Syndi Shumer: New Approaches in, um, PARENTHOOD

haddieby Syndi Shumer

I’ve always been a sucker for a music montage, particularly when it settles in at the end of an episode, wrapping up the events of the hour like a sort of warm, cathartic blanket.

In the PARENTHOOD season finale, a cover of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin” provided the soundtrack that took us to the end of season five, a season that has left many of the Braverman clan hanging on the precipice of change, and we, the viewers, cliff-hanging right alongside them.

Will there be a season six? The jury is still out, but I, for one, will be very disappointed if we don’t get a solid resolution to the limbo that we’ve been left in concerning the relationship between Joel and Julia…my favorite couple… the series’ former “rock” of a pair…

Ok, ok, I digress. While I clearly didn’t love the often seemingly out-of-character roller coaster ride of this season’s “Joelia” storyline, there is one thing that I do love about this series overall, and that is its willingness to approach situations from new angles. So that’s what I’ll focus on here. (Joel and Julia, you’ll just have to wait for another post all of your own.)

Autism, for instance, is a condition that viewers have grown used to seeing, as the show has been effectively exploring this subject over the past five seasons through the character of school-aged Max Braverman (Max Burkholder), diagnosed early on with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism.

However, this season the writers put a fresh spin on the subject through the role of “Hank” (recurring guest star Ray Romano), a man in his forties who is just now for the first time coming to terms with the fact that he, too, may have Asperger’s. Watching late-bloomer Hank grapple with self-realizations about his own long-standing behaviors and personal challenges, has added new dimension to his character while lending a whole new outlook on the condition itself.

I can’t help but root for him. While it’s too early to know whether or not his challenges will hinder his ability to make a relationship work with Sarah (Lauren Graham), this fresh approach by the writers certainly keeps me wanting to find out what’s going to happen next.

Another issue being explored from an angle that’s different than the “norm” is the definition of what it means to grow older. Traditionally on family-centered shows, too often the patriarch and/or matriarch characters seem to be relegated to minimal roles, portrayed as being more a means of support for their adult offspring and grandkids rather than as exciting individuals in their own right.

But in this series, both parenthood and personhood are valued and celebrated, regardless of whether or not such characters are the parents of infants or of thirty-somethings. From the beginning of the series, Camille (Bonnie Bedelia) and Zeek (Craig T. Nelson), the matriarch and patriarch of the Braverman clan (characters who, I’m guessing, are both in their sixties), have dealt with their own challenging circumstances: spousal infidelity, the need for independence, and the weighty consequences of clinging to tradition vs. breaking free from it.

Prompted by free-spirited Camille’s desire to live out their golden years in a manner which would afford them the ability to travel and explore their personal interests, she and Zeek make the tough decision to sell the house they had called home for over thirty years and raised their four children in.

I love that Camille isn’t comfortable with the idea of becoming a complacent housewife as she ages — she wants to thrive! And I love that Zeek, a character very rooted in tradition, took it upon himself to dig down deep and find the means within to meet her on this. I look forward to discovering how the brand new life of this gently time-worn couple will unfold and take shape.

Finally, the show has just embarked on a storyline involving homosexuality; not a new subject for a television series to tackle by any means, but the lens through which it’s being approached here is refreshing. When Haddie Braverman (Sarah Ramos) returns home from college for the summer with her new “best friend” Lauren in tow, she briefly wrestles with how to tell her parents that Lauren is more than just her friend, even though she does trust that they will be supportive.

I’ve personally never seen the subject of homosexuality introduced in a family series while being presented as acceptable from the get-go. There are no worries about disappointed parents, no dark internal struggles, no hard-won battles. It’s just simply a matter of how to say it for the first time; other than that, it’s a non-issue. And it’s a wonderful thing to witness.

In fact, all of these fresh approaches are wonderful to see. Why? It’s not simply because the show’s writers are coming up with newly interesting ways of exploring topics and characters, but because, with these examples, those who have been traditionally positioned in society as outcasts for being “different” (the mentally ill, the aging, the gay/lesbian) are here, at last, being presented in ways which show off their sameness.

These characters and their situations are not shunned, they’re celebrated with normalcy. Hank gets the girl. Camille and Zeek embark on a new, exciting life. Haddie is accepted without question. In many ways, these thoughtful new approaches are a reflection of the times. And thankfully, indeed they are a-changin’.


