ALBERT HERTER

‘BERKELEY DOESN’T RECOGNIZE ITSELF IN NBC’s “PARENTHOOD”, ‘ in the New York Times. Goofy, retro-Hippie, summer of love, 1968!

In Uncategorized on March 11, 2010 at 01:53

March 10, 2010, 6:27 PM

Berkeley Doesn’t Recognize Itself in NBC’s “Parenthood”

By FRANCES DINKELSPIEL

When Parenthood made its debut on NBC last week, the collective consensus in Berkeley, where the series is set, was that they got it wrong. The show was just not very Berkeley.

Where were the middle-aged women in their loosely-fitting-but-top-quality-Eileen Fisher clothes? Where were the Priuses? (SUV’s seem to be more prevalent.) Why were people drinking at “Berkeley Coffee” instead of Peet’s? And why was Adam, the lead character played by Peter Krause, wearing a coat and tie to his daughter’s music recital? Don’t the show’s writers know that barely anyone in Berkeley dresses up any more?

Sara Bibel, a Berkeley native who writes for Fancast.com, wrote extensively about all the ways the show, focused on the multigenerational Braverman family, the wasn’t Berkeley-like (“hella inaccurate,” in her view):

Berkeley is “a place that delights in non-conformity to the point of self-parody,” wrote Ms. Bibel. “Berkeley’s cultural mythology is as steeped in its past as Faulker’s Yoknapatawpha County, full of grey-haired hippies romanticizing the radicalism of the 1960s. This is who Craig T. Nelson’s Zeek and Bonnie Bedelia’s Camille should be. They ought to be complaining about how Telegraph Avenue died when the chain stores came in, and bemoaning how materialistic and workaholic their children are while sitting in their two million dollar house that they bought for 40 grand in 1970.”

The second episode, “Man versus Possum,” had even fewer scenes shot in Berkeley, but I thought the show came much closer to reflecting the city’s liberal melting-pot-city zeitgeist. There was a brief conflict between working and stay-at-home moms, a character searching for a job on Craigslist, and an acknowledgement that a lot of people smoke dope. But what the show got most right was its depiction of a diverse city.

At first, the second episode seemed to have mostly white characters. An early scene showed the character Sarah, played by Lauren Graham, dropping her kids off at school. (Shot at University High in Los Angeles, which made a bad stand-in for Berkeley High). None of the students in the show resembled actual high school students. The girls were wearing bell-bottom jeans, when tight, straight-legged jeans are the norm, and there were no boys with jeans sagging around their buttocks.

But then the show did start to feel more Berkeley. Diverse characters, like the African-American high school principal, were introduced. There was a Caucasian Buddhist mother who wore worry beads and had an Asian daughter (We don’t know yet if she was adopted from China or Korea). Lauren Graham interviewed for a job in an advertising firm by a very well-dressed Asian-American. (It would have been a little more realistic if he were gay.) And Crosby, played by Dax Shepard, acknowledged his bi-racial son.

The multi-colored cast, fairly unusual for prime time television, does reflect Berkeley’s population. The city has about 102,000 residents, with 59.2 percent identifying as white; 13.6 percent identifying as black; and 16.4 percent identifying as Asian.

Of course, none of this means much if the show doesn’t get better. Much better. The plot lines seem contrived (I mean, really, why would Adam bother to chase a possum with a tennis racket? Why couldn’t it have been a raccoon, which makes much more trouble?) And who can believe that Adam manufactures shoes? A factory in the Bay Area? Ha.

The best scene so far came near the end of the second episode, when the four siblings and their partners stood around smoking a joint. They teased one another, insulted one another, and hugged each other. It was moving and a fair portrait of sibling relationships and of local ways of kicking back and relaxing.

But, as Entertainment Weekly noted, viewership dropped 16 percent from the first episode to the second. At that rate, Hollywood won’t have Berkeley to kick around much longer.

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