 5:15PM for a 7:30PM screening.

I arrived at the theater a little after 6PM. There was a line, but nothing too onerous. I checked in at the promotions table and was told all non-guild people would be admitted in a while. After only a couple of minutes, the line started to move. I was inside the theater by 6:30PM. Apparently not many guild members had registered--a shame, because Parenthood really does deserve to be nominated for several Emmys.

The final episode of the season was screened at 7:30PM. It was one of the show’s better episodes, so I hoped the guild voters took note. The producer, Jason Katims, and four cast members--Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Monica Potter, and Erika Christensen--then appeared. The moderator, L.A. Times TV critic Mary McNamara, asked how the show was developed and whether any of the actors had families similar to the Bravermans. Krause said he does--that’s why he now lives in L.A., where he can forge his own identity. Christensen and Graham spoke with obvious affection for their characters and Potter insisted she just recites her lines, though we probably all suspected that isn’t true. Both Katims and Potter shared the pain of shooting the scenes about her TV son Max’s autism and alluded to the fact that Katims has a family member with Asperger Syndrome. McNamara asked Christensen if she swims--an important plot point in one of the more interesting episodes--she does not. Katims then talked briefly about the writing process. Apparently the scripts are rather organic, based a lot on each actor’s skills and inner voice. All the panelists were intelligent and passionate about the show--well worth the schlep to Hollywood on a Tuesday night.

Stay tuned for Sons of Anarchy and Justified next week . . .

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