Back when I reviewed the last episode of Parenthood, “Happy Thanksgiving,” I didn’t realize that the Bravermans would be disappearing for six weeks. That’s an eternity of time for a show that’s not especially plot-driven to be off the air. It’s not like I had any trouble remembering where the storylines were, but when I saw a new episode was on the schedule tonight, my reaction was roughly, “Oh, hey. That show exists,” instead of, “I’VE MISSED YOU SO.” Parenthood is just not the kind of show that can be gone that long. It’s the kind of show that needs to be on every so often to remind us of why we turn to it for our comfort food TV. Otherwise, it’s far too easy to get attached to other things or forget it even exists or something like that. Also, when I tuned in tonight, I had forgotten who every single one of the characters was. Coach is in this show? And TV’s Peter Krause? Weird.
Anyway, in case you were wondering what the main theme of Parenthood was, tonight’s episode was there to remind you: Parenting is all about being a colossal douchebag. Grandparenting? That’s all about giving your grandson a beer on Thanksgiving. But parenting? That’s when you get to take away all of your kids’ fun. Is your son having a beer with his friends? You’d better make sure that never happens again. Is your daughter having trouble handling the concept of death? You’d better be sure to tell her that after we die, we plunge into an unending void of nothingness or, alternatively, that everybody goes to Heaven to hang out with birds. (To be fair, that’s more of a parenting “long con,” because if you’re wrong about it, you’ve hopefully got several decades before your kid realizes it and can be mad at you.) Is your daughter dating a 500-year-old recovering alcoholic who lives in a van or something? Well, best make sure those two break up. Are your grown daughters planning a night out on the town? Time to drink them under the table!
I kid. This was a solid episode of Parenthood in what’s a solid season of a solid show. It continues to steadfastly trod the level path it set for itself about midway through season two, rarely surprising the audience or building to some sort of catharsis, but its “rhythms of real life” storytelling offers its own kind of reward. I wasn’t as engaged with this episode as I was with some of the episodes immediately preceding it, however, and I suspect that was because so much of it had to do with Haddie and Alex, a storyline I just can’t be bothered to care about. Somewhere in Jason Katims’ little TV producer brain is a magical gnome that keeps creating storylines where teenage girls fall for men who are just enough older than them to be vaguely unsettling, and while the Haddie and Alex variation on this storyline is probably my favorite so far, I still don’t find it terribly interesting. It doesn’t help that the scene where Alex comes to have dinner with the Bravermans is kinda silly, what with him being all impossibly virtuous and Adam always seeming like he’s going to punch the kid, but then looking as if he’s tremendously moved by his plight or something.
It got better from there, though. I liked the scene where Adam and Kristina talked about how much they liked Alex and just how little their daughter was ready to be dating a guy like this, no matter how mature she was. That felt like the first time this storyline took place in any sort of established reality, and it was refreshingly honest about how, well, parents have to be douchebags sometimes. When Haddie’s 21? None of this will be a problem. But she’s 16, and that means her parents have to step in and let her know she’s not ready to deal with some of this. They do this, and Haddie has a pretty convincing meltdown, and then no one bothers to make sure she follows through, so she ends up agreeing to go on a date with Alex anyway. Rebellion!
One of the things that struck me as odd about that storyline was the fact that six weeks have passed in our universe, but it seems as though six weeks have passed in the Braverman universe as well. Drew and Zeek’s beer at Thanksgiving is a fondly recalled memory now, Julia’s been trying to get pregnant for four months, and Alex gets his six month chip at AA. So it feels sort of bizarre that Kristina would have seen her daughter kissing this obviously older dude and not done much of anything about it until now. I get giving your kids some space to make their own mistakes, especially when they’re reliable, responsible teenagers like Haddie, but c’mon.
On the other hand, treating the storylines as though the characters have been living life for the last six weeks like normal and we’re just popping in on them again was the best choice for the other storylines. In particular, I really liked the Sarah storyline, which felt like it was going in one direction, then went in another entirely. One thing that works nicely here is that everything that happens is completely predictable, but the predictability is dispensed with very quickly, so we can get to the meaty emotional content. Once Drew has the guys over (including Buddy Garrity, Jr., right?) for beer, you know Zeek’s going to walk in and be all, “Stop drinking my beer!” But that happens immediately. And then you know Sarah’s going to find out eventually and freak out. But that, too, happens almost immediately. This leaves the bulk of the hour for the real storyline, which is all about how Sarah has been unable to really tell her kids about how much of an addict their father was. Now she has to, because she needs them to know that if they start drinking or taking drugs, it could be a problem. It’s a nice twist on an old, old story, and everybody involved plays it well.
Julia and Crosby get much smaller-scale stuff to deal with. Over at the Julia/Joel compound, a bird collides with the glass door, which means, of course, death for Sydney’s new feathered friend. After hemming and hawing over whether to tell their daughter about the fact that everything ends and nobody really knows what comes next, Julia and Joel finally decide to broach the subject of death with Sydners. I liked that Joel and Julia had an honest difference of opinion about what to tell their child, with the show treating both of their viewpoints as valid. I’m sure some will be upset that Julia ultimately caves and tells Sydney about Heaven, but I bought it in the moment. Sydney’s clearly distraught at the thought of losing her mom and dad, and Julia’s not going to just sit there and let her completely fall apart because her husband doesn’t believe in any of that. She’s going to tell her that after we die, we get to hang out with dead birds, and everybody’s going to be happy about that.
Meanwhile, Crosby is stuck in the umpteenth variation on the “Crosby has trouble being mean to people but especially Jabbar!” storyline, but I again fell for it, primarily because Dax Shepard really sold the moment where Crosby watches Jabbar go kinda nuts and start throwing his toys all around the room he’s supposed to be cleaning. You can see the fear in the guy’s eyes. Will Jabbar ever love him again? Probably, but WHAT IF HE DOESN’T?! You can see just how much it’s taking Crosby to stay strong, to not cave and just take his son to the zoo, and it’s a nice little moment in a storyline that was kind of a bore otherwise. But that was sort of an encapsulation of the rest of the episode, really: Kinda boring, but filled with nice little moments. Let’s just assume everybody involved is getting their stuff back together after the long break, even though this completely ignores the vagaries of the TV production schedule.
- Nice use of space: Jasmine pulls Crosby away from the kitchen down the long hall into another room, and we get to see the two start their argument from the kitchen, Jabbar in the foreground.
- Another nice use of space: The camera follows Haddie to the door, then follows Kristina back from it.
- Lines that will never be given an ironic reversal ever, I’m pretty sure: Sarah is done with dating forever! She’s just going to have fun! Yay!
- Is this the first Drew storyline all season? I think it is!
- "I'm using a little legal jargon there for your comfort."