TV Culture: Diversifying “Parenthood”

Jasmine & Crosby tie the knot at the end of Season 3!

NBC’s Parenthood finally aired its Season 4 premiere on September 11, 2012. The family drama jumped right back into the fun-loving and argument-intensive action that has engaged viewers for three phenomenal seasons. Now that the show has established itself as a genuine Braverman-centered portrayal of family and parenthood, show creators have started addressing new dilemmas. Although the interactions between culturally diverse characters drove the first two episodes, the on screen discussion and exploration of race relations seemed nonexistent. This absence of racial realization was refreshingly satisfying.

The first episode,”Family Portrait,” began with a recap of last season’s finale. Viewers are reminded of Jasmine and Crosby’s wedding, Haddie’s acceptance into Cornell, and, most importantly, Julia and Joel’s sudden adoption of a young Latino boy. Thoughts run wild in consideration of everything that could happen in an established White house with an unexpected addition to the family named Victor. His character, however, is soon introduced simply as the new adopted son, rather than the new, adopted, Latino son. Although Victor’s biological parents are no longer in his life, he is not your typical rebel child who disrespects everyone out of anger and rage. With a mother in prison and an absent father, Victor’s initial crime is merely watching a semi-violent TV show while Julia and Joel’s biological daughter, Sydney, is around. By the time he is accused of stealing a lizard by Max, his new cousin who suffers from Asberger’s Disorder, viewers are prompted to judge Victor based on his previous uncooperative behavior, rather than his race.

Parenthood subtly toys with viewer expectations and casts the inevitability of racial profiling into question. In what would have turned into an ugly race war in many other shows, the warm welcoming of Victor throughout the attack on his character speaks to the diplomatic and individualist tone of the show. After Max’s missing lizard awkwardly appears in the master bedroom of Julia’s home, it is never clarified whether or not Victor stole it. Though this lack of closure can be seen as an easy way out, it intentionally shifts the responsibility of this mystery to the audience. By not highlighting Victor’s race in this initial conflict, Parenthood managed to challenge ethnological conventions without ignoring them.

This is further explored through the evolution of Crosby and Jasmine’s unique relationship. Crosby, the youngest of the Braverman siblings, began a romantic relationship with Jasmine, an African-American dance teacher, after she unexpectedly showed up at his house with with their son, Jabbar, years after a one-night stand. Since this life-changing event in the 1st season, their relationship has seen everything from engagement, infidelity, long-term separation, and, now marriage. As a relatively consistent TV couple, Jasmine and Crosby accurately depict modern family structure. With interracial dating receiving notable amounts of attention, their relationship serves to normalize this ongoing phenomenon. Their genuine love for each other does not seek to answer questions of interracial parenting conflicts and prejudice; it simply exists alongside the other complicated Braverman relationships.

Addressing dilemmas of religion and responsibility, the main tension of “Family Portrait” and its subsequent episode, “Left Field,” is Jabbar’s unapproved introduction to God and Crosby’s unyielding immaturity. After Jasmine’s mom is identified as the Bible-bearing culprit, a relatively calm conversation ensues and viewers learn that neither Jasmine nor Crosby have solid religious beliefs. It becomes clear that Jasmine was raised in the church with her mother, a traditional Black experience often parodied in the media, yet, the conversation focuses mainly on parental rights to regulate their children’s faith, rather than the obvious tension between Jasmine and her dissatisfied mother. This complicated situation was resolved both quickly and sufficiently due to the forward-thinking nature of the show. Parenthood remained true to itself while still acknowledging the existences of cultural tensions within interracial relationships.

By not forging the racial friction that is bound to arise throughout this season into prime conflicts, Parenthood will continue to truly diversify American television. It continues to lead the way as one of NBC’s most socially progressive shows.

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