It’s rare that you can see a trainwreck on Parenthood coming from several episodes away, but I’ve been waiting for Sarah to have an ill-advised hook-up with Seth for what feels like 50 weeks now, and the two finally kissed tonight. But then Amber let him know in no uncertain terms that he was not. Screwing this up. For her mom. Again. So he left town, but not before leaving a giant envelope of birthday cards for all of the birthdays he’d missed that made Amber—and me, a cynical old bastard—tear up. (And that envelope looked way too fat for, conservatively, 18—19 minus one—birthdays. Girl’s not 35.) It was a nice moment in a fairly lackluster episode, and it reminded me that Mae Whitman is one of TV’s unsung heroes, one of those actors who tends to get stuck off to the side or in the background but steals every scene she’s in.
I’ve taken some shit from some of you for never doing Braverman Of The Week on a weekly basis after announcing it would be a new feature, then doing it something like one time. That’s because I usually have so much to say that I forget I’m supposed to do it, but this week, I want to make the case for Amber as Braverman Of The Season, in that I doubt we will see anybody have as good of a year as she has had in just this first third of the season. She helped Max figure out how to apologize to Jabbar! She moved out and got a job! She maintained a good relationship with her mother, in spite of everything! And in tonight’s episode, she gives her deadbeat dad a place to stay while he’s easing back into society after rehab, protects the very special thing Sarah and Mark have going on (still not seeing it!), giggles excitedly at her brother’s fledgling relationship, and any other number of things. Amber just might be the best person in existence.
Sadly, though, tonight’s episode wasn’t just Amber wandering around and being awesome, much as I would have enjoyed that. No, the theme of tonight’s episode was boobs. Some women—younger women mostly—have them and can utilize them and were once Kate on White Collar, and isn’t that horrifying? Other women have had multiple children and now lactate through the sexy dresses their sisters-in-law picked up for them. Other women get hit on by much older men and have their fathers wander by to say, “She’s 17” in the only bit of business they get this week.
You’ll get no complaints from me about boobs, no sir. But the whole, “Adam and Kristina haven’t had sex and it’s starting to get on his nerves!” thing felt sort of… jerkass-y, even coming from Adam. I get that we straight men occasionally enjoy sexual intercourse, sure. But c’mon! The woman just had a baby, at an age where she probably wasn’t expecting more kids, and it’s barely been six weeks since she popped the kid out. Also, while we’re at it, I think the show sort of made more out of this than needed to be made. Adam didn’t seem particularly upset about not having sex; Crosby was the one who made it into an issue. And even when he told her he was totally ready to have sex was sort of sweet and unassuming, in the way that a well-trained dog will stand by the door and wag its tail and look over at the leash while you’re doing something else. He’s not going to make a big deal, but, hey, if you’re heading out the door anyway, maybe you could grab the leash and get some solid walking in. If you know what I mean. Anyway, this all ended with Adam getting a blow job, so Kristina did, indeed, grab the leash.
Rachel, the new secretary/receptionist/employee at the Luncheonette, is pretty clearly the Girl Crosby Will Sleep With At Some Point This Season When Jasmine Will Be Most Upset About It (though she’s also likely the Girl Who Will Get A Crush On Adam And He Won’t Tell Kristina About It And Won’t That Be A Thing?). Granted, I shouldn’t be expecting the show to have revealed everything about her character quite this early on, because how would that even be possible? But she seems more like a plot device than a character, someone who—despite the fact that she really is good for the job Crosby and Adam have hired her for—is mostly just there because she looks good in those tops she wears. She’s a device purely placed into the middle of things to make Kristina nervous about stuff—at least this week—and the show’s usually better than that.
Anyway, the other big development this week involved Crosby getting upset about Dr. “Principal Wood” Joe moving in on his relationship with Jabbar. I thought this one was a pretty good story all around, though it kind of suffered for not giving Dr. Joe time to explain himself before he came in and said, “You were right, Crosby. Here are some football tickets.” (I didn’t get a good look at the tickets, but I can only assume Jabbar was going to see a hell of a 49ers game, given how good my beloved ‘Niners are this year.) This show frequently can have an issue with the guest characters seeming more like symbols or plot obstacles than actual human beings, and the series is running into that with Dr. Joe, who alternates between silent and villainous or speaking and impossibly virtuous. That said, I like the dynamic that’s developing here, so I don’t care too much.
Finally, we have Sarah’s complicated relationship with Seth. I’ve generally been enjoying this, but as mentioned above, it feels like we’ve been hitting the same basic beats for the last several years now, and while that’s more or less realistic—those that disappoint us usually disappoint us in exactly the same ways over and over and over—I don’t know how good it was as drama. And then just as I was grousing about all of this, Sarah and Seth kissed, Sarah told Camille how exciting it was to have him evolving into the person she’d always hoped he’d become, and Amber got it in her head to preserve her mom’s relationship with Mark. Any time I start to lose faith in a Parenthood plotline or worry that the writers have gotten bogged down in hitting the same story beats over and over, they have a tendency to pull out at just the right time and find a nice grace note to end on. And while that doesn’t change the fact that the build-up here was mighty repetitive, seeing Amber open up all those cards while Bob Dylan played was every bit a worthy payoff. Nice ending to a messy episode.
- Braverman of the week: I know, I know. Amber is the Braverman of the season, but I’m going to go with Seth, much as it might anger Zeek. He knows when it’s time to skedaddle, and he’s got the presence of mind to do so before things get too heated. (Runner-up: Surprisingly, Julia, who wins mostly by not trying to appropriate every unborn child she sees as her own and just sitting this one out for the most part. Third place: Haddie, who can’t win.)
- Zeek and Camille are people too, and this means Zeek wants to go to the Luncheonette party. But Adam asks Camille to take care of Nora, and Camille’s completely happy to do so. This launches a bunch of scheming by Zeek to get to go, before he finally is given permission by Camille. But once he’s there, nobody cares about Jefferson Airplane, and he heads back home. I sound like I’m making fun of this, but it was one of my favorite Zeek stories in a while.
- On the NBC press site, the photos showing DB Woodside’s character list his full name as “Dr. Joe Prestige.” That can’t possibly be his name, right? Like… that’s going to have to be the name of the villain in my next Frank Fisticuffs novel. Because it’s awesome.