Happy New Year, all my Brovermen and Braverfen! NBC is so anxious to get Smash back on the air that it thought, hey, why not put a new Parenthood on New Year’s Day night, then do basically no promotion for it, because that’s just how it treats a show that’s often won the timeslot for it in the key demo. We’ve gotta get Smash on the air! Because everybody’s waiting for that!
It’s too bad that most citizens of America (or the citizens of the Parenthood-watching portion of America) will blink sleepily at their Hulu queue tomorrow when they realize a new episode was added, and they didn’t get to see it last night, because this was a really solid episode of the show, with good plots for all four siblings, a real sense that things are building to an exciting climax in the season’s three major storylines, and capable direction from one Dax Shepard, who simultaneously acted out the episode’s least serious storyline. Crosby seems to always get stuck with the “low stakes” stories, but this one was kind of a beauty, even if it came out of nowhere. Jasmine’s mom, the one who so evidently hated Crosby for so long, is out of a job, and her money situation is dire. So Jasmine proposes the following: She moves in with the family, and she’ll almost certainly be gone by the time the show comes back for season five in September, right? Right?!
There’s not much to this storyline. It’s mostly just Crosby grumping around about how he needs his space, then Jasmine’s mom is nice to him about how hard this must be for him, and the two are back to being best pals. Like the Marleze storyline, this might have worked a little better if it had any build-up whatsoever, and in this case, it would have been much easier to have Jasmine receive phone calls from an off-screen mother about how her situation was getting worse and worse, if the show didn’t want to pay the guest actress. But unlike the Marleze storyline, we’ve had plenty of time to get to know Jasmine’s mom and come to understand just why she thinks so little of Crosby, so the moment where she tells him he’s a “good man” and he says he’s only sporadically a good man has some nice weight to it. The lightweight storylines sometimes let Parenthood down, but this was a good one. (And, yes, I just realized that I classified a story about an older woman losing her job and being forced to move in with her daughter and son-in-law as “lightweight,” but that’s how Parenthood rolls.)
The episode opens with a nice scene that sets up the hour’s two major storylines. Sarah, Kristina, Julia, and Jasmine all go out drinking and dancing together because they don’t have any other friends, and in the midst of the excitement, Sarah tries to talk out her romantic travails, while Kristina starts to lose her hair. Immediately, we know we’re back in “love triangle” territory and “taking Kristina’s cancer seriously” territory. This bodes well in the case of the latter and “wait and see” in the case of the former. Fortunately, both storylines more or less match up.
I know some of you are a little tired of the endless shenanigans with Sarah and Hank, and I know some of you are all, “Mark who?” but it turns out that Sarah and Hank have continued hooking up since their ill-advised holiday rendezvous. (If you haven’t already, read this slightly spoiler-y—only in the sense that Jason Katims admits Mark still exists and is a person within the Parenthood world—interview with Katims, in which he says that Sarah sleeping with Hank was just the sort of thing that happens around the holidays. He’s clearly been to one of my “get drunk and sleep with your employer” Christmas soirees.) Anyway, I thought this episode did a solid job of explaining just why Sarah would continue to be drawn to Hank, outside of her propensity for dropping atom bombs on her personal life just when it seems to be stabilized, probably stemming from how poorly her marriage ended. Ray Romano plays “reluctantly romantic” really well, and his little heartfelt speech about how much he likes hearing Sarah’s voice and seeing her face every day was very sweet. I can’t say I’m actively rooting for these two to get married already, but I do think he’s at least a different kind of romantic partner for Sarah, and that’s refreshing. That said: She really avoided that question about whose schlong was bigger, huh?
The other scene in the teaser is the one that would win Monica Potter an Emmy award if I were at all convinced the Emmys know the show exists. It’s such a simple thing—Kristina shaves her head as she realizes that she needs to get out ahead of the chemo—but Potter makes an emotional meal out of it. She starts out all business-like, just as you know Kristina would. But she gets progressively teary as her long, blonde hair, hair that really defines her within a family of largely brunettes, is shorn from her head. It’s a wordless, powerful sequence, and Potter takes the ball and runs with it as far as she can.
