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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Parenthood: “Hey If You're Not Using That Baby… ”

Illustration for article titled Parenthood: “Hey If You're Not Using That Baby… ”
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It’s time for our weekly journey through lessons learned from everybody’s favorite NBC family drama, Parenthood:

Lesson #1: If you covet the coffee girl’s baby, you should maybe not come right out and just ask her for it, even if she’s planning on giving it up for adoption. It’s just bad form, Julia! I want so badly to find a Julia and Joel plotline even halfway palatable—because I like Erika Christensen and Sam Jaeger so much—that I worry I’m almost cutting this storyline too much slack, even as I think it’s pretty actively awful. (Sydney, by the by, joins the ranks of the missing this week, off with Drew and Jasmine, who are off doing whatever it is TV characters do when they aren’t on screen during an episode of their ensemble drama.) I just don’t really buy that Julia—supposedly smart, capable Julia—would not get that asking a woman for her baby was a bad idea. I know that she’s desperate. I know she needs a little baby excitement. But it’s only been a couple of months, lady. My parents waited something like five years to get me, and by that point, they were ready to just take (obviously!) the dregs of society or the babies at the local True Value hardware store. I still think this is a storyline with a lot of potential, but it’s just requiring the characters to be too stupid for words.

Lesson #2: If you are a teenage girl, and you are dating a grown man who, apparently, is a recovering alcoholic, you should not be surprised when he has more skeletons in his closet than he initially let on. To its credit, this storyline closed like gangbusters, as the best Parenthood storylines do. For most of the episode, Hattie was being kind of a bitch about the whole thing, as if she didn’t understand that, hey, she was the one who got Alex in trouble. (Actually, this is pretty realistic for a teenage girl.) And then Alex caved and admitted that, yeah, he’d held up a liquor store to get food and cash and, well, liquor. It was a powerful moment, beautifully played by Michael B. Jordan, and I’m glad the show gave him a good incentive to have kept this from everyone all along. (If he’d just been in another fight or something, that would have been pretty lame.) Anyway, it was just attempted armed robbery, which is why he’s still out of prison, but it very well could end up being not for long. (Sarah Ramos, meanwhile, was good in both sections of the storyline—the one where she was a total brat and the one where she was forgiving of Alex because she loved him so. Also, her hair may look like a drowned rat, but I kind of love it all the same. She’s the haughty, irresponsible teen daughter I never had.)

Lesson #3: If you send your autistic son to a mainstream school, don’t expect him to just roll with the punches right away. Of all of the things that are irritating about Adam and Kristina Braverman—and I find them irritating in the same way I find my own parents irritating from time to time—what’s most irritating is the assumption that the world will just get out of the way of their kids. And, yeah, that’s probably how most parents hope things would go, so it’s vaguely realistic, I suppose. But the sequences where Max was trying to show off all of his knowledge and constantly getting gently reprimanded by the teacher or where he was on the playground and nobody wanted to eat lunch with him were so heartrending. I was right there with Kristina. “Everybody be nice to this kid! He’s a series regular!” I liked that the show didn’t go the bullshit route of having one of the kids befriend Max either. Instead, Jabbar comes up to him with some friends—all much younger, obviously—and they start quizzing Max about video games. Max, realizing that, yeah, this is the kind of social interaction he can do easily, fills them in on all of the secrets of their favorite games. And though the show plays it as a heartwarming moment, it’s also a little heartbreaking, all things considered. Here’s a kid who can’t seem to integrate being treated well by other kids, but they’re all much younger than him. He still doesn’t fit into the new place he occupies. (However: Just how old is Max supposed to be? He seems like he’s 13 or something, and I think they’re trying to say he’s much younger than that. Might be time for some of the reverse of that magical de-aging serum Katims used on the Friday Night Lights characters. I’M ON TO YOU, KATIMS.)

