I knew something would have to give in tonight’s Parenthood when I got to the halfway point, and just about everybody was behaving fairly reasonably. This was weird, because at least half of the storylines were vaguely unbelievable and/or obviously forced on the show to provide some false drama. The fallout from the Adam and Rachel kiss, for instance, mostly just involved Adam telling Kristina (after Crosby cautioned he shouldn’t) and Kristina asking if Rachel would be fired. And the Joel and Julia storyline was about the two trying to track down their future child’s birth father to have a little meet and greet with the guy. Amber struggled with money, Crosby and Jasmine realized they had to make some things clear for Jabbar, and Sarah was nowhere to be seen. Clearly, the bad shit was just around the corner.
And then, oh then, everything erupted. Parenthood is almost always at its best when things erupt because the show gets that in an argument, people can be petulant and small, but they’re rarely coming at issues from positions they don’t believe in (unless they’re total dicks). Take, for instance, what happens once Kristina finds out that Adam hasn’t fired Rachel. It’s a tough scene to watch because it’s easy to understand why Adam didn’t fire her—she’s a good employee, in spite of everything else—but it’s also easy to understand why Kristina’s so damn angry about the whole thing. Would you want your husband working with a younger woman who’s obviously enamored of him, particularly when you’re still trying to lose pregnancy weight? Probably not. We in the audience know that Adam Braverman is a damn saint who would never do anything to hurt Kristina, but to her, he’s only human, and his failure to fire Rachel is a sign of him thinking with his dick.
A lot of Parenthood relies on people doing believably stupid things, and that sometimes means the show stumbles. Rachel kissing Adam was so obviously the show trying to come up with something to goose the drama, but Adam not firing her felt like something his character would do. So was the scene where Adam lied to his wife about the firing, believing, for whatever reason, that he could indefinitely put off having the conversation where he admitted he hadn’t. Of all of the characters on this show, Adam most believes in his own bullshit, which gets him into trouble more often than not. He doesn’t fire Rachel because he’s trying to be the good guy and spare her feelings. He doesn’t tell his wife the truth for the same reason. Both actions can’t occupy the same space, and Kristina’s hurt feelings are the kind of small-scale Armageddon that makes this show compelling at its best. I wasn’t terribly thrilled about the way to this point, but I’m interested to see where all of this is going.
Similarly, Crosby and Jasmine not realizing that Jabbar would somehow realize via osmosis that his parents had split up and wouldn’t be getting married struck me as a little dumb. I get hoping that you won’t have to have a difficult conversation with your child, but there’s that and then there’s apparently not understanding that 6-year-olds don’t always grasp the intricacies of adult relationships. Once the two got over their momentary stupidity, however, this was really quite a good storyline, showing how the show excels at portraying those small moments in families that make all the difference. As an added bonus, it was a storyline that seemed custom-made to return Jasmine to a place where she could be seen as likeable again. The show’s struggled with the character, precisely because the freewheeling Crosby is often easier for the audience to sympathize with, and this was a good return to form for the character. It’s nice to remember that she’s not always nagging someone about something. Crosby and Jasmine sleeping together, however? That’s something I’ll wait and see on. Seems disastrous, but I think the show realizes that, at the very least.
Meanwhile, Amber’s money troubles were also perfectly observed. Turning to a family member for financial help is never fun, no matter how much you’re certain you’ll get the money and no matter how much you’re certain that they’ll be happy to help, and the scene between Amber and Camille hit all the right notes for this sort of thing. I also liked that Sarah tried to help Amber get her budget under control, only to find that her daughter had no idea what any of the stuff her mom was asking about actually cost (and seemed offended to even be asked about it). I think I like Amber so much because she reminds me of me at her age. I, too, had basically no interest in budgeting or getting my finances under control, and that made for more than a few tense conversations with family. Still, Amber’s getting it together, and I’m just glad the show didn’t have someone steal her rent money out of the landlord’s mailbox or something (which I was certain we were headed for when she crammed that huge wad of cash in an envelope—who doesn’t have a checking account?!).
Once again, though, the Joel and Julia storyline was pretty dumb. I actually didn’t mind how it started out. Zoe is working well within the framework of the little family, and I thought, like Joel, that it was high time we met the birth father. Unfortunately, the kid was such a mustache-twirling villain that it was hard to find something in this scene other than the writers heaping more problems on Joel and Julia. Remember what I said earlier about this show excelling at arguments where you completely understand where both parties are coming from? That wasn’t really true here, as the bio-dad was all, “You should totally give us money for this baby,” and Julia and Joel were all, “That’s illegal,” and bio-dad said, “But you’re a lawyer! You make the laws!” and Joel all but threw him bodily out of his house and said, “No, my wife upholds the laws.” That moment was kind of awesome, but the whole character of the birth father was one that didn’t really work.
Look: I get that people are going to be opportunistic in this situation. I get that this kid who works in a grocery store and knocked up his girlfriend is going to walk into Joel and Julia’s house and say, “Hey. Now this is living.” (Parenthood, though subtly, has always played around with class distinctions between its characters.) I’m fine with all of that. But the way he immediately jumped to a payoff was both crass and didn’t even attempt to get into the character’s head in an interesting way. He’s just a plot impediment, standing in the way of Joel and Julia getting the baby they want, and people on Parenthood usually get what they want. (I’m not saying this is a bad thing.) Yes, the way that Joel and Julia have gotten this baby so easily is blatantly unrealistic, but attempting to toss in a complication like this out of nowhere doesn’t help in that regard. There’s an interesting story to tell about wealthy people who adopt a baby from people of very little means. There’s an interesting story to tell about a birth father who talks a birth mother out of signing her child away so quickly. But I’m not sure this is it, and I’m not sure it should happen this suddenly.
- Braverman of the week: I’m going to give this award to Crosby, as he says exactly the right thing in every situation. Okay, yeah, he was wrong to suggest Adam shouldn’t have told Kristina about the kiss, but, honestly, I totally see where he was coming from. And he got to hook up with his super-hot ex-fiancée!
- I liked the family dinner in Adam and Kristina’s place. I always enjoy the kids joking around, and it’s fun to see the characters being warm toward each other like this. But more Haddie please.
- Nora is an awfully cute baby. It’s good to know that Jason Katims learned his lessons with Gracie Bell over on Friday Night Lights. Television demands preternaturally cute children!
- This is a show known for goofy musical choices, but even I can’t quite believe how goofy the choice to have Rachel sit down and start playing “Moonlight Sonata” to score some SUPER DRAMATIC STUFF was.
- I must say the “next week on” did not fill me with extreme confidence in terms of the show no longer forcing drama on the characters.
- “We’ll have an illiterate headbanger.” “But a pretty one.”
- “We all kissed each other.”