Peter Krause, of course, is there to keep up with her. When Kristina emerges from the bathroom with her newly smooth head, he starts a bit, taken aback. Granted, he’s just been awakened from sleep, but it’s still not the reaction she wants. Adam’s usually so in control and so Mr. Perfect that the show has to struggle sometimes to faze him, but it makes a good choice here: Adam wants to help, when all Kristina wants is for him to leave her alone. He sees her looking at wigs online, so he takes Sarah down to the local wig store and buys the most god-awful wig you’ve ever seen. Kristina, of course, takes this as an insult, as proof that Adam can’t stand looking at her and is as shaken by the sight of her as the folks down at the local grocery store. There’s a great fight—these two have the messiest, realest fights on the show—and then it all ends with Kristina taking Adam out to a hotel for a little time in Funkytown, only to realize she’s too tired to do anything. It’s still sweet, even if I’m starting to wonder where the family is getting all of this money from. (Spinoff idea: Breaking Hattie, in which one well-to-do Cornell freshman gets involved in the heroin trade to pay her mother’s medical bills. YOU KNOW YOU LOVE THIS IDEA, KATIMS!)
Finally, we have Joel and Julia’s storyline, which deals with the elephant in the Victor storyline head-on: He’s never going to get to see his mother again, because she waived parental rights and was, indeed, unfit to be his parent. Can’t they just be friends now? No, they can’t. Joel and Julia are his parents now, not his foster parents, and he’s going to have to get used to this. He takes this about as well as you’d imagine, just as Julia takes Victor asking when he’s going to get to see his “real mother” again extraordinarily well. Sydney sees Victor’s weak spot—just as you knew she would (and she’s turning into my favorite character on this show—and she finds one of those giant Morton’s salt canisters and starts dumping it right into the middle of that wound. Victor throws a baseball bat, Sydney screams, and just like that, the fault lines in this little family are laid bare. Julia’s referring to Sydney as her “child,” then having to remind herself she has two children, and Joel is busy trying to talk her back from the brink of returning Victor to the foster system. It’s some dark, emotionally complicated stuff, and it remains to be seen if the show can possibly deal with it in all of its complexity. If it can, hats off, but I still have my doubts.
But we all know we’re not going to follow up on that next week, because we’ve all seen that next-week-on. My reaction, in a nutshell: What?! See you then!
- Savannah Paige Rae’s work as Sydney was mostly, “I’m a little kid!” stuff in the first three seasons, but she’s really doing great work in all of her scenes this season. She’s always present for them, even when she’s not speaking, and you can totally see her trying to play everything that’s happened to her advantage. Check out her expression in that scene where Victor is bragging about his 93 and tell me she’s thinking anything other than, “Please. I pull down 100s, little man.” If she keeps this up, we’re going to have to have a new weekly section called “The Trials Of Sydney Graham.”
- Braverman of the week: Look, you know I think it should always be Amber, who is not the creative spark that drives the Luncheonette, for the record, but this was a darn fine week for essentially all of the Bravermans. Let’s give the award to Crosby, who not only found his way past his own resentment to a kind of grace but also directed all of his siblings.
- I didn’t pay attention to the credits, and IMDB is saying nothing. That was Ryan Hansen as the younger guy who hit on Kristina at the hotel, right? That was a fun scene, and I hope Adam and Crosby contrive some reason for him to come work at the Luncheonette, where he will romance Amber and inevitably be revealed to have severe psychological trauma.
- I hope Jason Ritter got $5 million for appearing in that Facebook photo. I somehow doubt he will, though.
- Max is happy that his mom’s head is bald because he thinks she looks like Bane from the Batman movie. Even when he doesn’t appear, Max can really brighten up a room, huh?
This section is for those of you who’ve watched the “next week on,” okay? So. Amy’s having a baby. We know Katims will pull the “abortion storyline” trigger if he needs to, and if his network will let him, but do we really think Parenthood is the right show to do a hard-hitting storyline about why an 18-year-old girl might want to have an abortion, instead of giving her baby up for adoption or keeping it? Also, I imagine Mark is just going to open that conversation with Drew all, “So you guys weren’t having safe sex? Dammit, Drew!” and Drew’s going to be all mopey. Anyway, prediction #1: miscarriage, convenient plot point friend to TV writers every way. Prediction #2: Amy has the baby, and some Braverman somehow ends up raising it. Maybe Hattie? That would make the least sense, but I feel like a baby would really liven up her new show…