Graham's Sarah in 'Parenthood' is no 'Gilmore Girl'

When it comes to TV moms, few were better than Lauren Graham's character on Gilmore Girls.

Lorelai Gilmore and her daughter had an easy, best-friends relationship that viewers envied.

"Moms actually ask me for advice," Graham says.

Alas, she has no insights to share. "When asked, I say, 'I don't know how to help you.' My dad essentially raised me. I don't have any idea of what a mom is supposed to be like."

Graham's new TV character, Sarah Braverman, a divorced mother of two sullen teenage kids on NBC's Parenthood, should discourage any further inquiries.

The premiere episode, airing at 9 p.m. tonight, finds 38-year-old Sarah in such dire straits that she and her kids have to move into her parents' house.

"It's too strong to say she's a failure," Graham says. "But, as opposed to Lorelai, who had a sunny outlook, Sarah is shouldering a lot of baggage and looking at life through the eyes of disappointment."

In fact, all of the characters in Parenthood have baggage and disappointments.

The ensemble drama, which includes Peter Krause, Erika Christensen and Craig T. Nelson, is based on director Ron Howard's 1989 movie of the same title. Be forewarned: The movie had more laughs.

We chatted with Graham recently about stepping into a new role.

It has been a few years since Gilmore Girls (2000-07) ended its run. What made this the right vehicle for your return?

It's like dating: You have a list of things that you want, and then you meet somebody and fall in love even though half the things were not on your list. This is like that in the ways that I didn't plan to play a mom, I didn't plan to do an ensemble, I was thinking about a comedy and maybe cable. But then I read this script and I met with Jason Katims, a writer who does beautiful work. It's a very different model from the show that I had come from, so it just seemed like a good idea.

Is it hard or easy to make this TV mom significantly different from Lorelai?

The show is so totally different. The tone of the show is so different. This show is less about verbal dexterity and long speeches, and it's more small moments and real behavior and people reacting to each other. There's a lot more silence. The character I played in the past was sort of always winning in a way. This is someone who has much farther to go to reach any of her dreams. She's really kind of doing things in a more haphazard way and isn't always noble and doesn't always make the right choice. The world of Gilmore Girls was really idyllic in a way and such a great place to live. This feels more grown up in a lot of a ways. So that felt different enough to me that it wasn't going to be just like Lorelai.

Maura Tierney, who was originally cast as Sarah, had to drop out after filming the pilot to undergo breast-cancer treatment. Did you watch the original to see how she played the role?

I didn't watch it, no.

Was it awkward in any way to come in and take over the role?

It felt really difficult in ways. I mean, I've put a lot of pressure on myself to really do a great job. But I push anyway. I hoped that it would go well, and I hoped that we would all gel. And I hoped that actors wouldn't mind redoing a scene with me. It didn't feel so much like taking over. It wasn't like that. It was like we all together kind of started anew. That was the only way you could kind of deal with that situation. And actually the chemistry between these people, I can just honestly say, not to compare any of my other wonderful jobs, that this is a very special group of people. So I feel lucky.