On thing I came to learn about Friday Night Lights is that it takes a while for the characters to grow on you. Maybe that's not the case for everyone, but it was for me. I didn't feel fully invested in Dillon and the stories of the town's characters until somewhere in the second season. But once I was in, I was in. Clear eyes, full hearts, can't stop watching. Parenthood is a different show in many ways, but there's a similar kind of bond formed when it comes to connecting with the series. And maybe Jason Katims (who was an executive producer on FNL and developed Parenthood) is the common denominator there. Regardless, it took a while for me to really connect with the Braverman family, but much in the way that close knit group sticks together, it was easy to stick once I did.
Season 3 left off with Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) struggling with his health, but trying not to make a big deal of it with the rest of the family. Jasmine and Crosby were newly married. Sarah and Mark seemed to be in a good place in their relationship. Julia and Joel suffered the disappointment of not adopting the baby they thought would be theirs, but then having Victor arrive to join their family. Drew seemed happy with his relationship with his girlfriend Amy, while his sister Amber dealt with things not really working out with her politician boss Bob Little. Meanwhile, Haddie was finishing up high school and prepared to leave home for Cornell. And that left Kristina (Monica Potter) and Adam (Peter Krause) to deal with saying goodbye to their little girl.
Some vague Season 4 spoilers ahead!
Season 4 picks up as Haddie (Sarah Ramos) is preparing to leave for college. Summer is over and things aren't perfect among the Braverman clan. The premiere episode has both Drew (Mike Heizer) and Amber (Mae Whitman) dealing with some romantic issues. For Amber, that involves a guest appearance by Paul McDonald. The former American Idol contestant does a good job with his guest role as a musician recording at the Luncheonette.
As for Haddie's departure for college, the build-up to that involves a few scenes with Max that once again remind us that it isn't just Max (Max Burkholder) and his parents that are affected by his Aspergers. Not only do Max's behavioral issues often take up a lot of Haddie's parents' attention, but she also has to go without the emotional connection she might have had with her brother if he were able to really bond with her. I love that this is addressed in the show, and that Haddie isn't painted as this perfect character who is never frustrated or affected by it. Haddie's relationship with Max is addressed in the Season 4 premiere. I also think it's worth noting that Sarah Ramos' hair looks fantastic in "Family Portrait."
Going back to emotional bonds, Julia is trying to connect Victor, the son she and Joel have adopted (or are in the process of adopting?). Going into this season, I was really excited to see how things were going with Victor at the Graham house, particularly because Julia and Joel had originally planned to adopt a baby, and instead, got a child. I wondered how Victor would be fitting in, whether he and Sydney would get along, and what the dynamic at the Graham household was now that there's a new child living there. "Family Portrait" and the second episode of the season, "Left Field," both take time out to work on Victor's story, and I think this is definitely going to be an interesting season for the Graham household and for Julia. Erika Christensen really does a great job of expressing her characters' feelings with little more than a facial expression.
Lauren Graham's character Sarah gets a job working for Hank, a photographer played by Ray Romano. As a fan of Ray Romano, I may be biased here, but he's really fantastic on the series already. Romano delivers some great laugh-out-loud moments, without disrupting the tone of the series. Parenthood is a show that focuses on drama, but works some humor in as well, and Romano compliments that perfectly. Hank's kind of a weird guy, but weird is good here. He has a particularly great moment with Max in "Family Portrait," and his onscreen chemistry with Lauren Graham is great. Also, Sarah's still with Marc, but - as much as I want him to be a permanent fixture in the Braverman family - I still find myself expecting that to fall apart at some point. They seem to be in a good place at the start of the season, though.
Finally, things appear to be going ok for Jasmine (Joy Bryant) and Crosby (Dax Shepard). "Family Portrait" has them tackling the subject of religion with Jabbar, and "Left Field" features what may be their first real marital spat. So it seems Season 4 will be addressing their relationship as a newly married couple.
From the first two episodes, Season 4 is off to a really good start, but also an emotional one. Not only will I admit to tearing up at the end of both episodes, but the end of "Left Field" leaves off with a very intense, emotional situation that maybe just the start of a bigger story this season. Without giving anything specific away, I'll just say that we could be in for a very emotional season. Parenthood, at times, is a very emotional series. It faces family issues and human drama head on. The Bravermans aren't a perfect family, but there's a strong bond there. I think the same could be said for the viewers and this series, which is why I doubt I'll be the only one who had to reach for the tissues during the first couple of episodes.
Parenthood Season 4 premieres Tuesday, September 11 at 10:00 p.m. on NBC.