Two shows I watch — Scandal and Parenthood — returned from hiatus this week, and I watched them both back-to-back. It was a jarring experience. Scandal is a show that relies on shocking twists and dramatic reveals. (General spoiler warning for anyone not caught up on the current season). The president is having an affair with his campaign manager! The vice president murdered her husband in a rage over his affair with another man! Olivia Pope’s mother is not dead! But she’s actually a terrorist! Fans have come to expect high melodrama from this show. And this week’s episode did not disappoint when it comes to over-the-top surprises.
So it took me a few minutes to settle in and watch the Parenthood episode that awaited me. Here’s what happened on this week’s episode, in actual plot development: Julia’s kids went on their first weekend trip to their dad’s new apartment. Family slacker Crosby asked his dad why he wanted to sell the family home. College stud Drew broke up (sort of?) with his girlfriend, very nicely. And perpetual screw-up Sarah asked her colleague and ex-lover Hank not to edit some photos, and he did it anyway. She was mildly upset, and then he apologized.
Thrilling, edge-of-your-seat action, right?
Parenthood has never been about telling wacky stories or producing shocking twists. It has always been about telling the very basic stories of what average families go through (albeit, more beautiful, financially secure families with impossibly idyllic homes and lots of “first world problems.) It’s a show about how a marriage changes with children, how siblings relate to each other, how parents deal with their children’s growing pains, how grown children relate to their adult parents, or how difficult it can be when a marriage ends. Parenthood’s surprises come not from murderous plots or shocking betrayals, but from just how relatable these characters can be. Their hurts seem like our hurts. Their conversations sound like our conversations. Their celebrations feel like our celebrations. Problems aren’t just solved with a heart-to-heart chat with mom and dad at the end of the day — they reverberate throughout the show and through other characters, and they are given space to breathe. There is plenty of silliness and sometimes downright bizarre choices (the recent plotline of Kristina Braverman running for mayor comes to mind.) But ultimately, Parenthood is a joyous show, because it knows enough about families to capture what is both infuriating and invigorating about them.