SV series

The Good:

  • I’m thinking, I’m thinking….

The Not-So-Good:

  • The writing, acting, and general production values here are so atrocious that this series should simply be called SILLY VALLEY. Although, come to think of it, that would insult genuinely wonderfully silly people everywhere.


My inner nerd really wanted to like this. Or to at least hate the show so much that it could “love” it with a gleeful sneer. But, um, no way. SILICON VALLEY just takes all the classic (as in cliche-ed) smart tropes and makes them dumb, dumb dumb. It amazes my how a new show could present us with material that’s so damn old.

The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (Part One)

One of our favorite sites is Stephen Bowie’s Classic TV History Blog. We like it so much that the only reason we aren’t constantly posting its articles here on TVWriter™ is that, well, erm, Stephen doesn’t want us to. So now it’s our job to get as many of you as possible to go over there and slurp up the savory goodness that is his writing-reporting. If you love “old” TV shows, this short sample should send you to heaven!

dobietitleby Stephen Bowie

Rescued from obscurity last year with an essential complete-series DVD release,The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis remains one of the most distinctive and intelligent American situation comedies.  Conceived and successfully marketed as a youth-oriented enterprise – the everyday life of the ordinary teenager – Dobie expanded its vision, as all great television does, to articulate an overarching point of view on existence itself – a wry, wise one, with a strong undercurrent of melancholy.  Verbally witty and tonally unpredictable, it was probably the most sophisticated sitcom to debut before The Dick Van Dyke Show – although its sharp edges and complicated relationship with realism (and reality) make Dobie Gillis more relevant as a precursor to the spirited insanity of Green Acres.

Dobie Gillis was one of the earliest television comedies to embody the unmistakable voice of a single, brilliant writer – from the fifties, only Nat Hiken’s The Phil Silvers Show and arguably David Swift’s Mister Peepers come to mind as fellow members of that fraternity.  Though he had successes on Broadway (The Tender Trap) and in films (adaptations of The Affairs of Dobie Gillis in 1953, with Bobby Van in the title role, and his novel Rally Round the Flag, Boys! in 1958), Max Shulman began as a prose writer who took on college life in his first book (Barefoot Boy With Cheek, 1943) and introduced the character of Dobie in a series of short stories.  Although the unity of tone in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis is self-evident, Shulman asserted his control over the television series in no uncertain terms: “In Dobie Gillis, every script in the end went through my typewriter, sometimes for minor changes, sometimes for major ones.  Out of 39 or so episodes, I’d write maybe 10 – anywhere from 6 to 12 – but I would polish or tinker with every one of them, because I wanted to keep the same tone.”

A TV pilot script for Dobie had been around for a couple of years before it coalesced at Twentieth Century-Fox in 1958, when Martin Manulis (the legendaryPlayhouse 90 producer) became the studio’s new head of television production and revived it from the dead.  Although Manulis quit after less than a year in the job, before the series debuted, his production company’s logo appeared at the end ofDobie Gillis for all of its one hundred and forty-seven episodes.  The Dobie series was also an early agency package, from General Artists Corporation (GAC), the forerunner of ICM.  A “package” was a situation where the key talents, usually all clients of the agency in question, were assembled by the agency and presented as a bundle to the buyer.  It was probably GAC that put Shulman together with his key collaborator, producer-director Rod Amateau.

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Yes, it’s true. On the whole, we at TVWriter™ aren’t fans of BROOKLYN NINE-NINE. We find it, well, fatuous would be the best word. Overly simplistic, unrealistic, dumb. So when we saw this oh-so-positive review we had to read it and emerged with a new understanding of the ways of the world – cuz writer Jen Krueger, who’s a fave of ours, actually loves B99 for exactly the reasons we loathe it.

Oh, God, our head is exploding –

by Jen Krueger

pam_beesleyOn the list of things I originally expected from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, emotional resonance isn’t to be found. With a former Saturday Night Live cast member as the lead, I figured the show would be goofy (in a good way) and peppered with cameos from comedians.

While these expectations were met early in the first season, the thing I’ve come to like most about the show is the slowly developing romantic storyline between Jake (Andy Samberg) and Amy (Melissa Fumero).

But as much as I’ve enjoyed the pining these characters both think is unrequited, I keep reminding myself not to get my hopes up too much about the future of this storyline since sitcom love rarely flourishes in an enjoyable way.

