Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Parenthood: "Opening Night"

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I hear your grumblings. I hear the way the handful of you that think this show is dog balls grumble in comments each week. It’s boring! Nothing ever happens! There’s no real conflict! The family members at the center seem a little too co-dependent on each other! Everybody’s a relatively sedate, upwardly mobile person, and the show does its best to iron under most of the real struggles they face! I hear all of these concerns. I do. When you line this show up against many other, more exciting shows—even executive producer Jason Katims’ other show, Friday Night Lights, which at least has the football season to provide an underlying structure—it’s hard to say that it’s very exciting or very propulsive. What it is is comfortable, and while that’s fun for some of us, it’s never going to be fun for all of us. But who cares, ultimately? If you weren’t on the edge of your seat wondering whether a 5-year-old boy was going to emerge from backstage to say his line tonight, well, you could always go watch Teen Mom or something.

Because, look, if there’s one thing Katims does better than just about any other writer working in TV right now, it’s scenes where parents seem disappointed in their teenagers, and they also seem disappointed in the viewers at home. Think of, say, the way the Taylors have gotten so upset with Julie this season (I assure you that’s not a spoiler) of Friday Night Lights. It’s hard to watch how disappointed they get because they feel like OUR parents. And even though I have next to no stake in the Alex/Haddie relationship, I couldn’t help but feel something similar when Adam and Kristina got so upset with her for keeping her relationship with Alex from them. These were MY parents, and they were deeply upset with ME for, uh, dating a 19-year-old recovering alcoholic. Yet the show is very good at making sure we understand just where everybody’s coming from. And that’s important to make the ending here land.

See, Haddie moves out. She goes to live with her grandparents (in the increasingly crowded Braverman Central complex). It’s the closest thing we have to a continuing, “dramatic” storyline this season, up there with the struggles of Sarah and Amber last season, and while it’s not, y’know, Walter White running over a couple of drug dealers with his car, it still feels pretty huge. This sort of thing doesn’t happen on this show, and it only happens when it’s built to effectively, as it is here. Haddie’s been kinda ignored all series long, because her little brother requires so much time and effort and she’s so GOOD. Now that she’s found something that’s all her own, her parents are just taking it away from her, seemingly by divine declaration, and that doesn’t sit right with her. What’s great about this is that, even though Alex is a boring nothing of a character, you totally get just how everybody feels conflicted about this except Haddie, who wants what’s coming to her and wants it now.

I’ve said week after week that I just don’t care about Alex and Haddie, and I think I’ve figured out why. As written and performed, Alex is so impossibly noble that there’s basically no danger that he’ll ever be a REAL danger to Haddie. I get why Adam and Kristina don’t want the two of them dating intellectually, but he just seems like such a nice dude all around that it doesn’t make a lot of sense emotionally. It doesn’t feel like Alex could do ANYthing terrible, much less be forced to get into the program or really hurt the 16-year-old girl he’s dating. He’s Mr. Perfect, and that robs this storyline of any drama that it might be trying to build toward. And while it’s always nice to have that teenage girl fantasy thing where Mr. Perfect comes along and saves the day, it’s not horribly realistic. I like the fallout of Alex and Haddie’s relationship, even as I don’t buy that she’s “falling in love” with him or whatever.

Anyway, the other major story thrust tonight picked up from the “Jabbar clean your room!” plot of a few weeks back (riveting television for you naysayers, I’m sure). After Jabbar decides that he doesn’t want to do his big line in the school play, Crosby tries to get him to get back out there. Jasmine, however, is totally fine with him ditching the play and his line. Crosby’s not so sure about this, but he defers to his fiancée, who is, after all, the kid’s mom. But after a while (and an enjoyably patriarchal conversation about pants wearing with his father), Crosby realizes that, dammit, he’s Jabbar’s parent, too, and he wants Jabbar to see how exciting it can be to perform for people and have them enjoy it. So he insists. And when Jabbar’s big moment comes, he’s gun-shy. Sydney would do it, but Crosby already negotiated her takeover of the line away from her. It’s all on Jabbar’s shoulders now.


It’s sort of amazing just how much drama the show wrings from this moment, which shouldn’t have any bearing on anything, other than the fact that Crosby is betting heavily on his son. But when Jabbar finally comes out and shouts his line (which I couldn’t catch, but it’s a kid shouting, so what are you gonna do?), it’s the emotional highpoint of the episode, a moment that feels so good that when the entire crowd erupts (apparently because they’ve been watching the episode up until this point), it feels somehow earned. The sequence gets bonus points for the absolutely pitch-perfect capture of an awkward school play that everybody in your family gets dragged to. Bonus, bonus points for the songs, which are just awful enough to deserve 50 Emmy nominations. Bonus, bonus, bonus points for the scene between Haddie and Amber, since I’d forgotten Amber even existed, and it was a nice callback to the friendship the two have built.

Anyway, if you don’t like Parenthood, like I said, I don’t blame you. But I do think you’re missing out. You’re missing out on a show where things build in the way they do in real life. You don’t always know when the show is going to get back to the struggles between Jasmine and Crosby over how to raise Jabbar or get back to Adam’s UNCONTROLLABLE RAGE, but once it does, you always know exactly where you stand. I wouldn’t say that Parenthood has the best characters on television, since they’re all pretty much archetypes, but I would say that it has some of the best character DEVELOPMENT on television. It’s all fits and starts, sort of like real life.


Stray observations:

  • I don’t have a lot to say about “Drew and Sarah sell wrapping paper,” but I did like the inherent humor of the kid trying to unload Christmas themed stuff at a premium in January.
  • I’m not a big fan of the new boss, just like Myles, whom I thank for filling in last week. Fortunately, he just pops in for a moment or two in this episode.
  • Look, Jason Katims. I like The National, too, but do they score EVERY HOUR OF YOUR LIFE?
  • I like the way the show doesn’t really focus on Max anymore, trusting that we’ll just GET it when we see him motormouthing away on the edge of scenes.
  • "What an amazing review, Al Roker!"