What's the cost of being the good son, the good daughter? Parenthood examines that tonight, in a season that's only revealing itself gradually. It's as though Jason Katims and his writers took a look at the episode order, realized they had 22 of 'em, and decided that was more than enough time to unfurl eight or nine episodes' worth of story. As such, this season is probably moving a little slowly for some, but it feels as if it's moving more realistically. Adam's slow-motion anger management issues are more compelling here than if they'd been built to in an episode, exploded in an episode, then dealt with in an episode. Life doesn't work like that. Stuff comes over you, sometimes, and even if you try so hard to be the very best at whatever you do, including being a son or daughter, the world gets in the way, and then you just need to punch some guy at the supermarket in the face. These things happen.
I'm intrigued by how much this show is about expectations, rather than exposition. A lot of other family dramas would have had several scenes where one of the characters discussed just who each character was and how they fit into the grand family picture. Parenthood hasn't really done that (though the original pilot and original pilot script had more in this regard). It simply expects us to build a portrait of these people as we would our real families. Everybody treats Crosby like a colossal screw-up much of the time, so we're expected to infer that the last however many years of his life have involved lots of screwing up. Everyone treats Adam like the rock of the family, so that's who he becomes, and his daughter is like a perfect blend of her mother and father's neuroses, though the show never tells us this point-blank. To a real degree, Parenthood has asked us to define the Bravermans for ourselves, by drawing conclusions like we would about our own family (or, more specifically, the family of a boyfriend or girlfriend we're meeting for the first time). It's an approach that works, but it needs time to weave its web.
Take tonight's central four storylines. Julia and Joel took a backseat this week, the better to focus on Adam, Haddie, Sarah, and Crosby. For me, the most interesting point of focus was Adam, who's been trying so hard all season to be a good worker man but just keeps getting the refridgemator so, so messier. He's laid off the people William Baldwin asked him to, but now he has to watch Bill take his sister on an expensive limo trip (boo! hiss!). He's dealt carefully and patiently with his son, but when some guy in the supermarket calls Max a retard, Adam goes a little nuts and decks him. And when he tries to talk to his dad about it, it's obvious that Zeek is a little lost as to how to tell Adam to proceed. See, Adam's always been the cornerstone for ZEEK, too, which is a lot to put on a kid, but Adam always seemed all for it, so cornerstone he became. Now that he's slowly crumbling, no one knows quite what to do, though Kristina figures sex will make him happy. (That Kristina! Always ready for a roll in the hay!) I'm intrigued by this storyline and where it might go, as I think Adam is simultaneously the main character on this show and the one the show has spent the least time examining. It spends far more time on the people around him, perhaps surmising (correctly) that he's the solid one here, that everybody else has the interesting drama. Seeing him splinter should make for good TV.
His daughter, meanwhile, is also pursuing her own method of escape from being the good child, as she continues to get closer and closer to that volunteer worker played by Michael B. Jordan. Turns out he's both a dropout and an alcoholic, and he only reveals the latter after she's already gone and kissed him. Because he's an alcoholic, romantic relationships aren't the best idea at present (particularly with teenage girls, one would hope, but whatever). And yet Haddie's never had opportunity to break out of being bad; she's only gotten one B in her entire life. (I'm with you, Hads. I wept angrily after I got an A- in the second grade, which may be why I'm so reluctant to give anything lower than a B here. PSYCHOTHERAPY!) Here's her grand chance to do something her parents wouldn't immediately approve of, and I suspect that even though the guy puts the kibosh on anything more than that one kiss, we haven't seen the last of this.
Over in Crosby land, it's time to be super nostalgic about the guy getting rid of his houseboat, but it feels like they've played this exact beat in every episode up until this point, even though I think this is the first episode where Crosby literally begins the process of selling the houseboat. It's probably just because we first met Jabbar in the pilot (and, hell, got that little plot where he was going to have a kid with his girlfriend at the time), but the story where Crosby sells the houseboat has always been present, even though no one's mentioned it directly, simply because that's what we expect every time the words "houseboat" and "surprise son" are muttered anywhere near each other. Crosby's got to GROW UP! He's got to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY! And that means buying a new place to live, which he does, and moving on with his fiancee and son, which he's doing. Still, we got that very nice scene where all of the siblings talk about how they once used the houseboat for scandalous hookups (with their spouses, mostly, but it's still sex on a boat), which really worked well as a more muted version of the usual big, family gatherings the show often traffics in. I love the scenes featuring just these characters, as the sense of all of them growing up together is always laid on thick without being too much. And what's Jasmine's solution for making Crosby feel better about closing off his shiftless youth? Sex! Sex solves everything.
Finally, there are the continued adventures of Sarah and Gordon (a character I'll just continue calling "William Baldwin," if you don't mind), who take the occasion of having Sarah's shoe idea fall through to embark on an expensive voyage that clearly gives Adam increased heartburn. There's very little to this. The two just talk about how close they are and how great Sarah is, and then they fall asleep and don't get home until the next morning, at which point Camille, Zeek, and Sarah's kids are properly HORRIFIED by her behavior (which is, my wife reminds me, exactly like the song "Wake Up, Little Susie," which SCANDALIZED me as a child). Anyway, it mostly wraps up exactly like you'd think it would. But that's the way this show works. Things wrap up, exactly as you think they would, but then they come back a few weeks later, with repercussions you didn't foresee at the time. Parenthood isn't the most complex show in the world, but it's more complex than it gets credit for (sometimes even from me). It's all about very, very slowly filling in the family portrait, like in the original opening credits for Family Ties. (Sha la la la.)
- I am greatly looking forward to the Thanksgiving and Christmas episodes. This show is our modern day thirtysomething, and that show had GREAT Thanksgiving and Christmas episodes. Ergo, this one will too.
- Peter Krause's Craig T. Nelson impression is pretty great. I'm surprised Kristina still wanted to hook up with her husband after he broke that out, though.
- Joel: Also very good at assembling what appears to be IKEA furniture. What can't this man do?
- This week in Parenthood dialogue that's vaguely hilarious out of context: "You look good and clean! He's gonna like that!"
- "How about you, Adam? Did you ever use my home as a cheap, hourly motel?"