It’s been a while—almost a month!—since we last saw those wacky Bravermans and learned what they were up to. Back in February sweeps, the show found a way to ramp up the drama quotient and simultaneously ramp up our involvement in the program. Now, after most of those storylines (save Jasmine and Crosby’s shattered relationship) have been tied up, the show has retreated again to its veneer of quiet domesticity. That doesn’t make tonight’s episode a bad episode, but it does feel like a bit of a breather, a pause before the inevitable season finale storm. There’s plenty to recommend here, but there’s also stuff that feels a little timid, and the Adam and Kristina storyline mostly just seems to be there to give them something to do. (Hey, it happens.)
Our guest star of the week who gets sucked into the world of the Bravermans is Oscar-winner Richard Dreyfuss, playing a theatre type named “Gilliam.” Now, we could just call him Gilliam, but he’s basically just played as Oscar-winner Richard Dreyfuss, so I think I’ll stick with that. (This isn’t a problem, really. Oscar-winner Richard Dreyfuss is a fun actor who deserves more work.) Anyway, Oscar-winner Richard Dreyfuss was an old Vietnam buddy of Zeke’s, the guy who put on the greatest production of Death Of A Salesman that Saigon had ever seen—featuring Zeke as Biff! Now, Zeke has invited him to the Braverman compound to read Sarah’s play and offer his frank commentary. I find Zeke’s excitement about Sarah’s play to be terrifically amusing, particularly when he takes the play into the bathroom to read and when he suggests he should probably play the character based on Zeke.
That said, Oscar-winner Richard Dreyfuss doesn’t get involved with just any old play. And he’s got some notes for Sarah, to the point where he says that one of her favorite things in the play—a climactic speech—kinda sucks. I loved this storyline because it struck me as actually true to the way Sarah’s writing career might play out. Last time around, her ex-boyfriend’s extensive praise for her genius felt a little out of left field. But this really is how someone who’s promising but not yet great might be greeted to the creative world, and I fully expect Oscar-winner Richard Dreyfuss (completely with a career filled with dark secrets and an appearance in something called Pickle Juice) to push Sarah’s buttons for weeks to come. I also liked the way Lauren Graham played Sarah’s defensiveness about this criticism. Sure, it’s all fun and games when your ex-boyfriend is still trying to get in your pants, but how about when a crazy dude is only reading your stuff because his old Army buddy badgered him into it?
But Sarah’s daughter was having her dreams temporarily shattered as well. High on life, starting a new job for Julia’s law firm, and about to start college, Amber found herself confronting an unfortunate fact: Even with the helpful intervention of Lenore from Hung/that coal mining woman from Justified, neither Berkeley nor Amber’s safety school wanted her. The scene where Amber finds this out, trying to put on a brave face while on the phone, is just terrific, as Mae Whitman’s face gradually crumples into tears but she gamely holds on just long enough to get off the phone. After that, she’s adrift, wondering what she’s going to do and hanging out with the valets (led by Cappie from Greek, because this is an episode just FULL of actors you know from cult TV shows). She ends up in Julia’s boss’ car, getting high, but this leads to a nice scene where Julia pushes past her extreme anger to give her niece the comfort she needs to keep her head held high and face the uncertain future with courage.
And it’s not like Julia’s having the best time of it either. She and Joel still can’t get pregnant, and the two of them decide to get tested to see if it’s a problem with them or with the fact that conceiving a child is an insane lottery in which sperm have to dodge more enemies than a Castlevania game to get to the egg. If it’s the former, there will be crying; if it’s the latter, there will be gradual exploration of a large, free-form environment and much slaying of monsters. Anyway, this is Parenthood, so of course it’s the former, and even though this storyline contains some of the better laughs of the episode—with Sydney being confused as to just what her father could mean when he talks about “good swimmers” in that adorable way that children have of being adorable—it ends on a deeply sad note. Julia’s got some sort of uterine scarring, and that’s going to make it hard for her to conceive another child. Does this mean expensive infertility treatments? Adoption? Something else? Who knows, but it’s nice to see these guys get a storyline that doesn’t involve them being practically perfect in every way.
THEN, there’s Jasmine and Crosby. One of the things I thought worked well in this episode was the sense that time had passed since the last episode, that things had settled down a bit in the intervening weeks, which allowed for things like a rather realistic détente between Jasmine and Crosby, wherein she’s able to be in the same room with him and figure out what’s best for their son but still doesn’t terribly want him anywhere near her. Crosby, of course, takes the fact that they’re all working on a project for Jabbar’s school together as a sign that he will imminently be back with one of the many hot women who inexplicably want to sleep with him, but Jasmine lets him down again—more gently this time, though she still tells him about how she’ll never forgive him and stuff—and it’s a pretty heartbreaking companion scene to the Joel and Julia one.
Anyway, as I write all of that, the episode sounds pretty good, a nice little breather before we head into whatever’s next. But I wasn’t a big fan of the Adam and Kristina storyline at all, even as I imagine it’s going to head into some really interesting territory in season three. It increasingly seems like every storyline featuring these two involves them arguing about how to raise one of their two children, then having one of the two have a random encounter with another character, which leads them to change their mind. It seemed like this episode might have gone somewhere interesting with all of this when Kristina comes across Gaby working at the Lessings (the hussy!), but then it was just a way for Kristina to learn the error of her ways in her hesitancy about sending Max to a mainstream school next year.
Don’t get me wrong: Max’s budding intellectual prowess and his introduction to a normal school environment strike me as terrific story material, but cramming all of this setup into one episode and having Gaby be the one that makes Kristina change her mind still struck me as odd. But then I saw the promo for next week, which—spoiler alert!—appears to be trying to be the “I Think We Should Have Sex” of Parenthood. And that could be very good, indeed. All is forgiven, show! Let’s enjoy these last three episodes.
- Yes, you read that correctly. Just three episodes left in the season, with the show ending its second season on the very strange, very early date of April 19. I’d be more worried about that spelling a possible cancellation for the show if I thought NBC had ANYthing else, but it’s been performing surprisingly well in 2011, especially compared to how it was performing in 2010. I think we’re safe.
- Haddie doesn’t get a single line (OK, she gets a little background dialogue that isn’t the focus of any scene), and yet she remains TV’s most remarkably unremarkable teenager. I liked the way she conveyed the awesomeness of her day to her dad entirely via hand gestures.
- Isn't it bizarre how no one on TV ever actually IDENTIFIES their safety school? I'm just going to assume that Amber's safety school was CSU Chico, home of the Wildcats!
- I was all set to be weirded out by the Joel/Julia phone sex scene, but then it was funny instead.
- Jason Katims has apparently run out of National tracks to pilfer and has moved on to Band Of Horses. This can only end poorly.
- "No, there's no faxes anymore because it's not 1990."
- "You're the dark, shadowy, short little short guy." "Yes, that's exactly what I am."