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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Parenthood: "Jump Ball"

Illustration for article titled Parenthood: "Jump Ball"
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While last week’s episode of Parenthood was full of big, noisy moments, “Jump Ball” was the show pulling back a bit and keeping things small, with varying results. The stories that work, work well—most notably, everything involving Hank—but others are a bit more limply handled, serving more as necessary setup for future drama to come.

If there’s one common thread right now between the various featured storylines is that many of these people are adrift, searching for a new place for themselves in light of a whole heap of change. The most adrift is probably Hank, who is in the midst of a personal breakthrough that remains just frustratingly out of his grasp. When Hank read the autism book it was like a dam breaking and suddenly, Hank sees himself as a puzzle he might actually be able to finally solve. The tough part comes when he meets Max’s doctor (played by the always wonderful Tom Amandes) and finds out it isn’t so easy. Ray Romano has been consistently wonderful as Hank, but his work in these past few episodes is at a whole new level, and his internal and external dialogue as he tries to “fix” himself in the doctor’s office is downright stunning work.

Adding nice, lighter shading to Hank’s story is Adam, who has targeted Hank as a sort of future example of what Max could be, as he sees that even though Hank can be difficult his life turned out fairly decently. The whole thing is amusingly selfish, even for Adam, but is saved from being uncomfortable by both Adam and Kristina acknowledging just how awful they are actually being by even tangentially hoping Hank is like Max. The final scene of the storyline, with Hank and Adam sharing a cigar while Hank awkwardly brings up his meeting with Max’s doctor, was touching and flattering to both characters. Parenthood has a remarkable ability to constantly create new combinations of characters that work together in unexpected ways, and Adam and Hank as friends certainly has potential.

The “biggest” story of the week was probably Amber’s downward spiral following Ryan’s departure. Amber is adrift in mind and body, as her heartbreak leads her right to the only other man who has ever let her down as much as Ryan did: Her father. Amber’s journey throughout the episode remained fairly uninteresting right up until the final scene, when she and Seth have a bit of a shared bonding moment over a plateful of pancakes. John Corbett has always been sort of an odd presence on this show, with his demeanor fighting what it seemed like the character of Seth was supposed to be, but this new version of Seth (Sober Seth?) feels more in his range. The idea of Sarah and Seth reconnecting is horrifying, but exploring the broken relationship between Seth and his children—especially in light of how close the rest of the Bravermans are—is very interesting.

One thing that doesn’t quite work for me here is Camille’s return, which feels sort of shoved in between other stories the show is more interested in telling. This is a shame, because Camille’s search for interest and meaning in her life could certainly resonate much more loudly than it’s currently given the space to do. Instead of this being a story about Camille, it feels like the whole thing has been a story about Zeek and his reaction to Camille. This is possibly completely by virtue of him staying on the show alone while Camille appeared for 15 seconds an episode, but it’s also because Parenthood has always seemed pathologically uninterested in Camille. Ultimately, this is a story about compromise, change, and acceptance of a new normal, so perhaps it makes sense to focus on Zeek as Camille is the one expecting him to do all these things.

And then there’s Joel and Julia. This is the story that was full of big, emotional fireworks last week and the fallout here is almost more depressing; the empty, acrid air after the fireworks end. I’ve been a big supporter of this story from the very beginning, not necessarily because the characters’ actions have been perfectly mapped out, but because of how crushingly real all of the emotions behind those actions feel. This marriage was in trouble the second Julia stopped working and Joel started, shifting their entire dynamic in ways neither of them wanted to recognize at the time. Now that shift has devolved to the point where Joel—kind, good-hearted Joel!—is unreasonable and mean, unable or unwilling to hear anything Julia has to say. It’s maddening, as is Julia’s inability to say to him what we’re all screaming in our heads (“Joel, you are complicit in our failures, too, let’s work on this together!”).


Yet as maddening as it is, it feels like how a real marriage falls apart. People are unreasonable. People don’t listen. People don’t want to talk. When Joel comes home and surveys his quiet house and his sleeping kids, before walking into the bedroom to sit on the end of the bed, the gorgeously cold framing of that shot tells the whole story. Joel doesn’t want to talk. He wants to leave. Joel stopped talking in “we” and started talking in “I” earlier in the episode. It’s a small but perceptible moment, inside a huge story that’s made up of small moments like these. If Joel and Julia split for good, more hearts than just theirs will be broken.

Stray observations:

  • Todd is still at TCA and in his absence, I am very happy to get the chance to talk about one of my favorite shows. Thanks, Todd!
  • I love little reminders that these people are all connected by the scary Braverman bond, as referenced here by Joel when he complains that he can’t skip the poker game without drawing suspicion from Julia’s family.
  • Amber’s drunk dressing down of the bar guy: Rude, yet also hilarious.
  • Oh, Drew. This situation with Amy is not going to end well for either of you. Pro tip, kid: If anyone says “you’re all I have” you need to get them to a therapist, and quickly.
  • Wild cards in poker: Are you a Hank or are you a David Walton? (I’m a Hank.)
  • Does Camille not-so-secretly hate her family? Discuss.