That’s more like it.
Parenthood is usually better at keeping stories going than it is at kicking them off or wrapping them up. I think this is because it’s completely committed to digging deep into how all of these characters would feel about one development or another. In doing so, it’s usually giving audience members someone to identify with. Take Kristina running for mayor of Berkeley, which is still the stupidest thing ever. In this episode, two different people tell Kristina what she’s doing is a long shot. Adam seems intensely skeptical about this idea, as well he should be. Kristina has no experience in actually running for office, and even if she’s run several successful campaigns, there’s a big difference between being the one behind the scenes and the one fronting the operation. But the show also brings in a new character, Heather (played by Friday Night Lights alum Jurnee Smollett-Bell, the latest in Jason Katims’ continued quest to bring everybody from that show to this one), who seems as initially skeptical as we are, before she’s won over by Kristina’s passion or something.
I’ll be honest: The Kristina runs for mayor thing is still bugging me quite a bit. It just feels like it’s come out of left field, and the hoops the show has to jump through to justify all of the stuff that happens make it even harder to buy. Like… what exactly does Heather see in Kristina? I’m sure she’s a young, ambitious kid who wants to make a name by coaching a grass-roots nobody to a victory over an establishment candidate (no matter how goofy Bob Little is), but why Kristina? What, precisely, came up in that speech that made Heather turn into David Axelrod seeing Barack Obama for the first time? It would be one thing if this storyline was meant to not be taken seriously, but I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to see Kristina as a viable candidate, and the show just hasn’t done a great job of that so far.
So instead, it mostly shoves all of this to the background and turns it into a story about how the bond between Adam and Kristina has been tested by her cancer. This is a good idea, because Peter Krause is never better than when he’s being a little sulky, and this gives him lots of chances to be a little sulky. The scene where the two of them fight about how she shouldn’t be stressing herself out because the cancer could return is so good, even if it doesn’t make a lick of sense the more you think about it. And ending the episode with The National’s “I Need My Girl” playing as Adam looks on while Kristina announces her candidacy gets even more at the emotional heart the show plays so well. I also like that this is apparently only going to take two months, because then the show can just give itself a November sweeps escape hatch if this doesn’t work. Parenthood has rarely had storylines that seemed almost completely implausible, but I’m impressed the show has enough going for it that it’s able to shrug this one off with some well-placed, emotional scenes.
Then there’s the rest of the episode, which is pretty much great stuff across the board. In particular, this has to be the first episode that’s given Zeek and Camille an actual storyline since that time Zeek was in that commercial, probably, and, what’s more, it seems like this will be a continuing storyline. (Wonder of wonders.) The Braverman manse is getting harder and harder for Zeek’s old bones to take care of, but he doesn’t want to call in repairmen, and when he does, he’s unhappy that their suggested bill for the place is so high. This prompts Camille to suggest that the two of them wash their hands of the old place and get a condo. Zeek, of course, has no interest in this at first, but she makes a good case. I don’t know if this is going to return throughout the season, but as unifying plotlines for a family drama go, the family patriarch and matriarch accepting the aging process and moving to a smaller place, the kids mourning over the loss of their childhood home, is a pretty good one, so I hope it does.
Of course, the other unifying storyline, it would seem, is all about the Amber and Ryan wedding, and tonight, it pays considerable dividends. The young couple announces its engagement at the latest Braverman family gathering, and Sarah is a bit taken aback, mostly because she can’t fathom her daughter getting married so young. All she can think about is just how shitty her own marriage was, and she, too, got married way too young, only to see it implode soon enough. But Parenthood is, if nothing else, a series about waiting for your moment, listening to what someone else is saying, and then gently making your own suggestions. Hank, who drops by to give Sarah a housewarming candle, urges her to tell her daughter about what she learned from her own marriage. Later, in another great scene, Adam urges her not to become her father by blowing her top and scaring Amber off into elopement.
Of course, when the time comes, Sarah can’t tell Amber anything. She can tell Amber’s in love with Ryan, that he’s the guy she wants to spend the rest of her life with, and there’s nothing that will dissuade a person in their early 20s who’s in love. Sarah, realizing just how dedicated her daughter is to this man, no matter how young they are and no matter his earlier problems, hauls out a bunch of wedding-planning magazines. Her own wedding was at a justice of the peace, and she was wearing a skort. If Amber’s going to marry Ryan, she’s going to do it up right, and she’s going to have a gala celebration, dammit. (How is Sarah going to pay for this? Shhh… this show isn’t about economic woes anymore!)
The other two storylines are pretty much classic Parenthood D-stories. Julia gets stuck on green-patrol duty at the kids’ school because she has to hang out with the children of guest star David Denman, as a jocular unemployed fellow named Ed. Denman fits into the Katims universe almost immediately (and makes a fantastic Greenzo), but Ed is another fairly transparent attempt to give Joel and Julia marital trouble by introducing outside elements, and it continues to make me roll my eyes. Meanwhile, Crosby and Jasmine can’t get Aida to stop crying, and Jabbar isn’t so happy about not having time with his parents. It resolves with Crosby and his son spending a few moments together away from the two women in their lives, but it’s also mostly there to give these characters something to do. Still, I appreciate that Parenthood is one of the few shows that will show just how much parenthood can suck, and this is very much an example of that.
I’m occasionally asked if I really think Parenthood is “great” TV. My answer is usually “not always.” It’s sometimes too messy to really work in the way that, say, Friday Night Lights (with its unifying football season structure) did. It can be great, and it’s had both great story arcs and great episodes. But it’s also filled with weird things that happen just to give certain characters something to do, and that will hold it back. (Season four was the show’s most sustained stretch of greatness because every storyline the writers came up with felt perfectly suited to the mix of that season, so they all added up to much more than their parts.) What Parenthood is, above all else, is warm, and that’s a vanishingly hard thing to find on TV nowadays. All of which is a long way of saying that I’ll take the goofiness of Kristina running for office if it concludes with a moment where her husband, realizing he has to let go, finally does, even if you can see the worry in his eyes. That’s the sort of thing that TV doesn’t always show well, and that’s what makes this show so needed, warts and all.
- Braverman of the week: Can there be any doubt that it’s Sarah? She hangs back and doesn’t confront her daughter when she finds out about the engagement. She doesn’t push. She trusts that Amber knows what she’s doing and helps plan a wedding. Sarah hasn’t always been served well by the show, but the series has always nailed her relationship with Amber. I’m expecting big things from it in this regard.
- Max has to be a close second thanks to “Welcome back from war, Ryan. Did you kill anyone?” and “The Bravermans like to hug.”
- Jabbar’s favorite show appears to be Adventure Time. I wonder how long it took the series to find a clip where everyone was yelling at each other, to exacerbate both Crosby’s headache and fears of Aida waking up. Probably around five seconds.
- The Julia and Ed storyline is barely even a storyline. It may as well come complete with Denman concluding the episode by waving to camera and saying, “Come back next week to find out how I threaten Julia’s marriage!”
- As someone who got married far too young because both sets of parents would have frowned upon us living together (though we’re still married, so good on us), it was amusing to me to hear that Sarah wonders why Amber and Ryan can’t just live together for a while first.
- I like that Parenthood is generally pretty forthcoming about the ways many of the Bravermans are basically just granola-munching hippies, but even I found the “green team” scene kind of insufferable. Was that just there to give us all a lesson about sustainability?
- This week in Parenthood hair: Seriously, Drew, what is up with that mop? Go to a damn barber.