The first thing you need to know about Parenthood is that you will cry. You will cry early, you will cry often, and, for some reason, you will love it. The second thing you need to know about Parenthood is that almost nothing happens. (Think Seinfeld, if Seinfeld were a highly dramatic show about an unnaturally close family in California.) For some reason, you will also love this. Fans of Friday Night Lights will recognize the show’s style thanks to shared executive producer Jason Katims—the shaky camera moves that signify realism and the improvised-sounding dialogue that does the same. Even if you’ve never seen Friday Night Lights (go do that), this too you will love.
All this makes it easy to jump right in with an episode well into the series, even if you haven’t spent the last five years of Thursday nights singing along with Bob Dylan to the show’s catchy opening credits.* Specifically, you should start with Episode 5 of Season 3, called “Nora.” And since tonight marks the show’s Season 5 finale, and with a Season 6 renewal uncertain, now is as good a time as ever to get hooked.
The Braverman family is anchored by the family patriarch, Zeek (Craig T. Nelson), and matriarch, Camille (Bonnie Bedelia). But the show’s key dramas revolve around their four children: Adam (Peter Krause), the straight-laced family man; Sarah, the free spirit/single mom (Lauren Graham playing a version of her Gilmore Girls character); Crosby (Dax Shepard), the man-child womanizer; and Julia (Erika Christensen), the high-powered lawyer. What really makes the series, though is their children, particularly Amber (Mae Whitman—yes, her) and Max (Max Burkholder).
At the start of “Nora,” Adam and Crosby have joined forces to open a recording studio, Sarah is dating her son’s teacher, and Julia is trying to adopt her office coffee-cart employee’s unplanned child. (The shaky camera moves and improvised dialogue may signify realism, but the show’s writers don’t let that hem them in.) You’ll get a good sense of the various sibling dynamics watching Crosby and Adam try to sign an artist, Sarah deal with her ex-husband, and Julia bring home her baby mama. As an added bonus, Adam’s wife Kristina (the delightful Monica Potter who should win an award for inducing the most cries) is extremely pregnant.*
But the episode’s highlight is one of the B plots. Max, Adam’s second child—who was diagnosed with autism in the show’s pilot—is sent to detention for hitting his cousin, Crosby’s son, during lunch. Max doesn’t understand what he’s done, and, for reasons that aren’t exactly clear, Kristina asks Amber to sit with him in detention, which gives us one of my favorite Parenthood moments:
In an episode that also features Adam running through the hospital in what he considers “hip” clothing in slo-mo, this is still the best scene, and it captures what you can expect from the show—namely, a family coming together no matter what to create touching moments that will make you want to call your mom and your sister and maybe your uncle, too. Just make sure you have a box of tissues ready.
Correction, April 17, 2014: This post originally misstated the name of the character played by Monica Potter. Her name is Kristina, not Sarah.
Correction April 23, 2014: This post originally misstated that the show’s theme song is a cover of “Forever Young.” It is the version sung by Bob Dylan.