TV Review: Parenthood

Julia Braverman (Erika Christensen) is the best friend that you share an imported bottle of Chianti Classico wine with while simultaneously sipping with jealously over her seemingly perfect life.

She stands five foot five, add a few inches for her black stilettos, with strawberry blonde shoulder length hair that is usually tied at the nape of her neck with a single strand left out to frame her face. Her white button-up shirt is tucked into a knee length black pencil skirt and a brown leather bag sits in the crook of her left elbow. If she sounds like the snapshot of a conservative, lawyer-mother, it’s because she is.

Stay at home mothers dote over Julia’s stay at home hubby Joel Graham (Sam Jaeger) as they drop their kids off at Sycamore Charter School. Her daughter Sydney (Savannah Paige Rae), once described as “gifted,” is the perfect concoction of undeniable cuteness and intelligence that is the student of elementary school teacher’s dreams. Julia’s job as a corporate lawyer pays $600 an hour, supports her family of three, and pays the mortgage on a modern architecture home in Berkeley, California.

Julia is one of the four main characters in the NBC series Parenthood (2010-2015) a scripted drama that follows the lives of four siblings, and their families, in Northern California. Julia, the youngest of the four Bravermans, stands out amongst her brothers and sisters. She’s not seen as the role model for the family like her oldest brother Adam (Peter Krause). She certainly doesn’t have the train wreck of a life that her sister Sarah (Lauren Graham) has. And while she may be closest in age to her brother Crosby (Dax Shepard), she doesn’t share his carefree, laid-back view on life, or parenting. What Julia does have is an enviable power complex and ferocity that makes her all of the things you wish you could be, and can be.

As the breadwinner for the Braverman-Graham family, Julia is always seen as the upside down mother. She’s not the stay at home parent; she’s the one working 12-hour days. She’s not the one cooking dinner for the family; she’s at the office finishing a brief for a client. She’s not fulfilled leading the life of the traditional mother; she needs her job as an identifier and that purpose in order to feel like she is a good mother. But why is that seen as such a bad thing?

Julia is the shining example that parenthood doesn’t equate to inevitable sacrifice. It is possible to be a professional and a parent rather than simply a professional parent. Despite missing the occasional dance recital or play date, Julia manages to balance the demanding life of being a lawyer and a mother pretty well. This is part of the reason her persona is so alluring. She’s this seemingly perfect mother wrapped up in a bow of imperfections that’s makes her the furthest thing from unattainable.

Julia is inherently flawed, but manages to mask it beneath her industrious attitude and unwavering drive to be the best. Her biggest struggle and most influential development comes when she and Joel adopt an eight-year-old boy named Victor (Xolo Mariduena). He refuses to call Julia mom, never says that he loves her, and does every conceivable thing to push himself out of a family begging to pull him closer. Even at her weakest she is somehow her strongest. Without feeling love or affection she takes a blindly calculated leap of faith to make Victor’s adoption official. As a human she understands her limitations, but never fails to find ways to nudge them just a little bit past where they use to stand. As these minute familial imperfections begin to splinter through the seasons, viewers can see how Julia’s perfect little life is not a configuration of her doing, but of their own mind.

We look towards other people at the office, other moms at the playground and wonder, “How do they do it?” “Why am I not like them?” “How can I be like them?” Julia is both the one emulated in the questions and the ones asking them. But, she’s not asking these questions to other people, she’s asking them to herself. Her life is a puzzle that her mind is always tinkering with and adjusting. She constantly works to make the pieces fit, and to the outside world it can look like it is a finished masterpiece, even if the picture is incomplete. Julia is the character on Parenthood that 21st century women can see themselves in. She’s someone who is affected by her shortcomings, but doesn’t let them define her as a person. Snappy yet sensitive, she’s influenced by emotion, but led by logic making her this Aristotelian pitbull. Instead of being Mr. 305 though, she’s Mrs. 510 of Berkeley, California.

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