Parenthood’s remarkable February sweeps resurrection has come from a number of factors. It’s turned from the goofy, occasionally broad humor of the first half of the season to a much more dramatic series of storylines, and it’s taken those storylines seriously. It’s started giving its episodes ridiculously long titles (see above). It’s smartly figured out ways to give all of its characters smart, compelling storylines at the same time. And it’s invented a way to have the actions of one Braverman reach out to affect all of the Bravermans who aren’t Joel and Julia, who at this point may as well just live somewhere on an island with their petulant, spoiled child. This abrupt turn toward quality isn’t totally unexpected, since the show did something very similar back in season one, but it’s amazing that it so suddenly embraced all of the things it needed to do to make for consistently compelling television.
Tonight’s episode is a key piece of the “no Braverman is an island (except for Joel and Julia)” puzzle. Crosby, of course, slept with Gaby at the end of last week’s episode, as powerless against the might of Minka Kelly’s sheer feminine wiles as I imagine any straight man would be. Now, it’s the morning after, and he’s having second thoughts. Remember that whole thing where he’s still technically engaged to the mother of his child? Remember how they were just having a really big fight, not actually splitting up? Yeah, this is the kind of thing that turns those “big fights” into permanent separations and turns engagements into extreme bitterness and angry feelings, until Jasmine is sitting in a dusty mansion, surrounded by decaying food and wearing a yellowed wedding dress in tatters and Crosby is, I dunno, a chimney sweep or something. (He’s certainly thin enough.) But the great thing about this is that it doesn’t just stay confined to the Crosby-Jasmine story. It snowballs.
See, Gaby has to quit her job helping out Max. And when you’re Adam and Kristina—and we all know Adam and Kristina—that simply will not do, now will it? So the two pick and pick at the question of why Gaby quit, refusing to take personal reasons as an answer (and, to be fair, it was kind of shitty for Gaby to quit that abruptly, no matter how badly the whole thing was hitting her). And after picking at it long enough, Kristina gets Gaby to crack: She slept with Crosby, and she just couldn’t go on. Thing is, Crosby already KNEW this. He’d been over to the Adam and Kristina house to apologize for blowing up at Adam on the basketball court. (His mind was elsewhere, see.) He’d seen Max freaking out, even with his super best pal Alex there, hanging out. He’d heard that Gaby had quit. He’d tried to convince her to come back, when she just couldn’t, because, see, she liked him. But he wanted his fiancée back. That’s all anyone wants after they cheat: to go back to how it was before.
At the same time, Crosby’s confessed to Jasmine (and thank you, show, for not delaying this revelation; Crosby’s the kind of guy who’d tell right away, naïf that he is). She’s told him how devastated she is, told him he doesn’t deserve anything good in his life (sheesh). So he’s lost his fiancée and maybe even his son. So when he comes over to Adam and Kristina’s house at the end of the episode—after Adam’s gotten done talking about how much he just wants to punch his younger brother—he’s continuing his ritual tour of being punished for his misdeeds. He doesn’t know that Adam and Kristina already know. And he doesn’t know that things are about to erupt into a giant argument about who’s been hurt more. Sure, Crosby’s lost everything he once cared about, but Adam and Kristina have lost the one woman who was able to help them deal with their son’s Asperger’s. Cue the shot of Max standing on the staircase, woken up by the shouting, asking what Asperger’s is. And that’s the end of the episode. A snowball started by one Braverman has completely altered the life of a younger Braverman.
Now, it was always fairly obvious that Parenthood was going to play this card at some point. Having Max learn about his condition from overhearing other people talk about it was always more likely than Adam and Kristina overcoming their indecision to just sit down and talk with their son. And even if they had had a good plan for how to do it, they probably would have waited at least a few years to do so. But the moment, despite its predictability, still stings because it plays a card Parenthood long ago shuffled to the back of the deck (just like last week’s Crosby/Gaby hook-up). Max was always going to learn at some point, but the show has mostly diverted your attention from that fact for the better part of two seasons, so turning one storyline into something else altogether is a stroke of very solid writing. It’s a show that’s becoming very good at having these stories bounce off of each other unpredictably, and that’s been used to full strength in these last few episodes.
The Sarah and Seth storyline has been a little disconnected from everything else ever since it swam back into existence, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t played a solid supporting role in these last few episodes. Tonight, Amber’s breakdown about how little she could trust her dad (and how little she wanted his guitar) was truly moving, and Sarah going to him to tell him he HAD to tell his kids he was leaving town again—on tour, but also clearly stressed out about the things his daughter said to him—was just as good. John Corbett and Lauren Graham have very swiftly created an entire history for this couple, one that’s genuinely, inherently believable, and I hope Corbett comes back for the next sweeps period. This really elevated all of the characters in Sarah’s family and even drug Zeek along for the ride a couple of times. Just some terrific work all around.
Again, Joel and Julia were confined to a very minor storyline, though this one lost much of the sexy humor that made last week’s episode work. Now, they’re battling with Sydney about her wanting to be a vegetarian. Here, too, though, things spiral out just a bit, as Zeek and Camille essentially force Sydney to eat some of the lasagna her grandmother cooked. Julia, predictably, gets mad about this, but Camille suggests that Julia can’t let her daughter have all of the power. She’s got to let her daughter know there are limits. And the advice, seemingly, makes Zeek realize what a great woman he’s married to, and the two fall into their first romantic clinch in quite some time, closing the door and letting the fun, sexy times begin. (I guess the sexy romp was reserved for the olds this week.)
All in all, though, Parenthood has taken such a sharp jump up in quality these last three weeks that I’m almost convinced it can finally live up to the promise of its creative team (mostly culled from Friday Night Lights) and cast. It’s almost as if the show just decided it was time to play every card in its deck and play them as excitingly as possible. Where will this go from here? Can Parenthood ride this wave to become one of the best dramas on TV, as it deserves to be? I guess we’ll find out, but, hey, we’ve still got one episode left in this terrific sweeps month of television. See you next week.
- You know shit’s about to get real when Katims breaks out The National, yo. That’s when he brings the PAIN.
- Amber doesn’t like riding on boats. They make her sick. God. You’d think her dad would KNOW that.
- I’m still grading the show on the, “I’m surprised this is as good as it’s gotten!” scale. Should the show continue this level of quality, we’ll have to readjust. Doesn’t mean it won’t still be better than what came before.
- "It's my pancake-makin' day!"
- "You just keep poking that chicken or whatever."
- "It's gonna solve my desire to punch my brother in the face."