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

Parenthood: “Cold Feet”

Illustration for article titled Parenthood: “Cold Feet”
TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.

This week on Who Gets To Sleep With Julia Braverman?, Evan Knight wins the secret war that rages over Julia’s heart, meeting up with her at a record release party for Ashes of Rome and then taking her back to his place, where they totally start doing it all over the wall. The way this scene is shot seems almost to invite speculation that she was sleeping with somebody else, but we see enough of Mr. Knight’s little goatee to conclude that when the two of them decided to hang out a little at the party, it resulted in sleeping together. During Julia’s more formal date with Ed, she felt a little weird about even having him hold two of her fingers, and that scene where she stared sadly at her wedding ring before taking it off was really poignant. But Mr. Knight has won this round. Such is the power of a Happy Endings cast member, I guess.

“Cold Feet” is one of the funnier Parenthood episodes we’ve had in a while—mostly for intentional reasons. It also wraps up the Camille and Zeek storyline for the most part (suspiciously early, but we’ll get to that in the Strays), and it puts semi-cappers on some of the season’s less exciting plots, like whether Drew and Berto will become friends again or whether Adam or Kristina will speak the name of their eldest daughter again. It’s an episode filled with celebrations—the charter school is approved!—and disappointments—Hank struggles to apologize to Sarah for just leaving her in the lurch over Minnesota—and for the most part, it works very well. It’s the third episode in a row written by one of the three producers still with the show who’ve been there since season one, and the relief here is just that the characters all sound like themselves.

For instance, when Julia rips into preparing the charter school application, she is recognizably herself again in a way that’s so obvious that the other characters comment on it. Now, I’m no dummy (please don’t contradict me on that), and I know that the show has been trying to build out this divide between professional world Julia and private world Julia. We’re supposed to be relieved to see her kicking ass in the legal world again, and I am. The problem with Julia this season is that the writing has too often made everything about what’s happening with Ed, when it should have been more about her starting to not like the version of herself she had become.

Check out, for instance, what therapist and author Esther Perel has to say on this matter in an interview with Slate’s Hanna Rosin:

“I can tell you right away the most important sentence in the book, because I’ve lectured all over the world and this is the thing I say that turns heads most often: Very often we don’t go elsewhere because we are looking for another person. We go elsewhere because we are looking for another self. It isn’t so much that we want to leave the person we are with as we want to leave the person we have become.”

(Rosin, who writes often on this topic, has another piece about how an affair can be a blessing in disguise when it’s something called “the ‘conflict avoidance affair,’ generally found among couples whose arguments never escalate into screaming matches.” Doesn’t that describe Joel and Julia almost exactly?)

My point is this: Though it’s incumbent upon a show’s audience to remember the relevant back-story on occasions like this, it’s also incumbent upon the show itself to give the audience reason to think of that back-story. This is where so much of this season’s plotting has fallen apart. When the show takes pains to remind us that, say, Julia is struggling with having to redefine herself as a stay-at-home mom providing emotional support to her husband and kids, instead of a powerful working lawyer providing monetary support to them, it does so mostly by just having her talk about what’s going on. That’s far less powerful than when the show depicts Julia and Ed slowly developing an attraction and, ultimately, an emotional affair. The back-story comes mostly in exposition; the current story comes mostly in what’s portrayed onscreen. That creates a fatal imbalance between past and present, between the show helping us keep the characters’ histories in mind and showing us what’s happening to them right now. In other words, it creates an impression of the characters as being pushed around by their own capricious whims, rather than by their own inner drives. The audience eventually realizes that, say, Julia is doing all of this because the rearrangement of her marriage has caused her to doubt herself, but it’s the sort of thing you realize after the fact, rather than immediately in the moment. And that’s dangerous for a show that’s built around relationships as this one is.


For instance, this episode features that lengthy story where Hank talks with Dr. Pelikan and realizes that Sarah might be mad at him because he left her to go to Minnesota. In almost all of the scenes between the two characters this season, this has rarely been at the forefront of my mind. Hell, to some degree, I’d forgotten it even happened. Having Hank come clean with her both about what he’s been discussing with Dr. Pelikan and try to apologize disastrously for going to Minnesota was the sort of thing that helped us realize why the series keeps going back to this well (and probably why Sarah keeps circling back to Hank). Again: This is something the show probably needed earlier, not later, in its story, and I’m glad David Hudgins (who’s written three of the season’s best episodes at this point) circled back to it eventually.

Hell, this episode even manages to explain more or less what Adam and Kristina are thinking with the charter school, another one of those things that would have been good to know when the storyline was introduced. The scene where Julia lays out the business plan might have been a little dry, but the script does a good job of keeping it short and helps us see just where all of this is going. The charter school is just never going to seem like that interesting of a plot to me, and it makes me a little sad to watch as Julia is sucked into the plot’s giant, gaping maw, but, hey, at least it’s getting her back out there, getting her all lawyered up again. That’s worth something.


Finally, we have my favorite storyline of the episode, which was Zeek and Camille’s new house. There’s nothing really to this. It’s just Camille suddenly having second thoughts about selling the house now that it’s been sold and she has to get rid of so much of her stuff, with Zeek stepping in and finally completing his transition to a man who’s made his piece with this decision. Director Michael Weaver makes that little house Zeek finds in San Francisco proper look like the most charming space in history, all open air and sunlight. As the two step into a backyard that Camille believes to be a place where she could be happy and Zeek finds to be a place he could get used to, I can draw only one conclusion: One of these two (probably Zeek) is going to die. I’ve watched enough television to know that you don’t let characters get this happy before pulling the rug out from under them.

Stray observations:

  • Braverman of the week: I couldn’t get on board with the Zeek love train when he went and gave Joel the what-for, but I’m very much on board with him this week, standing as a steady presence for Camille in a time when she really needs one.
  • The Luncheonette storyline wasn’t bad, mostly because the Parenthood universe apparently features a One Direction clone named 4D. (Actually, it also features One Direction, since About A Boy is also in this universe and featured a song from that band in its pilot. So there are both a 1D and a 4D in this universe.) Ashes of Rome is always more enjoyable when Oliver Rome is being a douchebag, and the storyline also featured the exchange: “We’re not gonna open for some 12-year-old named Chad Love!” “Your name is Oliver Rome!” Crosby. Always there with the comeback.
  • Also, Crosby’s entire house was apparently infested with mold, so he’s just never going to go back there or something. All of this is making me think home ownership is a bad idea, American dream or no.
  • Drew goes back to the college and makes up with Berto mostly by throwing things at him in a scene that I really, really thought was going to end in him kissing Berto. Given how often it’s seemed like he might start making out with Amber, it’s entirely possible Miles Heizer has weird chemistry with everyone.
  • On Kristina’s list of reasons she might not be with Adam, “divorce” apparently falls below “death” and “he’s gay.” All of this sounds about right.
  • Did anybody mention Haddie or Piecat, even tangentially?: Haddie comes up when Adam mentions still having to pay for her college. (“She should have gone to a state school,” Crosby riffs.) Piecat waits in lonely exile.
  • I’ll be out next week, celebrating the birthday of my wife. Gwen Ihnat will show up to guide you through the season’s penultimate episode, which appears to just be the show slathering on events that might cause you to cry with industrial strength paste.