Parenthood: "I'm Cooler Than You Think"
B+

Parenthood: "I'm Cooler Than You Think"

B+

Parenthood

"I'm Cooler Than You Think"

Season 2, Episode 3

Parenthood is, as we've determined, the most unoriginal original show on television. A big part of that is simply the fact that there's always so much going on in each episode that it makes what happens seem that much more exciting with the multiple discussions and laugh lines swirling around. But another big part of that is that the producers are pretty good at seeming to lead viewers down the path toward one cliche plotline but actually sending them down a path to a different one. It's not uncommon to watch a storyline and expect it to land in one place and then discover the show is going for something completely different entirely. Both plotlines are complete cliches, but by feinting toward one, the show is better able to distract us and then leave us pleasantly surprised at a completely different destination. To that end, it's probably useful to break down the five plotlines Parenthood embraced with tonight's episode and see where it seemed like we were going and where we actually ended up.

Crosby and Jabbar

Where it seemed like we were heading (for several weeks now): Crosby, having trouble being so far from the mother of his child and his lady love, gives in to temptation and sleeps with TV's Minka Kelly. Sadness ensues.

Where we were actually going: Crosby has to deal with a strict grandmother who doesn't like his free and easy style!

How it all worked out: Well enough. Pretty much every episode has a moment where Dax Shepherd has to stare at someone soulfully and intone about how Jabbar is his SON, and he's ENTITLED to his RIGHTS as a FATHER. Somehow, Shepherd always pulls this moment out, and his seeming wonder at how being a dad is as much about spending awesome time with your kid as much as anything else is always enjoyable to behold. The show has tried to make something out of how the Bravermans and Jasmine's family come from very different worlds, but when it comes down to it, both families seem to consist mostly of upwardly mobile, upper middle class, vaguely liberal Berkeley folks. So the moments when Crosby and Renee seemed to clash over how his happy-go-lucky style might lead to him deserting Jabbar were heartfelt, but possibly not as moving as they could be because we don't really know Renee all that well. Still, the moments unquestionably worked. And, hey, you ever notice how having to churn out four to six plotlines every episode means that many of those plotlines will feature what seem to be completely missing scenes, like how Crosby was going to go to church with Renee and Jabbar, and then the experience was dealt with in a throwaway line? Because that was something I would have liked to have seen.

Can the original storyline come back?: Minka Kelly lurks, but she's mostly been tormenting Adam.

Adam and Max

Where it seemed like we were heading: Adam realizes that in all of his hard work, he's been neglecting Max, who really needs his love.

Where we were actually going: Adam is still having trouble adjusting to this whole autism thing, and the fact that his son can't have a conversation with him continues to rankle.

How it all worked out: I know that developer Jason Katims takes a lot of the autism material from his own life, so I have to assume that he is continually stymied by his own experiences with his kid. And I can see where this would be possible! But because of the demands of network TV (which largely require that Max's condition be explained over and over, usually by TV's Minka Kelly), Adam can sometimes seem too much like a doofus who just doesn't get that his son needs to be treated and handled differently from the way a normal son would be. What was cool about the way this storyline played out was that it seemed like it was going to be about Adam decided he needed to spend more quality time with Max, and it became about how Adam NEEDED more quality time with Max, how he still can't quite wrap his brain around his son's autism and wishes things were at the destination without having completed the journey. Peter Krause and Max Burkholder always play this material well, and the final conversation between the two in the car was well done. I wish they'd stop with scenes where it seems like Adam doesn't understand his own son, but this storyline ended up in a nice place.

Can the original storyline come back?: Probably not, though the close cousin we actually saw will probably be repeated a few times.

Kristina and Haddie

Where it seemed like we were heading: Control freak Kristina won't let Haddie do her own thing ever at all, particularly when it comes to running a campaign for student body president, because Kristina knows politics.

