As mentioned, I often feel about the characters on Parenthood the way I feel about my own family members. This is undisputedly a good thing, since that’s, y’know, what the show’s going for and all. But it also means that the show features characters that mostly settle into a weird cross-section of the character-building landscape. Is there a show on TV that features more likably hatable characters? I don’t mean love-to-hate characters. Nobody here does anything despicable. They just do things that are perfectly in keeping with their characters and in keeping with how they might really behave, and those things have a tendency to drive me (and the other people I know who watch the show) a little nuts. They keep getting trapped by the same conflicts and issues. They keep bumping up against each other. And they keep doing the same stupid things. But if they were perfect, there wouldn’t be any drama. So that’s why I’m glad Parenthood has embraced the likably hatable this season. It’s a good thing.
Anyway, the most likably hatable of them all—Julia—mostly sat this week out, all the better to give her parents a storyline that concluded with them having sex, without the aid of medication. (When you’re gentleman actor Zeek Braverman, you don’t need anything like a pill to get frisky with your wife.) By far my favorite thing about this episode was Zeek stumbling around and getting involved in an ad for an erectile dysfunction medication, mostly because, well, why the hell not? Zeek and Camille running lines was one of my favorite gags of the episode (especially once Sarah stumbled in), and I also enjoyed his time on set. (I’ve been on plenty of TV sets, and they rarely have a spread that nice. Do commercial gigs get lobster? Wow!)
Plus, it gave us all time to contemplate a new potential spinoff: Bonnie Bedelia Fills Her Day. Irritated by the fact that Zeek has found something he’s really excited about—that doesn’t involve her—Camille starts trying to learn Mandarin or figure out what to do with her art or… something that won’t involve standing around and watching her husband be “fearless.” I actually love the portrayal of the Zeek and Camille marriage on this show, how it’s about two fundamentally different people who’ve figured out a way to balance what they both need to be happy over many long years and how they really do still love each other at the end of the day. I also think Craig T. Nelson and Bedelia are underused, so an episode that gave both of them something interesting to do was just fine in my book.
Speaking of underused characters, one of our likably hatable winners this week is Drew, who continues to have a storyline because the producers abruptly realized they were paying Miles Heizer, so why not actually have him do some acting? Drew’s flirtations with Amy have grown into an actual date, but when the time comes for him to go with her to the movie, he clams up, leaving Amber—who’s been recruited to drive the car—to talk about bands she likes with Amy. (Amy’s a big fan of Television because she’s the teenage girl every male television writer wishes they had known when they were teenagers.) Drew flips out when Amy shows him a photo of his teacher making out with someone—who turns out to be his mom (gasp)—and I’m wondering just whether these kids would care about the dating lives of their teachers all that much. But his overreaction, in that Parenthood way, lets loose some truth: He really likes this girl, and now she knows it. So she shows up at his house and invites him to go on a walk with her. As always, being kind of a dick ends up being the right move in the Parenthood-verse. (I also like the way that Drew makes tons of noise when he’s getting ready to go on the walk, but nobody comes out to call him on it because Camille and Zeek are doin’ it, and Sarah’s just happy he’s de-cloaked long enough to go out with the pretty neighbor girl.)
What else happened? Oh, Haddie and Alex broke up because Alex had reached the end of his contracted four episodes. Kidding, of course, but it really did feel like that, as Alex offered up a few shrug-worthy explanations for why he was breaking up with her before getting to the real one: The recent incident with the law had just underlined for him the fact that he and Haddie are at different points in their lives. And then he also broke up with Kristina, in what was a surprisingly moving scene. (I hadn’t realized just how much the whole Braverman clan grounded Alex until this scene.) Now, much of this is just Alex needing to be gone because Michael B. Jordan probably has other stuff to do, but I thought the whole thing—and the whole “different worlds” thing—was handled about as well as a contractually mandated break-up could be handled. Plus, it gave us a chance to put Haddie in the “likably hatable” category, when she did the whole thing where she was a total bitch to him, but you kind of had to let her off the hook because, well, he’d just broken up with her, and now he wanted to drive her home? Great.
Meanwhile, Max was at his Maxiest, and the writers continue to realize that having Max be at his worst somehow dovetails nicely with Crosby being at his worst, which made for a storyline in which Jasmine gets to be the bad guy—despite being the one person who’s trying to find a way to make everything work without hurting anyone’s feelings too badly—essentially by default. (Seriously, I’m not entirely sure why Jasmine is still on this show, though I would not enjoy being deprived of my weekly dose of Joy Bryant.) Jabbar is tired of eating lunch with Max every day at school, but he’s going along with it because, well, this is his cousin, and his cousin is also older. But he’d really like to eat with his dorky friend with glasses, who has a name (Jensen, I think), but is going to be dubbed “Todd, Jr.,” by me because, come on.
Anyway, Jabbar would like to eat with Todd, Jr., every once in a while, even if he still likes Max. Max says no. We’re not gonna do that. Jabbar takes this up with his mom, who suggests to Crosby that maybe he could talk this out with Adam, and then Adam could figure something out or explain the situation to Max. Crosby, of course, doesn’t do this because a.) he’s now business partners with his brother and b.) would you want to suggest to Adam that his son can be a little difficult? Adam knows this already. He doesn’t need your judgment. So Crosby avoids the issue, which turns out to be the exact wrong thing to do, since it leads to a big Jabbar and Max blowout on the playground. (God, I love that I’m writing about this plot development like it happened on Breaking Bad. The greatness of this show is evident when stuff like this happens, and you treat it like Tony Soprano killing someone.) The fight’s brutal, as televised little kid fights go, and also, it hinges on Jabbar telling Max there’s something wrong with him (since that’s how Crosby ever-so-delicately put it). Ouch.
Of course, Adam and Crosby make up because on this show, you learn to love the people you hate and vice versa. When the two get the wiring for their recording studio done, it’s a nice little moment, but it also speaks to the fact that all of these people are stuck together, like it or not. These little conflicts will pass, and things will get better once everybody sits down and talks it out. I realize that sounds impossibly mundane, but good episodes of Parenthood—even ones as goofy and silly as this one could be—make that mundaneness feel somehow vital. You like these people, but you also want to punch every single one of them in the face. Kind of like real life.
- Some of you have been commenting on this in recent weeks, but the pop music underscoring? It’s really starting to get ridiculous. Rein it in, Katims! Rein it in! (I think the goofiest one was when the kids were getting dropped off at school and some ultra-hip indie band was playing for no real reason.)
- I continue to be incredibly uninterested in Sarah’s romance with day-player Jason Ritter. NBC’s in trouble, right? Let’s just give Ritter the spinoff he evidently wants, where he teaches English by day and plays in a glam-rock band by night. (Actually, I think Katims and NBC are developing a show where Ritter plays a teacher. I doubt the glam-rock band angle is in there right now, but if it is, we’ll know the producers are reading these pieces and/or my mind.)
- I greatly enjoy that every other episode contrives a reason to get all of the Bravermans in the same room. It also appears to be the only way Sydney will ever get dialogue. Keep clawing for those lines, kiddo! “E-reptile dysfunction”? Gold!
- Braverman of the week: Zeek. I mean, c’mon. Could it be anyone else? He rode on a boat on dry land and had not one but two hot wives.
- Spoilers for the next-week on: Next week on Parenthood: Kristina gives birth to the cast of Once!