Hi, I’m stepping in for Todd on Braverman coverage this week, although I miss him as much as you do after last week’s lovely review.
Last week’s episode had many revelations, but the one that Todd focused on was the most riveting: the dissolution of Joel and Julia’s marriage. This week, everyone gets torn apart a bit: Max and his friend, Oliver and his band, Amber and Ryan. Part of the problem seems to be that other people stubbornly insist on making their own choices, however much they might differ from what we want. Micah doesn’t want to go to the basketball game with Max, who has insulted him. Hank is put out when he has to compete with Sarah for a job. Ryan has up and reenlisted, to Amber’s devastation. Even Oliver’s band doesn’t get him.
Some of these storylines seem like retreads from earlier seasons: Max has had trouble socially since the days he was learning foursquare and trying to join the Mathletes. But it never gets any less gutting when his parents realize how alone he is. Both Adam and Kristina are such super-powered parents, but Max’s Asperger’s keeps putting the family in positions that even the Bravermans can’t find their way out of. Max telling his friend that he can’t play basketball because he’s in a wheelchair seems like it could kick off a lifetime of alienating people, which makes his parallel with Hank, who is now suspecting his own Asperger-like tendencies, so interesting as a possible future version of Max. But at least Max now has Hank to talk to, i.e., someone besides his parents. When Hank complains about losing a job to Sarah, Max throws him, “I like you better than Aunt Sarah.” Hank knowingly replies, “Well, you might be the only one.”
But that whole photography conflict seems like a tease, because as soon as Sarah says she doesn’t have the equipment or the experience for the SurfSport job, we think of Hank, who has both. Their teaming up for the assignment immediately seems like an inevitability, so the scenes preceding it are kind of pointless. Sarah would have done better to counsel her daughter through Ryan’s impending departure. In all honestly, I haven’t seen every single episode this season, so forgive me if there was a rift and I missed it, but why is Zeek the one comforting Amber and not Sarah?
With all this emotional weight, at least one of the Bravermans needed a light week: Unsurprisingly it’s Crosby, who gets saddled with Oliver (The All-American Rejects’ Tyson Ritter) after the band kicks him out. This is a hilarious scenario, as having Oliver in your house would be like hosting some strange hipster alien: rolling cigarettes at the dinner table, putting his hair up in crazy ponytails, waxing rhapsodic on the beauty of family meals. It’s perfect because Oliver himself is a kid on so many levels, so everything he pulls out (Chips for breakfast! Horror movies in the middle of the night!) would be like catnip to a middle-schooler like Jabbar (and to Crosby, apparently).
Refreshingly, his visit doesn’t end with Crosby passively letting him stay until Jasmine puts her foot down, but with both Luncheonette partners reminding him of his contractual obligation to finish the record. But Jasmine figures out what Oliver’s really afraid of: completing the album so that it will go out in the world to be judged. (I can relate, buddy, I’ve got about an only about an hour left to wrap up this review.) Between this week’s career-saving advice and last week’s dress-lending and Googling, no wonder Jasmine gets a song written about her this episode.
What I love about Parenthood is how it’s like a verité soap opera of an actual family, if that family was really good-looking, all with interesting jobs. The relaxed, talk-over-each-other banter and the shaky camerawork contribute to this docudrama appeal. Unsurprisingly, the show works best when various Bravermans are teaming up with and playing off of each other. But as the number of storylines seems to be growing at an alarming rate, the crossover is becoming more and more minimal, until we’re downright grateful for a scene in which Adam and Crosby team up to yell some sense into Oliver (love how they all make a point mid-argument of wishing Jabbar a good day at school). The only straight-up family support this week seems to be Amber’s reliance on Zeek while Ryan waits to go to the army base.
The plotline that sticks the most is the one highest on the emotional scale: Julia and Joel seem so far gone, they (and we) are dumbfounded to think of a way to get them to relate to each other again. When Julia goes downstairs to tell Joel about the Ed relationship and how that happened, Joel refuses to discuss it, and later also rejects the thought of a marriage counselor. These scenes have so much emotional resonance, and are wonderfully played, but one factor keeps bugging me: Why in the world doesn’t Julia mention the fact that practically the same thing happened to Joel a few years ago with that little minx Raquel? When Joel was a stay-at-home dad and Julia was working, he was king of the playgroup and was kissed by the mother of Sydney’s best friend. Julia even had to ask him about it after Crosby gave her kind of a vague heads-up. Maybe the difference is that Julia initially dodged Joel’s question. Or, at that time the two of them were in a better place so that their marriage could withstand something like that, enough so that even the playgroup remained intact. Still, it seems like a parallel situation that Julia would at least bring up, especially as she’s being blamed for her marriage dissolving.
Because Joel hits below the belt, on exactly the issues that mothers torture themselves over: Will I lose my identity if I leave my job? Joel’s answer: Yes, Julia hasn’t been the same since. Are we only staying together for the kids? Joel’s answer here is another painful, devastating affirmative. It could be because Joel just got his ass handed to him by Penny from Lost (Sonya Walger), an attractive blonde in a power suit, just like his wife used to be. Or because he realizes the limbo his marriage is currently isn’t doing anyone any favors. Still, the episode ends abruptly with Erika Christensen again being amazing by doing that thing where you’re about to cry harder than you’ve ever cried in our life, but you try to keep it inside your chest so you won’t totally lose it. Hopefully next week, she’ll start confiding in her family more, leading to some of those excellent Braverman heart-to-hearts we tune in for.
- Good for Julia, telling the gossipy coffee-klatch moms to get a life.
- “I’ve heard of SurfSport. I don’t live underground.” “Well, you sort of do.”
- Over the top musical cues: surf guitar music for the Hank-Sarah showdown at SurfSport.
- “What’s the meaning, Mr. Dogfish?”
- Next week: Looks like Bonnie Bedelia returns, thank God. Thanks for having me this week, it was fun!