When I was cleaning out a box last week (it's taken me years to move into this apartment, shut up), I found a DVD my uncle had made of old family Christmas gatherings from when I was a little kid. I popped the thing in, expecting to watch five minutes and pop it right back out, but the whole thing ended up holding my attention for much longer (even if I liberally skipped between celebrations). It was weird to see my parents only a couple of years older than I am now, to see myself as a small child, clearly getting in the way much of the time. It was also weird to watch the chaos of everything that was going on, how people talked over each other and conversations overlapped and the constant noise didn't really resolve into anything. My cameraman uncle kept trying to call attention to certain things, but most of the video consists of snippets of talk rising to the foreground and a bunch of other stuff happening in frame.
TV often forgets how chaotic a family holiday can be, how conversation has a tendency to pile on top of other conversation, until everybody at the table is talking about a different thing. It also has a tendency to forget that, sure, these people all love each other, but they also have their own individual goals and desires, and those goals and desires may be in conflict. Thanksgiving is a holiday TV often uses for some forced family togetherness after an episode about how hard it is to get ready for the big meal or someone making a long voyage just to be at dinner. Parenthood, on the other hand, never forgets the chaos. Indeed, chaos is what it loves most of all, and it never met a scene of the family sitting around a table that it couldn't make more complicated with a little more overlapping dialogue. But the family togetherness here is largely confined to the episode's long, lazy midsection (I mean this as a compliment), while the real conflicts of the episode are about Adam worrying about his job, Haddie ditching the family football game to hang out with her crush, and Zeek trying to figure out what to do about Camille. (Also, Julia worries about getting the pies just right and doesn't spend time with her daughter, Crosby wants to impress his future mother-in-law, and Drew and Amber's dad calls after Zeek leaves him a message.)
"Happy Thanksgiving" feels, in some ways, like a culmination of everything the show has been building toward this season. I don't know if William Baldwin is finally off the show or not, but it sure seems like he is after he unexpectedly sells the company and more or less tells Sarah that's it for him. Crosby's mostly comical attempts to impress Renee reach a new height, while Zeek decides to largely let his arguments with Camille slide, in favor of having a nice holiday. Alex tried to push away from Haddie a few weeks ago, but you always knew it was coming back to this, and while it was completely, insanely predictable to have Kristina pull up just then to see her daughter kissing a guy who's older (am I right about this? he seems older), the moment still played pretty well. Heck, even last week's Crosby and Joel tension got some minor moments that didn't pay it off but let the show acknowledge that it definitely exists.
Really, Thanksgiving should be the bread and butter for a show like this, and Parenthood largely succeeded at what it wanted to do. It was sort of amusing that the first part of Drew's plotline (the first plot he's had in ages) consisted entirely of Zeek asking him why he's always hiding away, as if the show were acknowledging that it often doesn't know what to do with him. But bringing the kids' father back into the storyline is probably a good choice, and one has to assume that he'll eventually turn up for the other characters to bounce off of. Seth isn't the world's greatest guy, but at least he knows enough to call his kid on Thanksgiving when his former father-in-law calls and leaves him a message telling him to. (I realize that this is probably getting set up for the show to call back to later, with Zeek revealing that he placed the call, but I sort of hope the show doesn't.)
One of the things that most came through in tonight's episode and in a non-cloying fashion was the sense of togetherness, of the family making a point of sticking together through thick and thin. Sarah siding with her brother over her boyfriend shouldn't have worked as well as it did (again, it's exactly what you'd expect her to do), but Lauren Graham played the moment with a bit of steel edge. That last scene, where the four kids dance in the kitchen (a moment that the show uses as a call back to many from the first season) suggests that there's little these people can't get through together, and despite some of the turmoil of the season's early episodes, that's probably true. You never really fear that this family is going to undergo any real strife. They're a strong unit, and they invite us in from time to time to hang out.
Honestly, I probably could have done without the football game stuff. It was amusing to see Jason Katims and company do a much less intense football related plotline than they might have done on their other show, but series like this often try to shoehorn in these elaborate holiday traditions these giant families have, and the traditions rarely feel like they have any weight of history behind them. (If the show runs for seven or eight years and we get a new game every year, then it might start feeling that way.) There's some talk about how Haddie's the secret weapon and various other things, but the game more or less just feels like a way to turn Adam and Gordon's conflict from the subtextual to the physical, as Adam uses the excuse to try to goad his former boss some.
And, yeah, it's the Adam stuff that lands the most punches here. I'm still really enjoying how the show is portraying his slow-motion meltdown, and now he's got one other thing on his plate to worry about. Do I think he'll get through it OK? Of course he will. You saw him dancing in the kitchen at the end. But the forces lining up against him get more and more pronounced, and he seems a little more desperate with every week. What I like best about this storyline is that it's so slow-paced, but something about that pace makes it feel all the more inescapable. The hole Adam finds himself in keeps getting deeper, and he keeps digging it deeper, to some degree. Sure, he'll probably keep his job and he's got a good family behind him, but not even that will be enough if he finally explodes. Will he? Maybe in the Christmas episode.
- I love the look of this episode. It's got autumnal California and the way your grandma used to decorate for Thanksgiving down.
- I dunno. I'm usually more on board with the Julia and Joel stuff than a lot of reviewers, but I wasn't totally feeling her pie obsession this week, leading to her not spending the quality time she wanted to with her daughter. She does, however, cook just like me, what with the laptop in the kitchen to check recipes.
- Nice scene: Zeek prays, at Crosby's behest, and the camera takes in all of the Bravermans, not quite sure of what to do but wanting to play nice. It's a good moment, and I like how Zeek's prayer almost doubles as an apology to Camille.