It still doesn’t feel completely realistic and there are occasional blunders, but NBC’s Parenthood apparently is doing well enough that it has been renewed for a second season.

The show, which is set in Berkeley, stars Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Craig T. Nelson, Dax Shepard, Erika Christensen, and Bonnie Bedelia.

NBC entertainment chief Angela Bromstad said in a statement that the network was gratified to bring back this “multi-layered and compelling series about an extended American family.”

Apparently, the real reason is that well-to-do people are watching the show, according to the Los Angeles Times. “The network said the show has one of the highest concentrations of homes with incomes of over $100,000 in the adults 18-49 demographic,” according to the Times. Obviously that translates into advertising dollars.

When the show first came on, Berkeleyside pointed out that it didn’t really feel like Berkeley. The characters were too white, their houses were too big, the women didn’t dress in baggy Eileen Fisher clothes, and the high school looked nothing like Berkeley High.

In a shot a few weeks ago, a yellow school bus was painted “Marin County School District.” Well, that was a gaffe since Berkeley is in Alameda County.

But recently the producers have been inserting Peet’s distinctive tribal/ethnic coffee cups into random scenes to lend a sense of authenticity.

And one of the sons discovered he had a five-year old multiracial son that he never knew about. Now that feels realistic.

Perhaps Berkeleyside should take the initiative and tell the producers what aspects of Berkeley life they can put in the show to make it feel more like our city. What would you add?

Frances Dinkelspiel

Frances Dinkelspiel (co-founder) is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California,...

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13 Comments

  1. I don’t understand why there are no families with 2 working parents. In upper middle class Berkley, it is very common to have 2 professional parents. Why can’t the female lawyer’s character be married to another lawyer, or a doctor? This does not make sense to me!

  2. @Tizzielish… You may be poor in income, but you are certainly rich in word count! I love your discursive, almost stream of consciousness writing style. If Samuel Richardson were writing epistolary novels today, I suspect his masterpiece would have been “Tizzielish” rather than “Clarissa.” If I may use a fitting polysyllabic word, your inspiration seems truly indefatigable!

    As a newer resident, you may be surprised to learn that Berkeley is dramatically LESS diverse than it used to be. For example, according to the 1970 census data, the year Berkeley’s most progressive faction famously set up their first ruling junta, the African American population in Berkeley is listed at 27,421 or 23.5% (and the diversity in Berkeley schools at the time was even greater for various reasons).

    http://www.bayareacensus.ca.gov/cities/Berkeley70.htm

    In a 2006-2008 estimate, the African American population has diminished to 10,741 or 9.9% of our city (it may be even less by 2010).

    http://www.bayareacensus.ca.gov/cities/Berkeley.htm

    It remains something of a mystery how 40 years of mostly progressive ruled government which famously and actively promoted racial integration, affordable housing, aggressive rent control and other programs to promote racial and ecomomic inclusiveness and diversity could coincide with such a drastic decline in our city’s African American population.

    Granted, Berkeley has seen an increase in the representation of other ethnic and racial groups, but I don’t think there are any real neighborhoods or large communities to speak of, such as one might associate with Latinos in the Mission, Armenians in Fresno, Filipinos in Daily City and so forth. Many types of people may still reside in Berkeley, but the culture is increasingly “generic” and Alice Waters oriented.

  3. I haven’t seen the episode where the station wagon with the “Coexist” bumper sticker cut someone off in a parking lot (so true, so true) but I trust it was a Volvo otherwise a critical Berkeley detail was missing.

  4. So far, the families shown in Parenthood are upper middle class Berkeley, which probably is mostly white. I don’t know because I am poor.

    I bet there are some wealthy Asians living here? I don’t see Asians on the show.

    One thing to really look ‘Berkeley’ would be lots of tattoos on some of the young people, younger adults.

    The houseboat living looks cool but I think it is actually a very expensive lifestyle and a freelance record producer who hardly ever seems to work could not afford it.

    The mother of the just-revealed five-year-old biracial kid is a dancer .. it is hard to believe she did not seek child support while raising a kid alone as a dancer. Talk about unrealistic!!

    And, as others have mentioned, it is hard to believe the Lauren Graham character (my memory came back) ever lived in Fresno. Why would a failing rock musician have ever landed in Fresno?!

    I think the storylines are pretty boring, kinda vanilla. The fun in the show for me is eagerly hoping to see some good Berkeley notes. It is interesting to see what HOllywood thinks is “Berkeley”. . .

    Storylines that are ‘real’ Berkeley: the parking ticket nazis. . . the gourmet ghetto tourists . . . the undergrad culture which I don’t get at all and I am surrounded by undergrads and swim daily at CAL.

    White liberals in Berkeley have a smugness about them that I think is well captured by this vanilla show. Having some thirty something adults smoke a little pot or seeing teenagers smoke some is not just Berkeley . . that happens everywhere, right? How weird that HOllywood thinks smoking dope is “Berkeley”

    It was totally unrealistic when the two teenager girls got picked up by cops just for smoking dope. Like that would ever happen.

    Way to show homeless: have one of these liberal white folks work at a homeless shelter or at the free clinic or show shots of people sleeping at People’s Park. . . or how about this. . . how about scenes of elected officials screaming at citizens at the farmers market trying to talk those citizens out of signing a petition? how about showing our mayor at a cocktail party full of rich people getting zoning exceptions like Mitch Kapor scored?

    I watch the show. It is entertainment.

    The father of the main family started out so macho man that he was entirely unbelievable. His character has softened a bit but, in general, the patriarch has no Berkeley vibe. And Bonnie Bedelia? Her character has beeen given little to do . . . she looks the part of a berkeley grandma but her character is almost blank.

