Parenthood: “Tales From The Luncheonette”
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Parenthood: “Tales From The Luncheonette”

This is probably impossible to tell from the way I hold out hope for literally every television show on the air, but I’m something of an optimist. I quit a steady job back in 2008 to take on a brief freelance contract, then watched the economy collapse and the contract run out. But I was rarely worried that something else wouldn’t come along, to the eternal irritation of my wife. Finally, after a few months of basically laying around and lazily applying for jobs, I said, “Hey, I’d like to write for The A.V. Club” and figured out a way to do that, even though everybody said freelance budgets were being slashed all over the place. And here I am today, someone who figured out a way through the most crippling economic period in our nation’s history since the Great Depression pretty much by making it up as he went along and whistling cheerfully.

But people like me—or like Adam Braverman—can afford to be optimists because we’ve got a certain degree of financial stability (in both cases, not a lot, but enough to buy ourselves time when we need it) and because we’ve had tremendous, stupid luck, luck that not everybody has. When you’re someone like Sarah Braverman, and you find yourself continually making excuses for a guy you know is just going to let you down, or when you’re Crosby, and you find yourself always struggling to keep your head above water, just knowing that you’ll screw it all up, it’s a lot harder to assume that The Luncheonette plan will just work out because your older brother says it will. I guess what I’m saying is that people like Adam and me are the most irritating people on Earth, because we have a tendency to believe things will just work out, but we rarely see the other people behind the scenes, the people making sure it does work out, so sure are we that God has reached down and kissed our oh-so-special asses.

The irritating thing about Adam is that things do work out for him an awful lot. It turns out that Cee Lo was mostly upset with his own performance, so he simply acted like he was going to be ditching the Luncheonette, then came back the next day. And so the Luncheonette lands its first really big client (and shows itself off as a place for Jason Katims to further indulge his love of music—we’re on to you, Katims), and everything works out, and Adam’s attempts to spread his essentially unfounded optimism to Crosby, who’s pretty sure this is all going to fail miserably. Crosby would seem to fit the definition of someone who would become a happy-go-lucky optimist—since everybody’s always cleaning up his messes—but he’s also someone who knows the music world and knows that both he and Adam aren’t ready, no matter how much Adam tries to make it so through sheer force of will. But Cee Lo saves their bacon. I hope the Lunchonette plotline doesn’t end here, since I’m loving the Adam/Crosby dynamic this season.

Meanwhile, the Sarah portion of the episode deals with another one of those tricky questions: How do you deal with someone who’s always letting you down but has to remain in your life for one reason or another? Most of the time, these people are in our direct families. It’s hard to write off a sibling or a parent or a kid who’s constantly screwing up and asking for forgiveness just as frequently. It’s quite another when it’s an ex-husband. Sure, it’s someone whom you’ve had children with. But it’s also someone you finally had to leave because he was unreliable. That’s what divorce is for, after all. It separates partnerships between two people who are headed in different directions, particularly if one of those directions is disastrous, as Seth’s is. And yet Sarah can’t stop hoping for the best, even if she’s certain he’ll never be a romantic match for her again. She, in her own way, is an incurable optimist, despite all evidence to the contrary.

The scene where Sarah broke down and asked Julia and Joel for the money to help put Seth through rehab was a heartbreaker and might be one of my favorite scenes the show’s ever done. The series rarely comments directly on the economic situations the various siblings are in. (If I had to guess, the rank of the total net worth of these characters probably goes Julia, then Zeek/Camille, then Adam, then Crosby, then Sarah.) But it’s always been obvious that Julia and Joel have by far the most cash of anybody in the family, and it’s nice to see the show play around with that fact without being heavyhanded about it. It was a great scene for Lauren Graham, yes, but also for Erika Christensen and Sam Jaeger, who mostly seemed thrilled to be involved in a storyline that didn’t involve weird adoption schemes.

My other favorite scene of the episode involved a recurring theme of the night: Zeek butting in where he probably shouldn’t have been because he loves his kids so darn much. Zeek’s one of my favorite characters on the show, but he rarely gets all that much to do, and this season, he’s been used as comic relief perhaps too often. That’s why it was slightly jarring to have him asking Julia and Joel if the coffee girl was really pregnant or to have him telling Sarah that there was no possible way he was contributing money to the “Get Seth Well” campaign. (The moment where he tells Camille not to give her any money and she says she doesn’t have any money was nice, too.)

It all culminated in that dinner where Joel, the greatest man who’s ever lived, apparently, finally just stood up to his father-in-law and laid out the fact that he and his wife are adults, with financial independence and a daughter of their own. And if they want to sink all of their funds into the rapidly sinking ship Seth or if they want to adopt a baby they found out behind the old barn, well, that’s what they’re going to do, and Zeek’s going to have to deal with that. Like Zeek, Joel hasn’t been used all that well this season, so it’s a nice reminder of how he’s pretty much the one wholly decent person on television that doesn’t feel like some artificial construct dreamed up by computers who say, “This is what the hu-mans will enjoy.”

And here we are coming up on the end of this thing, and I haven’t even touched upon Drew turning to Amber—always sensible and wonderful Amber—to get advice on how to kiss Amy, who is clearly the girl Jason Katims (and, let’s be honest, every straight male who posts on The A.V. Club) wishes he was dating at 16. (Spoiler: Drew manages the job.) We haven’t even touched on the way that Adam’s boundless optimism and energy tend to leave his wife footing the bill, taking care of the baby, reading Haddie’s college application essay. (Spoiler: She doesn’t kill the baby, and Haddie’s essay is awesome.) Some episodes of Parenthood really succeed in laying out big, emotional moments, but some succeed by just seeming particularly well-observed about the way family dynamics play out. This one was one of the latter, and though it probably wasn’t as exciting as everybody shouting, I’m still impressed by how well the show is building momentum this season. I think we’re gonna end up somewhere great.

Stray observations:

  • Proposed spinoff: Cee Lo Green, boundless optimist, races about the Bay Area, to the irritation of his friend and manager who really knows the way this business works, the guy who was always chomping on a cigar.
  • Complaints? I have a few. First, too little Amber. Second, the Julia and Joel adoption storyline is still stupid. But I liked Joel telling Zeek off for pointing out that it was stupid so much that I think I’ll drop all complaints about it going forward, unless something really awful happens to exacerbate them.
  • I always forget just how much John Corbett completely inhabits the role of Seth, how he makes you realize why Sarah would keep giving him chances as a human being, even as she’s pretty much written him off as every other possibility. I also like the way that it’s obvious that your friend and mine, Jason Ritter, is going to be driven away by the fact that he simply can’t deal with all of this bullshit. It’s both perfectly reasonable and deeply frustrating.
Filed Under: TV, Parenthood

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