Let’s talk about Adam and Kristina Braverman.
I sometimes think Parenthood goes out of its way to make these two characters as unlikeable as possible. They’re uptight. They want things a certain way. They’re self-obsessed to the point where they occasionally seem unable to see anybody other than themselves. They possess the unique ability to take what any other Braverman says to them and make it all about them, and they seem to think their needs should come first at all times. And now, of course, Kristina has a potentially fatal disease, so they actually have reason to make everything all about them, because they’re facing down one of the most terrifying things anyone can confront.
Every family, of course, has people like this, that sibling or child or parent who’s so overbearing and difficult to deal with that it’s sometimes a breath of fresh air to just have them out of the house. But they’re family, so you have to put up with them, right? And, honestly, when it comes down to it at the end of the day, you love them like yourself, because you don’t know any other way to be. We’ve talked a bit here about how the characters of Parenthood are loveably hateable, how the show goes out of its way to make characters that are easy to dislike but also so relateable and so much like your own family that you can’t help but like them all the same. It’s a very, very tough line to toe, but I think Parenthood is generally good at doing so. (The episodes where it’s not are usually the episodes that don’t work.) In the past, though, it’s had the most problems with Adam and Kristina, because, seriously, they can be buzzkills in almost any situation, am I right?
Oddly enough, I really identify with Adam Braverman. As a relentlessly positive person in my personal life, my tendency is to greet bad news or trials in the lives of my loved ones with attempts to help them out no matter how I can. I’m kind of tightly wound, and I have a tendency to bury all of my anger down deep, so it only comes out at the least opportune of times. What I’m saying is that Peter Krause is basically playing an older, much better-looking version of me on television, and if my own wife was diagnosed with cancer, I’m sure I would spend much of my time complaining loudly about the doctor when taking her for her first consultation or pushing all of my own frustrations out on other people for simply existing in the general vicinity of my trauma, as Adam did with poor Amber tonight.
The question, of course, is whether I terribly want to watch somebody like me—and a female version of myself, I guess, given how similar Kristina is to that description—go through this life-altering event. So far, I’m tipping toward yes, because the show is being brutally honest about how these people would take this event that’s all about them and try to force everybody else to make every moment all about them, even if other people aren’t exactly certain why this is happening. But at the same time, I’m not sure how much longer this can go on before it starts to become a black hole sucking the rest of the show toward it. This is probably as it should be, since that’s what a cancer diagnosis is and all, but Adam and Kristina? Really? Do we really want to be on every step of that cancer journey described to Kristina by the other patient with them? The show has given me no reason to believe that it won’t zero in on exactly how these people would make that voyage together, but I’m still wary.
Naturally, you don’t get to choose which characters on a TV show get these big story arcs any more than you can choose which of your family members is the one who suffers from a debilitating disease. And for as hard as I am on Adam and Kristina, the other Bravermans have a bad habit of making things all about them as well. Look, for instance, as Sarah, who spends the episode grousing about her boss passing up photographing a wedding because—she believes—he’s an artist who just can’t bring himself to photograph stuff that’s not going to boost his artistic portfolio or reputation. (As it turns out, he’s driven as much by the pain from an unresolved marriage, which probably everybody in the audience could have mentioned to Sarah as his likely motivation.) I’m really enjoying the way that the show uses Hank to cut through some of Sarah’s bullshit, even if she’s always proved right, and I enjoyed watching the two characters spar tonight as well.
Meanwhile, as his mother is undergoing one of the worst moments of her life, Max Braverman is having to deal with the fact that his school has removed vending machines, vending machines that allowed him to get Skittles whenever he wanted (but not during class, of course). One of the things I appreciate about the show—even as I know it drives lots of you nuts—is how it reveals that even when Max is having his good times, he can be a real pain in the ass, yet his friends and family understand and work with him because they know that’s the way he is, and they love him as much as they do. This is another great example of that, as Max’s fervor over the vending machines has worked itself into a political stump speech long before Amber has suggested to him that he run for student body president. (Honestly, Mitt Romney could take some delivery pointers from Max.) Yet the way he keeps circling back to the topic irritates his friend, to the point where he doesn’t terribly want to hang out with Max anymore. The scene where Adam attempts to explain to Max why he has to compromise in a friendship, even when he doesn’t want to, might have been the highlight for both Krause and Max Burkholder in this episode. Nobody wants to compromise, especially not Adam at this point in time, but it eventually has to happen.
Finally, we have Zeek and Camille, who get a storyline that’s primarily there as comic relief but also highlights what Craig T. Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia bring to the edges of the show. Zeek’s quest to replace his license, which expired a year ago, is a story that mostly plays out in a handful of scenes, but there’s a fun, playful quality that allows material that could be awfully boring to feel vital to what’s going on. And something Zeek says when he’s driving to the test resonates with the rest of the episode. Camille’s trying to help him study, and she tells him not to ignore certain rules of the road. “Tunnel vision,” he says, pointing straight forward and dead ahead, focusing on the one thing he must focus on. And, really, isn’t that the same thing Sarah and Max are doing, because she feels the need to fix her boss’ life and business and because he just really wants some Skittles? What they don’t understand is that their son, brother, and father, respectively, as well as his wife, have the same tunnel vision, just peering into a tunnel that’s long and black and seems to have no end. Sometimes, when you stare into the darkness that long, the only thing there is to do is look away and hope somebody else can pick up the pieces.
- Braverman of the week: I can’t go with anybody other than Amber, who suffers all of the drama in Adam’s family with gentle good humor and genuine emotion when appropriate, then suggests an appropriate place for Max to channel all of his vending machine-related energy into. Runner-up: Zeek. He’s still got it! (And by “it,” I mean the ability to pass the drivers’ test with a great score of 98 percent.)
- Confidential to the comments section: If someone could do a mock-up of the famous Obama “HOPE” poster with Max in profile, and then the word “SKITTLES” at the bottom, I would be forever in your debt.
- It’s worth stating that for all of my complaints about Adam and Kristina as characters, Krause and Monica Potter absolutely nail their performances in this episode. There’s beautiful work from both of them, and I’m hoping Emmy voters remember the show in some way next summer.