Nelson as Zeek Braverman, courtesy NBC

A few friends of mine in college left the movie theater after watching “Parenthood” in 1989 knowing the film had made a permanent, gut-wrenching impression on our lives. The film gave us glimpses of what our futures could look like as they unfolded. It filled our veins with an even greater appreciation for the joys and tragedies that would come with adult life, inspired us to be better people, and made us cling ever tighter to the bonds of friendship and family.

As we made our way back to the University of Georgia campus that night, we made vows to each other that we would go on to make a difference in the world and become the best human beings we could make of ourselves. And God forbid, if we ever broke our previous vows to never get married or have kids, we promised each other we would do right by our spouses and our children — just like producer Ron Howard had taught us.

More than 20 years have gone by since that magical cinematic evening, I’m still close to all but one of those friends (where are you, Andy Norman?), and we still sometimes reference Parenthood when we’re talking about our lives.

I didn’t think I’d ever experience anything on a screen like that again. Howard proved me wrong when he decided to take the genius of his film and turn it into a TV show by the same name. “Parenthood“, airing Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. Eastern, is without question the best new show to hit the air the past year. The show is masterful at every level. If you haven’t watched it yet, go on line, watch some back episodes, get caught up, and make an appointment to watch the remaining episodes. If you insist on not being home, set your DVR to record all new episodes. Here’s why you should start this process the moment you finish reading this post (preferably after you leave a comment):

  1. The plots of each episode of Parenthood will take you on an emotional journey. You’ll smile, laugh, shed a tear of happiness, get distraught, feel pangs of depression, then laugh, clap and cry all at the same time.  You’ll deal with the strains of adult children watching their parents age and make big mistakes, parents learning their children have Asperger’s syndrome, and mothers fighting to prevent their daughters from growing up like them. You’ll see all-around good-guy dads lend a hand to their siblings’ fatherless sons, and immature young men learn that they’re fathers and that it’s time to grow up. You’ll see married couples tempted by the passions of forbidden flesh.
  2. The show will entertain you but also help you discover new insights on your life and the challenges you face. It’s a rare day when a show can enlighten and entertain.  (If you watch an episode or two and don’t come away enriched, you might need to be “In Treatment” on HBO.)
  3. The acting is stupendous. NBC somehow managed to assemble a

    A young mom you can't take your eyes off of, courtesy of NBC

    cast of the some of the best TV actors in America — some like Craig T. Nelson are long-time household names.  The rest of the cast is comprised mostly by younger talent from their teens to their forties that each pack a wallop in every scene they perform. The cast includes people like Peter Krause (“Six Feet Under”), Monica Potter (“Boston Legal”), Sarah Ramos (“American Dreams”), Dax Shepard (“Baby Mama”), Joy Bryant (“Antwone Fisher”)  and Lauren Graham (“Gilmore Girls”).

A number of critics have noted that the film “Parenthood” is a classic that gets better as you age. I’ve seen the movie in my 20s, 30s and 40s and have absolutely found that to be true. The more life experience I accumulate, the better I can relate to more characters. I’m certain the same will prove true for “Parenthood” the TV show. I just hope NBC, a network notorious for not supporting great programs, makes the commitment to let the show and me grow old together.

Posted by: lancette1 | May 3, 2010

More amazing ignorance on Amazing Race

Dan and Jordan on the Amazing Race, courtesy of CBS

Brent and Catie finished first in tonight’s penultimate leg of the “Amazing Race“, prompting me to clutch my stomach to keep my dinner down. Catie boasted that making it to the final three proves how intelligent she is. To the contrary, she continues to prove nothing but that she is a truly ignorant, vapid human being.

It was bad enough for me that she was making my fellow Southerners look bad. Tonight gave her the chance to tarnish everyone from the U.S. — adding to the stereotype of “the ugly American” traveling abroad.

She and her boyfriend chided people in China for being too stupid to understand their own language. They never considered that they may be butchering their attempts at saying two or three words and that there was no way their listeners could make it out.

Shockingly, however, Brent and Catie were outdone in their bid for “most ignorant people of the year”. Brothers Dan and Jordan turned in what I hope even they later realize was one of the most degrading performances in Amazing Race history. Frustrated by a Chinese taxi driver’s criminal offense of not learning the brothers’ language, one brother said he wanted to “get violent” because he was so mad. They also complained about countless other people not speaking English.

News flash for backwards Brent and Catie and bimbo brothers Dan and Jordan: the world does not revolve around you, and it is not the obligation of everyone in other countries to learn your language.

I believe one couple on the race spoke at least one other language. Maybe there were others I missed. I’d make a pretty confident bet Brent and Catie have never troubled themselves to learn even restaurant versions of another language. Catie would first need to improve her command of her first:  If she wins a million, I hope she uses some of the funds to pay for English as a Foreign Language classes. If the bimbo brothers win, I hope they use their earnings to hire a translator for a trip allowing them to retrace their Race steps and apologize to everyone they insulted.

I am amazed by the blatant display of small-mindedness that some contestants show on every season of Amazing Race. It’s as if they somehow fail to understand that agreeing to compete in the contest requires a passport. I don’t know how much time lapses between the day they learn they’ve been selected for the race and their departure date but surely it’s enough time to buy a pair of Rosetta Stone packages and at least get the sound of major languages in their ears. Proficiency in foreign languages may not provide safe harbor through all elimination rounds but it can certainly help.