I’m not sure there’s a single narrative show on TV that doesn’t have at least one romantic storyline, but very few half-hour comedies seem comfortable letting their characters actually get together. The Office was getting so much mileage out of Jim and Pam wanting each other but not being together that even after Jim put his cards on the table in “Casino Night” (sorry, couldn’t resist), the show kept inventing reasons to keep them apart.

And though I’m about as big of a fan as you can find of the slow burn approach to the development of relationships in TV, I hate it when the hurdles a couple must leap feel like they’ve been put there just for the sake of adding more hurdles. Jim transferring to Stamford smacked of artificially inserted conflict, and I never bought that he’d bother keeping up a relationship with Karen after returning to Scranton and finding Pam single. And since it was inevitable that Jim and Pam would get together in the end, it drove me nuts that the show was delaying the one thing I so badly wanted to see.

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Nothing revolutionary about AMC’s ‘Turn’

We’re getting into mainstream TV reviews this week. Not sure why. Maybe it’s just fun homing in on local newspapers and seeing how their tastes in TV roll. So far we’ve been mightily impressed by the areas of agreement that we’re finding with what we read in print – way more than we’ve ever found with online critiques. What about you?

Not a zombie series – it just looks that way!

by Matthew Gilbert


It’s not easy to put together a decent TV series that’s also a period piece. The old-fashioned costumes, the dated manners and ye olde language, the elaborate set design — they’re all extra difficulties on top of the usual TV challenges, most notably the holy-grail challenge of finding good writing.

So “Turn,” AMC’s new 1778-set Revolutionary War drama, deserves some credit. About the ring of American spies helping General George Washington against the British on Long Island, the show is different from most of prime time and it’s fine, just fine. It’s artfully strewn with enough red coats, big buttons, white wigs, and puffy shirts to make you almost feel as if you’re looking at a John Trumbull painting.

But “Turn” is nonetheless a far cry from the likes of “Mad Men,” “Rome,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Vikings,” “Deadwood,” and the early years of “Downton Abbey,” all period TV dramas that not only look great but also transport you into another time and place. Those shows have the kind of intimacy and inner life that have made movies such as “12 Years a Slave” and “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” so much more than surface achievements. They seem to bring us into close proximity with the psychology and spirit of another age. By comparison, “Turn” is flat.

Based on “Washington’s Spies” by Alexander Rose, “Turn” follows Abe Woodhull, a cabbage farmer with a wife and infant. Played by Jamie Bell, best known for his starring role in the movie “Billy Elliot,” Abe is a polite family guy who doesn’t want to engage in politics. But due to financial woes, a father who works closely with the British, and childhood friends who’ve become radicalized, Abe is ultimately pulled into the fray and becomes a spy for the Americans. The supersized 90-minute premiere, Sunday at 9, establishes his transformation and the forming of the famed Culper spy ring with workmanlike storytelling and no unexpected layers or twists.

One of the best pleasures of another period TV spy drama, FX’s “The Americans,” is the twisty revelation of split loyalties and double-agenting. The characters on both sides of the fight for intelligence are ultimately conflicted, and therefore more or less sympathetic. In “Turn,” the characters are too obviously good or bad, with very little room in between for more interesting moral explorations. They’re all committed to one side or the other, and are either noble (American) or nasty (British) as a result.

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“Friends With Better Lives”: If only the cast envied better writing

Once upon a time most television criticism read like this. Then it’s as though all critical faculties vanished from the planet. So TVWriter™ is really, really, really glad to have found…this:


by David Wiegand

It makes sense for CBS to introduce its newest sitcom, Friends With Better Lives, after the one-hour finale tonight of ratings magnet How I Met Your Mother.

The placement should give the new show a bit of a bump before it moves to its regular time slot next week.

It’s also good that Mother won’t be around then, though, because its presence would provide a weekly reminder of what a great ensemble show really is.

At any rate, here at last is a CBS show as mediocre as Mike & Molly, heretofore the weakest link in the network’s Monday-night sitcom chain.

Friends With Better Lives centers on several friends at various relationship stages — long married, single and looking, single and finding, on the verge of divorcing — who envy one another for reasons that will probably elude most viewers because the characters are too self-involved and uninteresting.

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Thank you, David Wiegand for making our day!