Before he made Parenthood, of course, Jason Katims was the guy who turned another movie, Friday Night Lights, into a television series. Friday Night Lights was, of course, one of the great dramas of all time, but it was also a show that would work over your tear ducts like nobody’s business. It was rare to see an episode of the show that didn’t end with everybody watching it at home weeping for the simple goodness of the people of Dillon, Texas, and this was one of its chief virtues. It’s normally kind of hard to do scenes that make people cry without forcing it, but Katims was like a mad genius at it on Friday Night Lights, constantly coming up with reasons to make even the hardest of grown men weep.
Yet on Parenthood, I don’t really find myself crying or, really, even tearing up. I’ll laugh at some of the lines, and I’m certainly invested in the characters and what they’re up to, but I can’t say that I’m incredibly emotionally drawn into these episodes. I like to view the Bravermans as specimens on a microscope. I care about them, but in the way that you might really, really care about a particularly cool pet. I realize that this makes it sound like I’m dissing the show, but I’m really not. (I’m on record as calling it one of the best dramas on TV, so obviously.) I’m just saying that the level of emotional investment hasn’t been as thorough with this show as it was with Friday Night Lights.
But goddamn if Katims and his crew didn’t get me tonight with that closing act, set to Death Cab For Cutie’s “Transatlanticism.” That’s a song I’ve been waiting to hear a TV show use really well because it’s a song that has such a slow but relentless build. It starts in one place, where it seems like it’s going to be a mopey kind of thing, then keeps growing and growing until it’s finally gotten to the point where it’s exploding with something like hope. I’m not a big Death Cab fan, generally, but I really love the shit out of that song, and I was waiting for the rest of the world to acknowledge it. I got why it didn’t pop up in too many places—it’s super long, and that’s hard to do on TV well—but I was still sitting there, waiting for it to score, say, a romantic proposal in the rain.
Then it did! Let’s be clear here: There were plenty of things in this montage that I normally would have been opposed to, but I found myself swept away by them. Crosby and Jasmine, together again? I’m not sure I want to see that, even if the show’s going to dig into them getting married (already?!). The aftermath of Amber’s affair with Bob? We’ve already been over some of the ways this doesn’t make a lot of sense (though I like it a lot more than some of you do). Julia and Joel getting one last baby fakeout? Please. We know that’s not going to happen. But in the moment, as the song keeps going and going and going and building and building and building, it swept me along, and the whole thing just worked perfectly. I’m totally on board with all of this, now! I guess that shows the power of a well-edited musical montage on your low-rated family drama.
Also, I’m vaguely impressed with how well this season has ended up coalescing. By and large, the show has followed the same small set of plotlines, with a couple of small detours to visit Zeek’s mom or what-have-you. And despite some rough going in the early parts of the season—remember when Julia was trying to steal that baby?—the whole thing built and built (just like the song and the montage), until we reached this point where each Braverman was facing a major life juncture at the same point in time, and it somehow felt completely organic. That’s a tough thing to do, but I never once thought to myself, “Hey, it’s weird that Crosby and Jasmine are realizing they’re still in love with each other while Julia’s son is being born!” So I’d count that as a success. This was an episode that revealed, in some ways, just how well-structured the whole season has been, in a way that was deceptive all along. It didn’t feel like the show was juggling as many balls as it was, but once the whole thing wrapped up, it became that much more apparent that, yeah, it was keeping a lot of things in the air.
This is particularly apparent in how the show got me to care about the relationship between Julia and Zoe. I’m relentless about adoption storylines, and I rather thought that once this one got off to such an unrealistic start, I’d never come around on it. But in the last couple of months, I’ve slowly become really invested in watching this weird little friendship play out. When Zoe told Julia—in the throes of labor—that she loved her, it was another tear-jerking moment (without Death Cab, this time), and when Julia saw Zoe sitting and holding her baby, as she wouldn’t before, smiling and laughing and just generally being the very picture of every adoptive parent’s worst nightmare. I’m interested to see how all of this resolves next week, and I can’t wait for someone to realize that Rosa Salazar is just phenomenal and put her in the lead on some cool new drama. (I’d recommend Katims put her in County, but I don’t want that show to entirely be the Island of Misfit Parenthood Guest Stars.)
If there was a weak point in the episode—and as you can tell from the grade, I didn’t think it was much of one—it was probably in the various Sarah storylines, which were good, but not as exciting as everything else. I’m finding it a little hard to get too invested in whether she and Mark move on to New York or whatever, simply because I’m well aware that Jason Ritter is just a guest star, and this show already has such a sprawling cast. (I think it’s a given that there can only be one new Braverman child-in-law per season, and looks like Jasmine’s our pick for this season.) I suppose there’s a way this ends up surprising me, but I’m not holding out hope for that. No, if there was a Sarah scene worth getting excited about this week, it was the way she zeroed in on Kristina with all of the questions the audience had for her last week. Why, exactly, was it wrong for Amber to hook up with Bob, hmm? It was a really great scene, and it went very well with the complementary one, in which Kristina explained to Sarah that it would really be fine if she went off to New York. (These two need more scenes together.)
Yeah, it was all a little sappy, I guess, but sometimes, a little sap is good. This has turned out to be a pretty perfect season of television, despite all of those false starts, and I hope the show sticks the landing much better than it did back in season two. Let’s see what next week holds!
- Braverman of the week: Surprisingly, Julia, who was just the perfect hand holder and helped Zoe through every single awful moment of giving birth. I think this is the first time we’ve ever given the title to Julia? Good for her!
- Oh, yes, Adam wants money, but Crosby doesn’t want to sell the Luncheonette. I like when the show deals with financial issues, but I don’t like when TV shows drop in rich people like genies, just there to toss money in the vague direction of the protagonists. (That said, Kadeem Hardison! Where have you been, man?)
- There were a surprising number of Bravermans (Bravermen?) sitting this week out or having greatly reduced screentime. It really was about the four siblings, plus Jasmine and Kristina, wasn’t it?