To a degree, the sight of Michael Emerson playing a man with Asperger’s, bugs crawling all over him, barely able to suppress a smile at how great it all was, was going to get this episode of Parenthood at LEAST a B. Emerson’s one of those guest stars who can do no wrong, and his Andy was written with a degree of grace and feeling that could have been easy to screw up. He’s, essentially, a grown-up version of Max that expresses all of Adam and Kristina’s greatest hopes and worst fears about their son in a matter of moments. He’s hard to work with, leading them to think about canceling his appearance at Max’s party. (But would they cancel an appearance by Max? Would other families?) But he’s also a business owner, doing something he loves and being fairly successful at it. For two parents who have obviously worried about just what Max’s options are going to be once he’s grown up, seeing Andy must be a kind of beacon of hope.
Let’s face it: The greatest struggle for any parent is the fact that your kids are someday going to grow up. That’s perhaps the greatest conflict in Adam and Kristina’s family, where Hattie wants to grow up too fast in some regions (and probably should be allowed to), while there’s no immediate and certain future for Max once he grows up. The fear is always that you haven’t done a good enough job, that your kids will be helpless once they hit the big, scary world and leave your protective wing. But there are other fears buried right beneath that one: What if the world just wants nothing to do with them? What if they can’t find work, through no fault of their own? What if they’re just not equipped to deal with the world? What if they grow up too much like me?
The worst Adam and Kristina plots are the ones that get too far away from this central idea. The best are the ones that stick right with it, as tonight’s did. The bug party scene fit the standard Max story arc a bit too cleanly for any of it to be unexpected, but it was still a lot of fun, not least of which was due to the unexpected comic chemistry between Emerson and Peter Krause (who was forced to sing the Amazing Andy theme song to the tune of “Three Blind Mice”). Sure, it was another scene where everything was set up as being potentially disastrous and then everything turned out fine and another scene where Minka Kelly saved the day (not that I mind more Minka Kelly, am I right, fellas?). But the stuff with the bug presentation and all of the characters reacting to it and the relief on Adam and Kristina’s faces as they saw, for the first time, a real future for their son was all great.
I’ve focused on Andy and the party because, well, that’s what the episode’s named after and that’s what the most material was devoted to, but the biggest story development here is one that we’ve all seen coming for a long time. Early this season, the series seemed to be building toward a hook-up between Crosby and Gabby, but the show abruptly pulled away from that—perhaps realizing it would be too predictable—and tossed Crosby and Jasmine into an ill-thought-out engagement. It’s only been recently that we, as well as Jasmine and Crosby themselves, have realized just how little these two have worked out the really bumpy stuff between them, but I love how the show built to this slowly, then had it explode all over last week. Now, Crosby’s trying to get a little time with Jasmine to talk this all out, but she’s still really hurt by what he said last week (with good reason). And so, after she rebuffs him one last time and takes Jabbar off into the desert to see her ailing aunt, rather than leaving him for Max’s party, he falls into bed with Gabby. It’s not as though this was WHOLLY unexpected, since the entire episode built up to it (as did the NBC promotions for the episode), but it was a nice move by the show to push this development back so far that the audience had, presumably, largely forgotten about it.
Meanwhile, there are the continuing adventures of Sarah and her kids, in re: their dad. This storyline has less meat to it than last week, but I’m continuing to enjoy John Corbett playing this man as someone who’s newly trying to do the right thing, even though he seems to know the other shoe will drop at some point. There’s a weariness to his work here. He doesn’t trust himself to stay good, to stay sober, to stay a father his kids can turn to. He gets why Sarah’s worried. He gets why Zeek pushes him around a little bit. And when he and Sarah have a squabble over whether Drew should have struck back at a kid who was making fun of his dad at school, he doesn’t push things too far. Later, he asks her if she’s still writing songs, and the entirety of their relationship is right there in that line: He’s the guy who got out to keep living the fun life. She’s the one who had to grow up and stay home. And even if he became a better person, a better father, nothing would ever be enough to fix all those wasted years, in her eyes.
Finally, we have Joel and Julia, who are pretty much stuck in comic relief mode here, but are mostly funny. Julia’s not ovulating just yet, which means that any fun, sexy times must be put on hold for when she is. This means that Joel is not only the world’s greatest, most responsible house-husband ever, but he also has a tremendous case of blue balls, which makes him even more of a saint. Look, the show clearly isn’t quite sure what to do with these two at this point, often just tossing them into lightly comic situations, but that’s fine when everything else is clicking along so well. Plus, the scene where Kristina walks in on them having sex at Max’s party was the funniest thing of the episode. (Especially as she says, more or less, “Just keep doing what you’re doing and don’t mind me”!) If this continues for too much longer, however, Katims, we’re going to have to start turning the Stray Observations section of these pieces into lengthy Joel/Julia fan fiction.
For the last few months, I’d been doubting my decision to cover this show weekly here. I was mostly enjoying it, and it was never a show I regretted watching, but it had a bad tendency to evaporate almost immediately after viewing it. It was GOOD, but it wasn’t really GREAT. Now, with these last two episodes, I think Parenthood might be turning a corner, might have finally gotten all of its considerable pieces into the right place to start building something more than just a pleasant little show that’s fun to watch. This wasn’t as good as last week’s episode, but it continues a promising trend. Here’s hoping that the series keeps that trend going. If it does, it could turn into one of my very favorites.
- I loved the weird tension the show generated when Max was shouting out bug facts before Andy could recite them, even though the music had soothed me into realizing nothing bad was going to happen.
- Speaking of music, the show didn’t feel as over-scored by indie rock as it has in previous weeks tonight. Am I wrong about that? (I watched on a screener, and often, the screeners won't have the final music mix, which could mean more songs were added after it was sent out to critics.)
- It was just nice to not have to worry about any of the Alex/Haddie drama for once, right?
- I’ve been wondering recently if the characters are too saintly, in some ways, if they don’t do the right thing too often (Crosby’s indiscretion tonight notwithstanding, of course). But I think that’s a part of the show’s charm. The flaws of these people are right there, but they work hard to overcome them and to talk out their differences before anything erupts. It’s very much in keeping with the shows of Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick, which is where Jason Katims came up as a young writer.
- "Amazing Andy is in my shower!"