Where we were actually going: Control freak Kristina won't let Haddie do her own thing ever at all, particularly when it comes to running a campaign for student body president, because Kristina knows politics.

How it all worked out: You can't win 'em all, Parenthood. Nothing against the way Monica Potter plays her or anything, because I think she does a good job, but Kristina is often a character who has trouble rising above the level of stereotype. She's just the over-involved mom, who's always getting up in everything that her kids and husband are doing. This storyline mostly played out in the background, but I liked the way that Haddie told her mom off (and the way Adam kept trying to get her to "cool her jets" and "watch her tone" because apparently even Peter Krause will become a dorky dad someday), and I like the way that no one but Adam really likes Kristina, how she can seem closed off to just about everybody else.

Can the original storyline come back?: I have to assume that Haddie's run will continue for another few episodes.

Sarah and Amber

Where it seemed like we were heading: Amber's new friend means that Sarah no longer sees her little girl. Possible corollary: Amber's new best friend is revealed to be a guy. (What? Kelsie's an androgynous name!)

Where we were actually going: Sarah's worried she's not cool enough for Amber's new friend, who's rich and privileged and stuff.

How it all worked out: Pretty well, actually. It was a little unbelievable that Sarah's new best friend, Mike, would walk by at exactly the moment that she and the girls had decided to give up on the concert, but I'll let that slide for the aftermath, which allowed Amber to conclude that her mom was, indeed, kind of cool every once in a while, then clink coffee mugs with her. The class aspects of Parenthood have always been highly understated, but they're there, and they came through again in this episode. Sarah's surrounded by wealth, but she's had to move back in with her parents and work a variety of jobs that aren't exactly glamorous. She's doing it all for her kids (and how rarely do we see her son, now?), but Lauren Graham does a good job of playing down just how frustrating this must be for Sarah before letting it all leak out through the cracks.

Can the original storyline come back?: I think it's pretty safe to say that Kelsie is not a dude. But I'm sure we'll get some hardcore, "You spend too much time with your friend!" storylines before this is all out.

Julia and Joel

Where it seemed like we were heading: Julia and Joel are going to try for a baby! Yay!

Where we were actually going: Julia and Joel are going to try for a baby! Ambivalent sigh!

How it all worked out: Julia - who may be the first television character to ever observe (and accurately) that sitting and watching someone while they sleep is "creepy" - wants another baby, and she's excited to tell everybody about it. Joel plays along for a while, but we know he's not so sure both because he's acting less enthused and we watched the "this season on Parenthood" clips package a few weeks ago. When Adam comes over and congratulates Joel on the decision to have another kid, it all snaps, and he angrily confronts his wife about how giving birth to another child doesn't terribly impact her - outside of the whole passing the kid through her vagina thing - but it will impact him, since he's a stay-at-home dad. This is a very, very old storyline, but it's been given a nice, gender-flipped twist in this episode, and both Sam Jaeger and Erika Christensen do nice work, as Julia tries to plot out how well a six-year gap will work out and Joel just looks for time to work on his desk, man.

Can the original storyline come back?: If Joel's still ambivalent when the baby is actually born, that's probably grounds for divorce.

Stray observations:

  • The teenagers on Parenthood have very similar musical taste to my own. I don't know if this is because the writers on the show have no idea what teenagers listen to or because I should be listening to Ray LaMontagne. (I'M NOT READY YET.) Though there's a show at a hot, underground club, and it's a secret show, and the best you can do is Ben Harper playing? Even I know that's skewing a little too closely toward music that white guys in their 30s who insist they're still cool listen to, not what funky teenagers would like.
  • I always like the scenes where all of the characters are in the same room, and I keep waiting for an episode where everything takes place at one of these parties. Tonight, they got together to watch a baseball game, because the Bravermans worship baseball or something. Their god is David Eckstein. He's scrappy.
  • Zosia Mamet (who played Kelsie) is just everywhere nowadays. David must be so proud.

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