You all know I love me some Parenthood sap, right? I love when the characters have been fighting and shouting and yelling and then everything just breaks down and they admit how much they love each other or whatever. I’m a sucker for this kind of sentimental stuff when done well, and Parenthood does it as well as anybody. But there are weeks where the show just pushes TOO FAR in that regard, and that was one of the things I didn’t quite like about “Slipping Away.” The first few acts? Very good, but for some weird little quibbles here and there. But that last act? It was just filled with too many super sappy moments, where the characters completely abandoned any hint of subtext and just said whatever ooey gooey stuff crept into their heads. Maybe Sarah’s “win one for the Gipper!” speech to Adam about how you NEVER STOP PARENTING would have been OK as an isolated thing, but then Adam showing up to pick up Haddie from soccer practice (nice in and of itself) and BANDAGING UP HER CUT ELBOW AND SAYING, “I DON’T WANT YOU TO GET HURT”?! Please.
It doesn’t help that we’ve gone to the “Amber is self-destructive” well yet again, as though the show isn’t quite sure how to close out a season without Amber going a little nuts. And in the things-we-can’t-hold-against-the-show department, NBC has been advertising the shit out of the closing cliffhanger, where Amber is in a car crash, and the longer the episode went on without Amber in a wreck, the more I began to realize that it was going to be the cliffhanger, and the more grumbly I became. I don’t mind a little writer-ex-machina designed to goose the drama, and I have seen enough stupid network promos over the years to realize that they’re a fact of life. But this all seems so casually tossed together to make sure there’s some sort of big event for the finale. Amber’s spiral—realistic though it may be—feels so SUDDEN, and I almost wish the show had gotten an extra episode or two added on to its order, so we weren’t going from college rejection to flirtation with the wrong guy to all-out drug use and car wrecks so quickly.
It’s not like there weren’t great moments in this story. For once, Drew got something to do, as he helped his mom dig through his sister’s purse. (I loved the way that Sarah seemed ready to turn it all on him. Younger siblings never get a fair shake!) And that scene where Amber came to the restaurant to eat with her mom and Sarah realized that she was high was some pretty masterful acting from one Lauren Graham. The way that her face went from jovial good times to complete and utter anger in the space of about two seconds was something to behold. And, yeah, it’s not fun to watch Amber’s downward spiral (again), but Mae Whitman’s still playing the hell out of it, even shoving her mom to the ground and stomping off like a total, petulant snot.
It’s also possible the episode couldn’t overcome that very early scene where Kristina and Adam learned that Haddie was having sex. Look. It’s kind of ridiculous that Haddie’s phone would accidentally call her mom while she was hooking up with Alex, but it was one of the better variations on the scene where the parents accidentally walk in on the kid having sex that I’ve seen in a while, because it actually reintroduced suspense to the equation. Will Haddie check her sent calls and see that she sent one to Kristina she didn’t know about? Will Adam and Kristina keep quiet? Will they ever just confront their daughter with what they know? Plus, it played on that universal fear of all cell phone owners that when you’re bad-mouthing somebody or saying something you don’t want someone to hear, your phone is developing a mind of its own and calling them, even when you’d rather it wasn’t. Only, y’know, this all happened with teen sex. So there were ample opportunities for lessons.
Actually, I’m still a little blown away by just how little teens having sex for the first time seems to be a big deal on TV anymore. When I was in junior high and high school, teenagers getting freaky was treated as an EVENT with full-page ads in TV Guide and everything. Now, it’s just something the teens on TV do, like the way teens in real life keep having sex with boyfriends and girlfriends despite the world’s inability to stop them from doing so (and believe me, the world keeps trying). The scene where Haddie goes to her mom and tells her that, yeah, she’s been having sex with Alex is pretty refreshing because there are so few histrionics. It’s just a mother and a daughter having an honest conversation and the mother realizing that things are never going to quite be the same. (Adam’s reaction also struck me as very realistic, and the moment when Haddie tries to tell him to fix the showerhead struck me as something of an homage to a famous moment in the My So-Called Life pilot, that being the show showrunner Jason Katims got his first job on. Though I may be making this up entirely.)
Julia mostly played runner this week, darting between various storylines while attempting to avoid thinking about her own storyline, which is filled with sadness. On the other hand, she spent most of her time with Crosby and Jasmine, trying to help her brother carry out his insane plan to win back his lady love and then gradually realizing that Jasmine would have none of it. I thought it was interesting to play this vision of Crosby’s clear insanity via his sister’s point-of-view, since we’ve spent a lot of time with Crosby, moping about the loss of his fiancée. The guy’s justified to feel the way he does, but it still seems a little one-note, so I think it was smart to make the switch this week to putting Julia in an uncomfortable position. We’ll see how this all plays out next week, as Crosby makes his hail Mary pass via the ugly house of doom.
Really, outside of the predictability of Amber’s story arc and that last act, I quite enjoyed “Slipping Away.” There were a lot of nice little touches around the edges—like consummate acting pro Steven Weber turning up as the most powerful theatre producer on the West Coast. (I get that a lot of the writers on the show were once playwrights and probably know more about this than I do, but man, it sometimes seems like the “Sarah writes a play!” storyline is more steeped in tales of trying to sell a screenplay in Hollywood than anything like the real theatrical world.) And I guess if we have to have something predictable like Amber getting in a car wreck, it’s because this is Parenthood’s version of the hail Mary pass: If it can tie all of these storylines together next week, via the ailing girl, then it’ll have one heck of a season finale. C’mon, Parenthood. Give us the mega cheese.
- I like that Joel apparently has so little to do in his own life that he can embark upon all sorts of insane home improvement projects for his in-laws.
- We didn’t see much of Zeek or Camille this week. Zeek’s finest hour might have been in what appeared to be a K-Mart photograph from 1995 that apparently sits on Julia’s desk at work, a photo that was enough to weird out Amber and keep her from having sex with her boyfriend on Julia’s couch.
- Sydney and Jabbar have worked out a secret handshake. The other Bravermans should fear for their lives.
- That speech from Lauren Graham totally should have had the words “FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION” flashing at the bottom in giant neon.
- "Sorry it looks like a Howard Johnson's from the '70s."