I’ve thought of entering the race many times. I’ve even dreamed that I’ve won it two or three times and lost it once. I’d at least depart with an edge in Spanish-speaking countries as I learned that language a long time ago. I’ve always imagined picking up a second before I departed for the race. I’d also make sure I picked a partner who spoke at least one or two additional languages. Combine the language skills with my athletic ability and street smarts and I just might take home that million dollar prize.

Win or lose, though, I certainly would make a point of behaving the way I did when I lived in Spain and traveled to other countries. That means making an effort to be kind to people, gracious to anyone who helps me, and not showing a national television audience what the backside of an orangutan looks like.

All bubbles, no brains

One of my all-time most disliked teams on “Amazing Race” — Brent and Catie — inched closer to a travesty tonight when they remained in contention for the $1 million prize.  I’m rooting against them because they’re making Southerners look bad. Note to the nation: Despite the inaccurate  stereotype that still exists in some people’s minds, we’re not as empty-headed and prejudiced as the young South Carolina models.

I don’t want to see that kind of ignorance rewarded with a million dollars and a life of ease. No one needs to see any more of the kind of life’s injustices that make it hard to keep trying to do the right things every day.

The duo got on my nerves early when it became clear they could only refer to one of the teams competing against them as “the lesbians” and “the mean lesbians”. I don’t believe they once called that team by their names, Carol and Brandy.

To be clear, Caitlin Upton made it obvious early on in her modeling career that she is no scholar. Her spectacular display of brain cells gone wild has already drawn more 41 million views on a YouTube clip of her Miss Teen USA performance. Even now, she can’t speak for more than a few seconds with out splintering sentences with the word “like”. The looks of abject bewilderment on hers and boyfriend Brent’s faces on each Amazing Race challenge has only enhanced their ranking among brainless reality TV contestants.

Still, it was the constant derogatory references to Carol and Brandy that make them look so bad, even after the models eliminated them using one of the strategies available in the show. (Had they been smarter, they would have eliminated stronger competitors rather than the foes they vanquished, as even another team has mentioned.)

You could argue that Carol and Brandy initiated the bad will when one of them made fun of Catie for her career as an alleged beauty queen. Carol and Brandy thus violated one of my golden rules on how to compete: Never taunt even the most inferior and unqualified of opponents because it may come back to haunt you. Sadly, Carol and Brandy also promptly violated my second rule after they got bounced: Exit with grace when you get embarrassed by losing to a pair of air heads on national television.

Neither offense justifies the small-minded slurs Brent and Catie kept tossing at Carol and Brandy. I realize that injustice is a part of life on planet Earth but I have my fingers crossed that Brent and Catie don’t finish first when the show concludes in May. Vapid people should not be blessed with such good fortune.

Posted by: lancette1 | April 24, 2010

NFL Network and ESPN fumble draft coverage

And the award for worst coverage of the NFL draft goes to … It’s a tie between the NFL Network and ESPN.

As if the police blotter that is the NFL isn’t hard enough to stomach, the networks that cover it also drive me to pop Pepto-Bismol pills. The coverage of the 2010 NFL draft illustrate much of what’s wrong with pigskin coverage.

Start with the networks’ fundamental inability to ask tough questions or make genuinely critical comments in front of sources. Granted the NFL Network is owned by the league but even it should understand that jock-sniffing coverage makes for bad TV. It also induces viewers to change channels.

Not once in the first two days of the draft (at least in the time I watched) did I see it or ESPN put even a fair question, let alone a tough on, to any player, coach or GM.  Every question — if you consider queries that begin with the words “Talk about” to be actual questions — sounded the same: “Talk about how awesome you are and give me an address where I can send you a bouquet of roses.”

How is it possible that 32 teams drafting a total of more than 200 players all made brilliant choices and that every pick is going to wind up in the Hall of Fame? I struggled with statistics in college but that seems so unlikely. ESPN, fared no better than the NFL Network in this regard. Worse, ESPN allegedly employs people from the journalism profession in addition to its horribly prolific use of former athletes who are too close to the league to comment critically — or say anything interesting.

But some talking heads did suggest Florida quarterback Tim Tebow got drafted too high, you say? That’s the exception to the rule for the two networks that comprise the Sycophant Express. It’s also easy for them to make what they consider a strong statement when everyone else is saying the same thing. I personally suspect Tebow will prove the doubters wrong but I hope somebody, after I turned off the TV on day two because I could stomach the coverage no longer, put the question to the Broncos’ leadership: “Why do you not consider giving up three draft picks for Tebow too expensive?”

Meanwhile, I saw Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll on the screen. Not once did someone ask: “You were a failure as coach in the NFL during your previous stints in the league. Part of that involved drafting poorly. What did you learn from those failures that you’re applying to the 2010 draft?”

Or how about this for Texas coach Mack Brown, who sat for a long time on the set of NFL Network:  “Your quarterback Colt McCoy fell a long way in the draft. Do you think that’s because you play in a weak league and he got hurt the one time he played in a really big game?”

The talking heads were so busy heaping praise on the teams and their new players that they didn’t notice, or care, how irritating their performances were. The NFL Network kept Mike Mayock on long after he lost his voice and became a pain on the ears. At ESPN, someone apparently muffled former coach-turned-commentator Jon Gruden. Though his excessive glorification of every player is grating during play-by-play coverage during the season, he at least sometimes speaks his mind.

Maybe he did and I missed it. I was probably in my bathroom looking for the pink stuff in my medicine cabinet.