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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Parenthood: “It Is What It Is”

Illustration for article titled Parenthood: “It Is What It Is”
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Let’s start with the BRAVERMAN OF THE WEEK, shall we? Because most weeks I delay this to the Stray Observations and make a joke, and you guys get mad. But this week, it’s so clear that the Braverman of the Week must be Haddie Braverman, for somehow managing to grow up in a house with Adam and Kristina Braverman and growing up into someone who’s deeply responsible and adult and all of those good things. The scenes where Adam and Kristina told Haddie that, basically, she didn’t get to have nice things because there’s a bad economy and there isn’t enough in savings and it’s so expensive having Max around and Nora (I liked how “Nora” was just an explanation in and of itself) were my favorites of the episode. So often on TV, a kid gets into his or her dream school and then nobody worries about how to pay for it or Lorelai goes and begs Richard and Emily for more money. But here was a family that didn’t know how to pay, and their daughter had to just keep her head down and say, “No, I understand. I’m upset, but I understand.” Great stuff.

Of course, Adam was all, “We’re going to figure out a way to make this work,” because of course he was. This is, after all, a TV show, where things have to resolve in such a way that we still believe there’s hope for the future, instead of just saying, “Hey, your parents screwed everything up, kids. Your standard of living is going to have to be lower!” At the same time, Cornell’s way the hell over in Ithaca, New York, and this show is set in the Bay Area, California. Unless Zeek gets some crazy ideas about stashing the whole family in the Airstream to go and see the Finger Lakes, I foresee Haddie ending up going to Berkeley anyway. Again, it’s TV, and you can only push things so far.

Outside of the Haddie material, this was another solid episode in what’s turning into a solid season. What’s sort of remarkable to me about this season is that any number of the plots just aren’t working. You’ve got Julia stealing babies, and Adam and Crosby going into a disastrous business venture with each other that somehow isn’t disastrous, and the show subtly judging Kristina for going back into the workforce. You’ve got a bunch of stuff that just shouldn’t work, bound together by some pretty tenuous connections. And yet the individual scenes in these episodes are as good as anything the show’s ever done, and they’re frequently driven by some really complex and interesting emotions.

Take, for instance, that scene where Sarah lamented how Drew was pulling away from her, talking to Amy’s dad about how he might want to major in biology in college and contemplating going to UC-Davis, where his girlfriend’s parents met at a sit-in. (You’ve gotta figure Amy’s parents met in the mid-to-late-80s, which wasn’t exactly a great time for sit-ins, particularly on one of California’s less leftist campuses, but that’s neither here nor there. Remember: On this show, Bakersfield is in Massachusetts and it takes five days to get there via wagon train, apparently.) All the while, she was talking to Zeek, who’d gotten some troubling health news earlier in the episode. Now, the health news wasn’t all that bad. He’s not in imminent danger of death. But there’s still trouble with his heart, and neither he nor Camille were taking this all that well. Zeek responded in some pretty Zeek-y ways, like buying that damn Airstream, but he also had these beautiful moments in this scene where you watched the feelings of sadness and regret play across Craig T. Nelson’s face as he uttered the usual banalities about how it all slips away so quickly. And yet where this scene might have felt boilerplate in other weeks, it felt achingly real here. This is a guy who’s realizing this all too acutely, but he’s not ready to tell his kids about that. Instead, he just sits there and listens to his daughter and realizes that, yeah, all of this will slip away from him, too.

It’s those scenes that make this show still essential viewing, even when the other stuff isn’t working. For instance, I’m finally starting to get invested in this Joel/Julia storyline that’s been wandering around all season and is just starting to realize that maybe it’s time to land the plane. Zoe, who’s finally signed the adoption papers, is just now starting to realize that, shit, she’s going to have to give up her baby. That’s a tough pill for any prospective mother to swallow, no matter how much she realizes that her child’s future will be better provided for with other people (like the Braverman-Grahams). And this episode keeps playing around with these notions of whether Zoe will freak and decide to keep the baby for herself. In some ways, this is the same dramatic beat, played over and over and over. But in another way, this reminds me of friends who waited up until the last possible minute before they found out that, yes, they were going to get to adopt their son. It was excruciating, and I’m glad the show realizes that even when the papers are signed, it doesn’t mean the anxiety about the situation goes away.

Then we have Jasmine, who has a crush on every boy. In general, I like Lily the cello player, even if I keep expecting her to be revealed as the daughter of a serial killer, and I think she’s a good fit with Crosby and a good friend to Jabbar. In short, she’s the female Dr. Joe Prestige. Why, then, does Jasmine seem so upset about this? Does she have unresolved feelings for Crosby? Has Dr. Joe realized that his girlfriend is just a little too hung up on how her son and the father of her son feel about this fetching young cellist? Is the season finale fast approaching? Have you ever watched television before? This whole thing is a little rote, and it plays off Jasmine in one of my least favorite modes, which is having her as the woman who won’t let Crosby have any fun. She was such a good character in season one, and it’s a shame the show forgets some of what made her so great back then.


But other than that, this show continues to cook right along as it heads into the final four episodes of season three (already?). This is a series that, more and more, is dominated by faces, by the way that people look at each other, where we know what they’re thinking, but the person they’re talking to doesn’t. Even if some of the plotting is a little overly melodramatic and simplistic, there are always scenes that remind us of the kind of subtle emotions that Jason Katims and his writers have always been able to illicit in their characters and their audience. This is a show about watching people think and feel, and that makes season three a success in my book, even if the things making them think and feel are often kind of dumb.

Stray observations:

  • My colleague Alan Sepinwall talked with Jason Katims at the TCA press tour party for NBC, and Katims told him that one of his favorite storylines this season has been the one with Joel, Julia, and Zoe. That strikes me as crazy, but Alan has some nice theories as to why.
  • Oh, right. That kinda whiny political operative guy obviously has a crush on Amber. I don’t really care about this storyline, and it was so bizarre that the episode ended on it, with so much other good stuff going on. Unless he’s the son of a serial killer…
  • Max: Always there to shit all over you when you get into Cornell but not one of the better Ivy League schools. (And you know Nora’s just thinking it.)