Credit where it’s due: This was the first Joel and Julia storyline in a while that didn’t make me want to stab things at least once during its running time. You know how the two are kind of smugly superior to everybody else, and when the show tries to make them own it somehow, it mostly just makes them more annoying? Somehow, that all got tossed on its ear in tonight’s episode, when the two realized that they were raising a spoiled brat who didn’t know how to lose after Sydney threw a giant tantrum after losing at a game of Charades. (Again, that I can write this sentence like I might breathlessly recount Tony Soprano whacking a guy is one of the reasons I love covering this show.) Joel beat his daughter at a game of Candy Land, and it got even worse, as he finally had to lock her in her room after she smacked him around a little bit. (Not gonna lie: That scene was awesome.) Then, Joel has Julia take over sitting outside Syd’s room while she tells him all of the ways he’s failed her, and the whole thing ends with Julia drinking wine out of a drinking glass and the two talking shit about their kid. It’s awesome.
But here’s something: This is the halfway point of this season. No, really! There are only 18 episodes ordered for this season, and the season finale will air February 28! While last season concluded with four episodes that seemed completely tacked on so this could end up being a good thing, doesn’t it also kind of feel like there hasn’t been much of a build this season at all? Things are just sort of happening, and while there have been some tremendous, tremendous storylines and moments this season—like Alex and Haddie’s break-up or the episode where Nora was born—the whole thing feels sort of scattered at present. It’s working very well on the episode-by-episode level, so I’m not going to complain too much. But when this show is working well, it’s both telling those smaller stories and slowly building much larger ones. Then again, it took last season a while to get to that point, so maybe I’m being alarmist. Still, it does feel like that’s what the season’s missing.
Other than that persistent, nagging worry, though, I was kind of into everything in this episode. I think that we’re supposed to see Rachel kissing Adam as a huge moment that could ruin everything. And I guess it kind of is, since I can’t imagine Kristina not wanting Rachel gone once she finds out about it and it’s inappropriate workplace behavior and all that. Yes, Rachel is the reason Gavin’s so down with renting out the studio for a whole month, so her kissing Adam would jeopardize that as well, particularly if he had to let her go. But at the same time, do we really believe that she’s going to come between Adam and Kristina, that he’ll run off with her or something? Of course not, and I wouldn’t want this show to be that show. But then the flipside has to be the case, and we really have to believe that if Adam and Crosby fire Rachel, there will be serious consequences. But do any of us really think that if Rachel goes, Gavin will withdraw his contract, and Crosby and Adam will have to hustle? Has there ever been a chance the Luncheonette would fail?
One of the problems with the Luncheonette storyline has been just how easy everything is. Crosby gets a half-assed idea, and a few weeks later, he and Adam are on the verge of owning the best studio in the Bay Area. Maybe that’s realistic (I somehow doubt it), but there’s been a weird lack of stakes in this storyline. Maybe we’ll learn next week that even with the spurt of good luck, the two are barely breaking even. And certainly losing a client for a month would be a big deal. But the only tension here comes from the idea, I think, that Rachel is all loose and free and easy, and Kristina’s kind of high-strung and just had a baby and isn’t ready for sex. But, again, this just isn’t the kind of show where Adam would cheat on Kristina.
And, see, I liked this episode quite a bit, and here I am bitching about things because I’m an awful person. I continue to like Sarah’s season of letting go, as she’s forced to consider the fact that both of her kids have grown up and don’t need her as much as they once did. The scene where she admitted to Drew that he’s old enough to understand the consequences of not getting good grades so, sure, he could still see Amy was a highlight of the episode, and I liked the way it tied in with how Joel and Julia realized that their daughter wasn’t all that grown up just yet. (I love when the show subtly parallels the actual storylines about parenting.) I also liked that the storyline worked in Camille in everybody’s favorite spinoff, Bonnie Bedalia Spends Her Time, as she got mad at Sarah for making her play watchdog to Drew. The Sarah storyline definitely feels like it’s had at least a slight build this season, and I like that she’s still figuring out a way to let her kids go and work her way through the issues she has stemming from how her marriage ended.
What else happened? Crosby and Rachel attempted to star in the Northern Californian remake of Once, and he seemed suitably baffled that she wasn’t falling for his charms. (The scene where Adam tried to explain to him why this was unprofessional was fun.) Zeek ran all the way over to Joel and Julia’s house to tell them they were raising their daughter poorly, then beat Sydney in chess so we could all see that she’d learned her lesson and was able to congratulate him on a good game. When the episode was over, my wife made me watch Toddlers & Tiaras, and the difference between the two shows was stark, yo.
Oh, and we got to see just why Adam’s so crazy about his wife, when she figured out that the kids on his math bowl team weren’t impressed by Max’s skills but, rather, making fun of his mannerisms and methods. It must be a crushing realization to figure out that kids are being mean to your kid when your kid thinks they’re just trying to be friends with you. (I’ve been there, Max.) Watching Kristina’s slow-boiling fury was great, and I thought the show made the best use of Monica Potter that it has in a while when she chewed out Lewis, Max’s nerd bully, who stared at her unwittingly and was terrified by the notion that he lived in a just world, where if he dared say anything bad to a Braverman, it would be revisited upon him and then some. Parenthood walks that fine line between realism—God, my kid’s a sore loser, too!—and wish fulfillment—who wouldn’t want to tell off their kid’s bully with impunity? Sometimes, it screws that walk up, but when it does, as it did in the two highlight storylines of tonight, it’s both a lot of fun and hugely satisfying.
- Parenting pro-tip: How do you let your kid win at Candy Land? Isn’t that just all about the luck of the draw and, thus, the perfect game to teach kids about colors, gracefully losing, and the magic candy gods who dictate our every move?
- Braverman of the week: Jabbar. He mostly just turned up to stand there and watch Sydney play chess, but that was some intense watching, man. It was awesome.
- I completely want to play Braverman Charades. I also have to believe that Joel really would be able to somehow convey “Gattaca” using only frantic hand gestures.