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Parenthood: "Qualities And Difficulties"

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After three straight weeks of heavy drama and anger, Parenthood decided to go more thoroughly for sap than it has in a while. But that’s OK. It was all earned sentiment. It was the show finally paying off that tension that’s been building all month by having the characters say, “Yeah, I forgive you.” Granted, there are some holes that can’t just be patched up, like the great rift that’s opened up between Crosby and Jasmine (I’m impressed with how well Joy Bryant believably sustains anger), but this was, by and large, an episode for healing, an episode where the characters spoke their minds and treated each other kindly, filled with happy endings. I think the show is going away for a while now (since there are only four-to-six episodes left this season, by my count), and this was probably a good place to leave things: with a good cry.


The episode is roughly bookended by Adam and Kristina having conversations with Max in which they explain to him just what it means that he has Asperger’s. The first doesn’t go so well, according to Tom Amandes’ Dr. Pelican, who comes back for a rousing return appearance. Adam accidentally lets slip that Asperger’s is a disability, not a syndrome, and Kristina starts crying toward the tail-end of the conversation. Dr. Pelican suggests that this might have given Max the idea that his condition is something to be mourned, not something that is simply a part of his life. He hands Adam and Kristina a script that they can use to suggest to Max some of the good things about having Asperger’s. Adam thinks this is nuts. They can’t just cover up the central struggle of their son’s life with some positive language. But Kristina wants to give it a shot, and thus opens another stalemate between the two in a season full of them.

I don’t mind all of this. In particular, I liked the way it all centered on Crosby continuing to piss everyone off. If there’s one thing Parenthood has always understood, it’s the idea that grudges in a family don’t just go away. If you’re a sibling, you’ll ALWAYS REMEMBER the times your parents seem to have favored one of your other siblings, and there’s a perfect expression of this in the scene where Zeek and Camille drop by to ask Adam to just forgive his younger brother and let bygones be bygones. Adam freaks out because that’s what he does, and he suggests that ZEEK asking HIM to forgive someone for problems caused by that person’s irresponsible CHEATING is really a stupid idea. One of the most consistent traits about Adam over the course of the show has been the fact that he’s very, very bad at dealing when huge numbers of crises hit his family all at once. He has a tendency to lash out, and he’s doing so here. Crosby’s cheating is his fault; Max overhearing Adam say Max has Asperger’s is not Crosby’s fault. It’s just an unfortunate moment. And so he gets in a lick at his dad about his OWN marital problems from way back at the start of the show. Parenthood has a memory, and it serves the show well.

The biggest problem with tonight’s episode is that while Crosby, Zeek, Camille, and the Adam Braverman family are all bound up in the same storyline, everybody else might as well be on different shows. Well, actually, I think the series has found a good way to get Joel and Julia reinvolved in everything that happens, what with the fact that they’re the first family members to reach out to Jasmine (granted, out of necessity, but still). That scene where Julia and Joel make the decision to set aside their eighth-anniversary dinner (and I’m amazed these two have been married longer than I have, even though I’m pretty sure the actors and I are the same age; how old are all of these characters supposed to be?) is one of my favorites of the episode. The two don’t want to stay with Jasmine, but they pretty much have to. Even if she and Crosby’s relationship has dissolved, they still care about her, and seeing Joel move to the kitchen to start making pizza and entertaining the kids while Julia pulled Jasmine aside to comfort her was a nice moment for the couple.

Sarah, meanwhile, really is in her own show tonight. That wasn’t such a bad thing when she was bothered by her ex-husband and she was trying to figure out how best he fit into her life, but tonight, she’s pretty much just hanging out in the same old “Sarah needs to know which way to move forward with her life” storyline she has been all season. This is probably a bullshit opinion, since I’m a writer and all, but I really, really hate when characters on shows are revealed to be GENIUS writers who just need to work a little harder to become great writers. For one thing, writing is the most cliché art to depict on screen or TV because all scripts start with a writer at some point. For another, there’s nothing terribly cinematic about writing, though at least Sarah’s going to be writing plays, which can be produced at some point, presumably, so we’ll get a chance to judge her talents. I get Sarah’s character has always been the “artsy” one, but they couldn’t have picked something other than writing? Really?


All that aside, the Sarah storyline is rather slight. For better or worse, the most interesting thing about Sarah is how she tries to rebuild her relationships with her kids after that divorce, but the show keeps tossing her into romantic storylines and storylines about how she’s going to define herself in her kids’ absence. And it doesn’t really have anything new to say in either regard (though it was certainly nice to see Jason Ritter not off dealing with a conspiracy that is simultaneously inexplicable and too boring to even try to understand). The one scene I was fond of in this storyline involved Sarah deciding to apply for a managerial position at the bar she works at… and realizing she’d make far more money as a bartender (thanks to the helpful advice of Jerry, ugh). It was the kind of true-to-life little detail about making it on a limited budget that Parenthood does so well.

But, again, everything wandered right back to Adam and Kristina. Adam took Max to an amusement park, and as he watched his boy freak out over the fact that they wouldn’t get to ride his favorite roller coaster (which was being repaired), Adam slowly realized that if Max knew more about his condition, he could probably do a better job of managing situations like this. To Max, knowledge is a method of mastery. If he knows enough about something, then he can have a sort of power over it, so the final scene played out with Adam and Kristina sharing with Max some of the good things Asperger’s could bring to his life and suggesting some books he could read if he was interested. This all could have felt like one of those things from back in the ‘80s, when the character of the show you were watching said, “For more information on this subject, consult your local library,” but, instead, it was very moving, particularly as Kristina called “I love you!” after her son, and he didn’t bother saying a thing in response. (Gets me every time.) And, of course, the episode ended by tying everybody together in a montage where they realized just how much they had and just how much they could lose with just a few stupid mistakes. “To Make You Feel My Love” (covered here by Adele) and The Wind In The Willows are always going to get me, and they got me here. The episode they ended wasn’t as good as the ones preceding it, but it was still a good example of the big step Parenthood has taken in 2011. We’ll see you in a few weeks, Bravermans. And we'll be looking forward to it.


Stray observations:

  • One of the things I like about Crosby’s storyline is that we’re seeing just how self-centered the guy really is. It seems charming and kind of goofy when he’s in good times, but man, he just seems desperate now, especially as he just won’t listen to how little Jasmine wants to see him.
  • I did like that Joel and Julia got a plot in this episode that was literally about them just wanting to leave the house. It feels like they’ve been cooped up in there for years. Could have done without the schmoopy, “I WILL NEVER CHEAT ON YOU!” scene, though. We get it, Joel! You’re irritatingly perfect! And your wife is super hot!
  • I like to imagine that every time Adam and Kristina need to have a good cry, they invite people over to watch them do it. They seem like the types.

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