    I would have preferred Maureen Tierney in the role. I read she pulled out because she found out she had some cancer and wanted to focus on her healing. I hope she does well. I don’t like her replacement so much but she squeaks by as believable.

    I heard that the show was originally set in Oakland and, even though I live in Berkeley, I am sorry Oakland lost the chance to get some positive spin with the show.

    Since the show’s main story is centrally focussed on one white family, it makes sense that all the ‘main characters’ are white . . . but the writers could have easily designed central characters that were nonwhite. The core family could have adopted a nonwhite baby back in the seventies. Parents could divorce and remarry nonwhite and have mixed raced kids. And all the white characters could have nonwhite friends.

    All in all, the show is adequate commercial television telling a story about a fading American stereotype: white culture. I think the show does a good job capturing white middle class, with a slight lean into upper middle . .

    they did go to Yogurtland . . . that’s pretty Berkeley. . . how about meeting for lunch for barbecue on San Pablo? or a student demonstration at UC? or how about having one of the core characters be faculty at UC? or famous writer? or famous restauranteur? it would be very berkeley to have a foodie in the clan. . . maybe the single-mom-who-used-to-be-Maureen-Tierney (I forget the current actor’s name) could start a hip localvore restaurant or work in one like Gather or Chez Panisse?

    I like the suggestion to have one of the kid’s be vegan.

    I don’t like the lawyer character. I think the actor playing the lawyer hits it just about right but I don’t like the character.

    And what does the Peter Krause character for for a living that allows his wife to be a stay at home mom? Stay at home moms are quite a luxury, right?

    And what did the main father do before he retired? He would have had to earn a shit load of money to live in a gigantic house with a gigantic driveway in the hills .. . the character doesn’t seem like a winner. . . where did he get his moola?

  5. Things that would make the show more Berkeley for me: child who was vegan, gay, taking mandarin classes, tree sitting; farmers’ market; open relationships; acupuncture and other non-allopathic treatments; cal/stanford games; no suits for Peter Krause character; juice bars rather than milkshakes; trip to burning man; midnight vigil; views of the Bay; priuses; a PFA film; homeless people; the way environmental concerns are woven into the fabric of everyday life (the typically drought ridden bay area probably would’ve sparked some comment re the teenage boy’s long showers) — from recycling, to drought tolerant plants, to gray water. Also, Berkeley is a town that likes to talk about everything under the sun — local and national politics, books, NPR, honey the kidnaped goat — in the way that many Sex in the City episodes were spurred by the kinds of conversations women of certain demographic in NYC might be having — Parenthood episodes could draw on kinds of conversations that families of a certain demographic living in Berkeley might have. The best account of Berkeley in nutshell I know of is Michael Chabon’s “Ode to Berkeley” — which might be fruitful bedtime reading for the Parenthood producers.

  6. You have a point, EBG–there really are two Berkeleys. I’m not from that one, and I don’t live there, and I’m only peripherally aware of it.:-)

  7. I love it… so Berkeley. White people (apologies to any of our more diverse commentators) arguing that Berkeley isn’t white. It’s quite clear where the Braverman clan lives. Given all this, residents are loathe to nitpick about the racial composition — 86 percent white… Census block 4238, which sweeps east of College Avenue up into the hills and cuts a swath through the Elmwood and Claremont neighborhoods, has the highest percentage of white residents in Berkeley and, in fact, in all of Alameda County.
    As for authenticity… how about a scene at Adventure Playground.

  8. I watch the show fairly regularly, but keep missing any relationship to Berkeley. The plots are OK, but I was really looking for some Berkeley shots more often. Think I may have to give up on it. Oh, and the grandparents house–I can’t imagine a less Berkeley house. But I did love the scene Shoshana mentioned of the car with the “coexist” bumper sticker driving rudely. Now THAT’s Berkeley, unfortunately.

  9. Genuine authenticity at reasonable price: hire a Josh Kornbluth stunt-double to wander across the background of various public squares. (I kid, Josh, I kid.)

  10. I liked the scene when the lawyer character was picking up her daughter from school and she was cut off by a station wagon covered in “coexist” type bumper stickers. I thought that detail was kind of perfect.

    I agree that there needs to be a Berkeley Bowl reference, if not a scene there (but don’t shoot on location – can you imagine how much crazier it would be while the film crew was in there??) and more crazy people in general.

  11. I don’t understand why they’ve set it in Berkeley. What I find bizarre and jarring is the WHITENESS (if it weren’t supposed to be in Berkeley, I’d just think of it as another myopic “white” TV show). The biracial son is one of the few things lifted straight from the movie (where it was indeed “fresh” for St. Louis 20 plus years ago; there’s that priceless shot at the end with Jason Robards and the grandson…). Interracial families have always been a part of “my” Berkeley (b. 1962) and now sometimes seem the norm, whether by birth or adoption. This show depicts people who were raised/began raising kids in Berkeley by the early 70s, yet to those of us “from” here they’re not recognizable as “Berkeley” people, whether or not one likes the show.

  12. To get that “authentic” feel, I would add scenes of the characters shopping at the insanity known as Berkeley Bowl – or maybe stuck in traffic on Ashby Ave – or maybe eating Cheeseboard pizza on the median of Shattuck Ave!

  13. The publicity photo in the post shows actress Maura Tierney (far left) — of ER fame — who was originally cast in the show — presumably in the part of the single mom who (in a shocking move) chooses Berkeley over Fresno as home (played by Lauren Graham). Tierney’s need to pull out was, I think, cited as the reason so little was shot in Berkeley. (But we all know it’s because shooting on location is more expensive than in Hollywood, right?)