Lesson #4: If you’re trying to avoid going into business with your ne’er-do-well younger brother, best not talk to your dad, who doesn’t care if everybody falls into finanacial ruin, so long as nobody’s fighting in the backseat while he’s trying to drive. The relationship between Adam and Crosby has been one of the most consistent, very best things about this show from the word go. The two snap at each other and come back together like real brothers, and you really do feel like Adam, much as he loves his brother, holds Crosby at arm’s length, even as all Crosby wants to do, shucks, is get back into Adam’s good graces. So this storyline about the two opening a business together is a potentially good one, one that could nicely drive the whole season if the writers don’t just forget about it. (Remember Sarah working with Adam? Yeah, I barely do either.) I love that moment when the two are in the Luncheonette, and you can see Adam realizing just how badly Crosby’s miffing the deal, and he closes his eyes just for a second and just goes for it. He’s going to get this for his brother. And once he’s in that far, he’s in the whole way. But the best moment to me is that moment when Craig T. Nelson, dropping in for his court-mandated Heart-tugging Scene o’ the Week, tells Adam about how much Crosby wants this. And if there’s one thing that will cause dependable old Adam to throw out everything he believes in about being as reliable as a trusty old shoe, it’s feeling like he’s got to hold the family together. So now he’s locked in a business partnership with the one person he probably shouldn’t be, and the show got there believably in just two episodes. Well played, show.

Lesson #5: If a show makes you brutally angry about certain plot points, you probably really enjoy it. I’m not going to lie. The fact that Alex was arrested for punching a high schooler at a party thrown by said high schooler, who then CALLED THE COPS, despite the drinking at his house? It’s a little implausible. I’m willing to roll with it in the moment—and I can fan-wank it away, if I really try—but it seems a little like the show really wanting to have a storyline where Hattie realizes she doesn’t know a damn thing about her boyfriend’s past and the whole life he led before meeting her and finding a way to do that as quickly as possible (perhaps because of persistent rumors NBC might cut the episode order to better accommodate a new show at midseason). Similarly, the Julia and Joel storyline is just ridiculous (as mentioned), while I’m not entirely sure why we need the latest variation on Sarah sleeping with the older brother from Joan Of Arcadia because she likes him. We all know he’s not long for this world because the two have never had a kid together. But at the same time, I get mad at these people the way I get mad at real family members, and I have to remind myself that’s not a bad thing; that’s exactly what the show wants. When Hattie’s being mean to Alex, well, I want to tell her how unfeeling she’s being. When Adam and Kristina are sailing along, blithely unaware of how much everybody around them probably hates them, I want to shake my head and chuckle about how they just don’t get it, man. And when Julia asks the coffee girl if she can have her baby, dammit, I want her to get that baby, even as I can recognize the plot contrivance coming from a mile away, on a moving van marked “BAD TV CLICHES” in brilliant red Century Gothic (font jokes!) on the side. I really do care about these fictional people, which makes it so much more frustrating when the show makes them do stupid-ass things.


Stray observations:

  • Bonnie Bedelia makes her court-mandated “Let’s Talk To One Of The Kids And Be Funny, Too” scene when she listens to Sarah talk about how much she likes very special guest star Jason Ritter and just murmurs vague words of advice over her favorite best-seller.
  • I loved how baffled Crosby was at Adam being mad at him. Was it because of how he was dressed? No, but that’s why I’m mad at you, Crosby.
  • And now, a new feature. Braverman of the week: Jabbar. Other characters had more to do, but Jabbar seemed to be the only one who wandered into a situation and did the right thing, even if he had absolutely no idea he was doing it. Way to go, Jabbar, and keep up the good work.
  • "Where did you get my social security number?" "From dad! Where I always get it?"
  • "You can't just go rogue on me and hammer out a deal at the coffee cart. That's crazy, Julia. You know that's crazy, right?"
  • "I looked you in the eye!"
  • "You never heard of Naked Kids?"
  • "Don't forget: He slept with my son's behavioral aide."