Erika Christensen (left), Sam Jaeger
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This was one of those Parenthood episodes that seems almost like a throwaway, right up until the end when it quietly and methodically takes those throwaway elements and uses them for maximum emotional devastation. The tricky thing is how easy it is to see the emotional devastation coming, yet it’s impossible to avoid. Call it the Jason Katims way.

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For the most part, though, “A Potpourri Of Freaks” was full of things that are a bit difficult to care about, at least on the surface. Perhaps the biggest offender here is the continuing saga of Hank, his pushy ex Sandy, and his troubled daughter Ruby. Hank (and more specifically Ray Romano’s thoughtful portrayal of Hank) has been a fairly reliable part of other characters’ stories in the past—particularly in the case of Max—but expanding his role in this season has been a mixed bag so far. Seeing him navigate a relationship with Sarah is one thing, but spending significant screen time on his own solo story dealing with his own family members isn’t quite working. This is especially true in the final season when that time could be spent on characters who have been around since the beginning. (When is the last time Jasmine had anything to do, for example? WHERE’S HADDIE, STRING?)

A bigger complaint, though, is what exactly the hell is going on with Crosby. Crosby’s sudden downward spiral seems to be instigated by Zeek’s health scare, but the whole thing is so scattered and generally annoying right now that it isn’t quite landing yet. It’s obvious he’s acting out in reaction to something, and it feels as if it is leading to a bigger story in the future, but spending any time with him and Oliver Rome at a spiritual retreat is not nearly as funny as the show thinks it is.

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The other mixed bag of a story is Max and his new friend at Chambers Academy, Dylan. At first the story starts out amusing, when Dylan arrives and bluntly tells Kristina that Chambers Academy isn’t the special snowflake of an educational institution Kristina thinks it is. Dylan quickly becomes more obnoxious than fun to everyone except for Max, who so obviously has a crush on her that it’s pretty unbelievable Kristina and Adam think she is bullying him instead. Max getting a crush on a girl for the first time will be a fun beat for the show to explore, but the combined obnoxiousness of Max and Dylan as a couple might just be too much to stand.

Despite all the above complaining, there are pleasures to be found in this episode. Julia, Joel, and Sydney get a sneakily devastating story about Sydney’s difficulty in dealing with their family situation. It’s sneaky because it’s becoming clearer by the week how unhappy Joel is with their family situation as well, but he is stuck in a position where there isn’t much he can do about it. He waited too long, and now everything is way more complicated. What’s great about the story is how it shows both Julia and Joel’s uncertainty in different ways; Joel, with his quiet heartbreak when Julia tells him she wants to tell the kids they’re never getting back together, and Julia, when she can’t actually bring herself to tell that to Sydney because she isn’t sure it is the truth. Not yet. It continues to be impressive how slowly and realistically the dissolution of Joel and Julia’s marriage is playing out, and how the writers can consistently mine emotional material from this relationship evolution.

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The least surprising thing about this episode was that the Zeek storyline carried most of the emotional weight, but what’s nice about it is where that weight is placed. Zeek spends most of his time in the episode sitting on the couch watching an epic two-week John Wayne movie marathon instead of actively trying to get better. It bothers Camille so much that she tries to rally the family troops to get him to cheer up and start working at getting stronger, but no one seems to be able to get through to him. That is, until Kristina overhears Camille’s concern and shows up on the couch next to him to commiserate about how much life sucks when you are sick. She turns out to be the only person who can spur him into action, however small, and although it is wholly predictable it is predictable in that perfect Parenthood way. It’s enough to make a middling episode much less middling.

Stray observations:

  • Braverman of the week: Kristina? I guess? Everyone else was mostly terrible.
  • Poignant scene of the week: Zeek reassuring Julia that she’s a good mom, and even good moms mess their kids up for life. It’s just the way it goes. (Mom, if you’re reading this I got all of my issues from Dad.)
  • Ruby is an awful little snot. Between her and Dylan this was a banner episode for obnoxious teenagers.
  • The parents of the kid Sydney was bullying were so awful I thought Julia and Joel were going to tell them off and walk away not as concerned about Sydney, but thankfully that did not happen. It’s very difficult to parse what the show wanted us to feel about those parents, though, because they were truly terrible. At least their kid seemed nice.

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