There’s something wonderfully sentimental about tonight’s episode of Parenthood, which delves into a number of topics that are worth feeling sentimental about. You’ve got kids going to prom, someone losing their virginity, and someone becoming a home owner for the first time (and not of a houseboat). It’s a surprisingly moving episode without having to resort to the big dramatics that made the February episodes work so well, and it’s nice to see that the show can nail this tone, even when it’s not having everybody shout angrily at each other. It’s also a surprisingly busy episode, to the point where Joel and Julia are actually faced with something like a genuine storyline, and it STILL mostly gets shoved aside in favor of other things. But that’s OK because those other things are still mostly enjoyable. So what was going on with our various Bravermans tonight?
Well, all things must start with the prom, which was the unifying storyline for the night, roping in a variety of the show’s players. Haddie’s excited to go with Alex, even though she worries he’ll think it’s dumb. Fortunately, he acquiesces soon enough and even suggests one of his friends from down at the community center could go along as Amber’s date. Amber’s really got nothing else going on, what with the way she’s not going to college in the fall. (Go to community college, Amber! California has some great ones!) So she agrees to go with the two and be the blind date of Brandon. (Sarah’s glee at her daughter finding herself in this situation makes the episode almost entirely worthwhile.) And, of course, Kristina and Adam are worried about Haddie and Alex having sex, so when they’re out dress shopping, Kristina asks Haddie if there are plans for the big night in that regard. Haddie says it would be a big cliché, and that’s supposed to be it.
Except this is TV, so of course it’s not it. By mentioning sex to Haddie, Kristina creates an elaborate chain of events that lead to her daughter doing the deed with Alex after Amber leaves the prom early. She goes back to his apartment, and if the look on her face when she gets back home is any indication, it wasn’t all that great. Just as Jack Shepherd trying to prevent the Incident on Lost actually caused the Incident (because that was how everything happened on that show), Kristina basically tossed her daughter into bed with her boyfriend. (Or, y’know, they’re just teenagers, as she remarks earlier in the episode, and their hormones are going nuts. I LIKE MY EXPLANATION BETTER THAN THE REAL ONE.) I DID like Adam’s constant talk about how he had sex with Michelle McCann and his fear that his daughter—his DAUGHTER!—would be inspiring the same level of scrutiny from Alex. I also liked that last shot of Haddie setting her shoes and corsage atop her dresser, a long, lingering shot meant to prompt feelings of bittersweet nostalgia at how much Haddie is growing up and how far away we are from our own teenage romance years. This, I thought, was a good set-up for the inevitable “teenagers having sex and their parents freaking out” storyline, and we’ll see how the other half of the storyline (the parents freaking out) plays out next week.
Meanwhile, Gilliam is trying to get Sarah to just settle down and focus on her play, while she’s pulled in a million different directions by the other things she has to do. In addition to the writing I do for work, I do some of my own writing on the side, and I can completely sympathize with Sarah’s plight here. To really give yourself over to the work is a difficult thing when you’ve got family and friends to take care of and a job to keep going to. Sure, someone who gets paid to be a playwright can spend all hour of every day focused on the work, but Sarah’s a bartender with two kids to feed. She needs to take a break every now and then, just like I need to take breaks from MY creative writing to play through the complete Gabriel Knight saga all over again. (Discovering gog.com was not good for my productivity.)
At the same time, she’s trying to figure out how to shepherd her daughter through this trying time of not knowing just what the future will hold. For starters, she has to deal with the fact that JULIA was the one Amber told about the Berkeley rejection, which comes up in a discussion where Julia’s telling her all about how she can’t have another kid. (Way to make it all about you, Sarah!) And then Amber keeps putting things off, until Zosia Mamet, all-purpose TV teenager, boasts to her friends at prom about how smart Amber is and how she’s SURELY gotten into a great school and Amber has to say, no, she didn’t, and she doesn’t know what’s next. She goes home from the prom, and after a fight with Sarah about how she doesn’t WANT to figure things out right now (when that’s all Sarah wants), inspiration strikes our girl, and she begins working on the rewrites that are already late. (Seriously, how long did this episode take place over? Do teenage girls buy prom dresses right before prom nowadays? Because when I was in high school, they were already prom shopping in January. Am I turning into an old man?) I like what’s going on with Amber and Sarah here, how they both have certain dreams for each other that just aren’t working out as they might like, but I’m wary of what was shown in the next-week-on in regards to this story. It feels like a clichéd kind of place to go to.
Meanwhile, in non-prom-related news, Crosby still feels like a douchebag about what he did to Jasmine, so he’s decided to be just like Ted Mosby and buy her a house. Because that will work. It’s a pretty shitty house, and he spends most of the episode wandering the greater Bay Area to find someone to go see the house with him because he makes up his mind. But when his sisters come over to see the place, they let him know just how terrible it is, before he lets them know he’s already put down the down payment on it and sold the houseboat. (And it is a right ugly house. I have no idea how Crosby thinks Jasmine is going to be impressed by it, though I suppose the gesture could pay off. Jasmine doesn’t seem like a “thought that counts” kind of girl, though, particularly when it comes to cheating ex-fiances.) But then, just when he’s at the lowest of the low, Crosby hears a familiar voice from the doorway, and Adam’s arrived to tell him that the two of them can “fix it together.” Man, that was one of the more moving moments I’ve seen this season, made even better by the way that Parenthood strategically uses the gaps in when it’s off the air to make it seem like the Crosby/Adam feud took place over several months, instead of just a couple of episodes. You knew these two would forgive each other, but it was really touching nonetheless.
Finally, we come to Joel and Julia, off on their island of non-intersecting plotlines. Sure, most everyone finds out about the troubles the two are having, and sure, the scene where Camille comforts her daughter is really sweet, but the bulk of this storyline—Julia tries to make every moment with the daughter she DOES have count while laughing maniacally like a supervillain—was a little off. I got what the show was going for (well, it came out and TOLD me what it was going for), but this felt like a very stopgap measure, designed to keep us from the inevitable next step in this storyline, when Joel and Julia decide to have expensive fertility treatments or adopt a baby or clone Sydney but try and make her a boy this time or whatever. It wasn’t BAD, but everything else was clicking along so well that it couldn’t help but stand out for its very B+-ness. And with just two episodes left in the season, it’s the B+ stuff that sticks out even more than usual.
- The week in Zeek: He doesn’t understand why Alex, a recovering alcoholic, would be upset by him drinking beer when coming to pick up Haddie for prom. Will Alex tackle him to take the beer? He seems genuinely concerned about this. I used to think Zeek—with his weird combination of inability to understand things like Asperger’s or recovering alcoholics and a streak of Berkeley iconoclasm (what with knowing dudes like Gilliam and all)—was an inconsistently written character. I’ve since decided he kind of makes sense as played by Craig T. Nelson and, thus, contains multitudes.
- Gilliam’s super-dark backstory gets a few glimmers this week, with us hearing about his first wife and how he got his first directing job. (Turns out he thinks he knows more than Shakespeare. Can you imagine anyone going to Hamlet, not getting the “To be or not to be” soliloquy, and being totally OK with that?) Also, I love how Richard Dreyfuss says “prom” like he’s Gollum. Let’s get this man back on our television sets on a weekly basis!
- Speaking of which, is Braverman Berkeley populated entirely by well-known TV character actors? I have to assume so.
- "Is he homeless?" "No. He's not homeless."
- "Haven't you ever made a mistake?" "No, I haven't, actually!" (This is totally a conversation I’ve had with my friend. I’m the latter because I’m perfect.)
- "I had sex with Michelle McCann on my prom night!"