‘Parenthood’ is hit-and-miss, but the hits are really good (TV review)

Jason Katims, whose resume includes “My So-Called Life,” “Roswell” and “Friday Night Lights,” is now on that short list of producers where you have to check out all of his products, ’cause it’s gonna be good. His latest project, “Parenthood” (9 p.m. Central Tuesdays on NBC) follows three generations of Bravermans. Two episodes in, about half of the plotlines are really good and half are merely OK.

First, the positives:

  • Young Max is shaping into the most intelligent portrayal of Asperger’s syndrome that we’ve seen on TV. I wonder if the actor (Max Burkholder) has the condition, because he gets the awkward movement, the lack of eye contact and the distracted behavior right. I don’t like the parents’ (Peter Krause and Monica Potter) doom-and-gloom attitude when they find out. Kids with Asperger’s have it tougher than neurotypical kids, no question, but knowing what’s wrong with him is half the battle. It only gets easier from here for this family.

Boiled down to its core, Asperger’s essentially means “socially challenged,” and that’s not nearly as bad as being physically challenged or mentally challenged. But Kristina and Adam are new at this, so I’ll give them a pass on behaving as if they learned Max has cancer. And I’ll enjoy watching their learning process. Someday we’ll have a show where two Aspie parents struggle with raising an NT kid, and we can look back at “Parenthood” as the groundbreaker.

  • Speaking of not-quite-normal kids, Sarah Ramos — who played Patty Pryor, the spelling-bee-loving, monotone-speaking little sis on “American Dreams” — plays the other kid in this family. So far, Haddie has been caught with marijuana (yawn), but I suspect better plots are in store for this versatile young actress.
  • To my surprise, I’m having no problem with Lauren Graham following up “Gilmore Girls” with another single-mom role. As TV Gal pointed out, Sarah talks slower than Lorelai, and I think that’s the key to accepting the character. Plus, while Rory was the perfect kid, Amber (Mae Whitman) and Drew (Miles Heizer) are troubled kids. Amber is the school misfit who needs someone to believe in her and Drew is desperate for a dad. They both could run off the rails if Sarah isn’t careful. And she’s not so stable herself after losing her job and moving the three of them in with her parents.

In the latest episode, Sarah has a wonderful job interview followed by a rejection even though the boss loved her portfolio. Similar stories of frustration are going on all across the country right now, and it’s great to see a TV character going through it.

Now the negatives:

  • Crosby (Dax Shepard) seems like a holdover from “What About Brian.” Except that I liked “What About Brian,” and I don’t like Crosby. His name alone is off-putting. Can we declare a moratorium on 30-something male commitment-phobes? It’s been done to death, and Crosby’s resistance of the beautiful (albeit baby-obsessed) Katie (Marguerite Moreau, “life as we know it”) is just annoying. This dude needs to get with it or get off the show.
  • I like Erika Christensen (“Six Degrees”), but I’m not crazy about her storyline: Julia is a working mom who sees her daughter bonding more with her dad (and worse, other women) than with her, because she spends so many hours at her lawyer job. This will no doubt lead to a strained relationship with her husband, Joel (Sam Jaeger). Maybe another moratorium is needed.

In cases like this, where half the show is really good and half the show isn’t, a lot of TV geeks will DVR the show and fast-forward through the bad parts. I rarely do that. When the clichés of the cop cases became too much for me, I canceled “Joan of Arcadia,” even though I kind of missed the Joan-in-school storylines. But “Parenthood” has such a large divide between the good and the bad that I might have to resort to that fast-forwarding method.

Still, with Katims at the helm, it’s hard to believe that “Parenthood” would embrace the clichés for too long. For now, I’m sticking with the show in its entirety.