Parenthood: “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back” 
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Parenthood: “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back” 

Hey Parenthood. Hey, hi, how are you? Good, good, yeah, things are good. Um, can we talk for a minute? No no, nothing’s wrong, I just thought we should, you know, talk about some stuff. It just seems like lately, this week—and this isn’t a criticism, like, at all—you’ve just been, I don’t know, wanting to sit down and have a lot of talks? About, like, everything? And like I said, it’s not a bad thing, it’s just that, you know, we’re heading into the season finale, and sometimes it seems like all you wanna do is, I don’t know, talk about stuff.

Okay, let’s be real, Parenthood is basically made of people talking about stuff. The Bravermans and Braverman-adjacent spend the majority of their free time calling for meetings of both the one-on-one and family variety. What was it that got Max to wash his pits and pubes? Talking.  What comforted Drew after he narrowly escaped getting swallowed by a big, scary abortion plot? Talking. What helped Kristina through her chemotherapy? Weed. But there was some talking, too.

But with Kristina’s cancer storyline taking a breather for the week, and Drew hidden away safely in the cellar they keep Camille in most of the time, most of this week’s drama centered on the Julia, Crosby, and, most ominously, Sarah arms of the Braverman crest, and man, do those arms like to sit down and talk things out. (Arms do that, right?) Given that weighty family conversations are Parenthood’s stock in trade, these moments are often among the best in any given episode, and this week was no exception. (More on that in a moment.) But when an already weak storyline—the Sarah-Hank-Mark triangle—is being fueled solely by intense one-on-one conversations, it starts to feel like it’s running on fumes.

The good news is, it looks like Jason Ritter has at least another week of meals coming to him from the Parenthood craft-services table. (Todd, who will be back next week for the finale, will be very relieved.) The bad news is, he’s a pawn in one of the most played-out resolutions to a love triangle ever, the ol’ “It’s him or me” declaration that arrives a week before “him” has to move to Minnesota, at least according to the “next week on” teaser. Don’t get me wrong, it was nice to see sweet, gentle Mark grow a spine and tell Hank off for being a weasel—because, don’t get it twisted, for all the weird, mumbly chemistry between Hank and Sarah, he definitely acted like a weasel. But despite Mark’s newfound determination to ignore the fact that Sarah also acted like a bit of a weasel, it’s hard to see this turning out well for anyone. Hank’s demand to Sarah during their one-on-one confrontation that she figure out what the hell she wants highlights the fact that Sarah doesn’t know what the hell she wants, which is a pretty good indicator that neither Ritter nor Romano are going to be back for Parenthood’s fifth season, which we all agree it has to get, right??

Then again, Parenthood has a history of pulling storylines out of their tailspins (let us not forget how “Julia wants to buy a baby” turned out) so I’m not entirely counting out the possibility that next week’s resolution could be satisfying on both an emotional and storytelling level. I mean, they did it this week with the Victor storyline, which was rapidly circling the drain following the baseball bat incident a couple weeks back. There’s only so long Julia can basically beg her adopted son to love her before it start to look bad on both her and the little shitheel, not to mention Joel, whom Julia accuses, not entirely without merit, of trying to shame her into the adoption. This episode danced right up to that line before being rescued by a most unlikely source: Crosby.

In a season filled with great moments, Crosby’s conversation with Julia outside the restaurant ranks among the best, as the historically least capable Braverman advises the historically most capable Braverman and—get this—gets it right. Crosby’s coming at this from an ideal angle, having gone through a similar process of having to learn to be a father to a son old enough to wonder what was wrong with this weirdo living on a boat and calling himself “dad.” Jabbar and Crosby are in a great place now, which is a much-needed glimmer of hope for Julia, who’s looking for any indication that Victor may one day love her. Then Crosby doubles down by pointing to Julia as his inspiration during that process with Jabbar, which elicits an adorable squeak from Julia. Sensing he’s on a roll, Crosby then reaches for the brass ring with a reminder that when he was 9, he only told Camille he hated her, never that he loved her. (Wouldn’t you hate someone trying to feed you wheat-germ cookies?) It’s a great conversation, and later, when Julia tells Victor they’re about to finalize the adoption, and asks if that sounds good to him, his simple “yup” foreshadows an actual, honest-to-god mother-son relationship. It’s about damn time.

Of course, there’s only so much Crosby can get right in a single episode, so he extends his ongoing cold war with mother-in-law Renee over a breakfast bar. Crosby is actually not totally in the wrong here—as he reassures himself in the mirror—but he’s also too stubborn and spoiled to recognize that some battles aren’t worth winning, or even fighting, as Jasmine repeatedly tries to point out to him. But, being a Braverman, he calls for a sit-down (another one!) with Renee to ask her to back off on micromanaging Jabbar’s diet, which only earns him a fight with Jasmine and a passive-aggressive smackdown from Renee the next day, when she declares she’s going to start eating dinner in her room so as not to interfere further. There’s no real resolution here, because there’s no real way to resolve this clash until Renee moves out—which she’ll hopefully do next week, because the whole “Crosby feels he’s losing control of his home” thing is rapidly running its course.

Because controlling situations is what Bravermans like to do best—after calling for meetings, that is—as we see in over in Kristina and Amber’s neck of the episode. Aside from the Julia-Crosby moment, there’s very little crossover among the family this episode, with everyone sort of dealing with their own mini-crises before things inevitably come together for next week’s finale. For Amber, this means going to visit Ryan (following an inspiring dough-rolling session with Camille) and encouraging him to take another go at asking Joel for his construction job back, this time with donuts and unabashed flattery in hand. For Kristina, it means taking on the PTA—that’s the Parent Totalitarian Association, FYI—when they vote to kill Max’s vending-machine dreams, coming at those snooty, health-mongering moms with facts and figures about arts funding and healthy vending-machine options that might also include Diet Pepsi for that one dude at the meeting chomping on a bag of chips.

The result is the end of Max’s long, difficult Skittles Saga, complete with cheesy slo-mo victory dance and shower of celebratory candies, which hearkens back to Victor’s similarly overdone-but-affecting home run earlier this season. Those moments and many others have proven Parenthood’s ability, perhaps more so than any other show, to create effective moments out of things that just shouldn’t work, yet somehow do. Here’s hoping Sarah’s doomed love triangle and Crosby’s problematic mother-in-law are similarly elevated by next week’s finale.

Stray observations:
Braverman Of The Week: It’s tempting to give it to Sydney for her bold choice to wear slippers to school, but it’s gotta be Crosby, right?

• Along with Camille and Drew, Adam spent most of this episode in hiding. Presumably he was off working on the verses to that “I adore-a-ya Nora” song he was toying with.

• Wow, that picture up there could not have less to do with this week’s episode. Step up your promo-image game, NBC!

• Julia’s brain is like a hamster in a wheel, you guys. Like a hamster in a wheel.

• It would appear the PTA meeting is being run by Lena Dunham in 20 years.

• Where exactly did Max’s classmates get those Skittles they were throwing in the air? Not from the healthy vending machines, I hope!

• On the back of the Parenthood season three DVD, it says “Deleted storyline: Drew seeks out extracurricular opportunities!,” which I find inexplicably hilarious. So now whenever Drew is missing for an episode, I presume he’s out looking for extracurricular opportunities—which hopefully don’t include knocking someone up this time.

• Fun fact: When you use Shazam to identify a song on Parenthood, it automatically brings up a whole page devoted to the show and the music it used that week.

Filed Under: TV, Parenthood

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