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Parenthood: “Too Big To Fail”

Miles Heizer, Mae Whitman
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Parenthood has this weird ability to take something that completely shouldn’t work in theory—and kind of doesn’t work in execution—and make it, somehow, sort of work in the end. The “something” in this case is the abrupt three-month time jump at the beginning of this episode which serves to speed up stories that need it (like Amber’s pregnancy) but shortchange stories that don’t (like everything else, really). Despite this awkwardness, “Too Big To Fail” manages to be fitfully touching and meaningful almost despite itself. I’m chalking it up to final season magic at this point.

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It feels pretty certain that the weird, three-month fast forward was done almost solely to get the show in a position where Amber could have her baby before the end of the season. The strange about the title card declaring the jump is that the only reason it was even necessary was so the audience wasn’t disoriented at the sight of Amber’s more advanced pregnancy, physically. Parenthood isn’t a show with set rules about time or one has a consistent time lapse between episodes, so jumping three months forward in the narrative without really commenting on it would not be strange. By placing that card on the screen, though, the show sets up expectations of change where, really, there isn’t much that’s different, and that’s where things feel a bit awkward.

The story where the time jump works is Amber’s, mostly because it’s the entire reason it exists. Amber is in a place now where she’s actively preparing for her baby’s arrival, which means she needs a ton of random baby accessories, which means she needs more money. The need for more money leads her to ask Crosby and Adam for a raise, which she does in a decently impressive way. The issue here is that the Luncheonette is in a serious business slump, and Adam and Crosby barely have the money to pay themselves, let alone give Amber a raise.

It’s a nice, mature, complicated story for all three of them, but something about the way the time jump suddenly clarified all of Crosby’s interestingly vague worries and then also heaped those same worries on Adam at the same time just didn’t quite work. Crosby’s story was more successful, teased for a few weeks prior and then bolstered in this episode with his very real worries that he won’t be able to take care of his family. It leads to some nice moments between Crosby and Jasmine, and then between Crosby, Jasmine, and Jabar, as they navigate the tricky family waters of wanting to give your kid everything he desires but not having the practical means to do it. Much cheaper was Adam’s sudden appearance in the story with the same worries, which couldn’t help but feel rushed by only having this one episode to develop. Prior to this, Adam and Kristina seemed to have no difficulties running Chambers Academy and the Luncheonette at the same time (other than the brief lunch disaster), but here they’re suddenly overdrawn on accounts and having car trouble on top of the Luncheonette difficulties? It all felt contrived in a way that was surely unintended, and all of this contrivance is facilitated by that overt time jump.

One thing this episode definitely does right with the Luncheonette story is use it to facilitate some great story convergences between disparate characters, which is shown in the way Drew’s “time to pick a major” story is folded into his family’s money woes. Drew deciding he needs to be hyper-responsible and choose a major that will be able to land him a good job in the financial or business field feels almost like it is coming out of nowhere (I mean, this is not a kid who looks or acts like a typical business major) but the writers do a decent job of wrapping his anxieties about the responsibility he feels as the first member of his family to potentially graduate from college and the knowledge that he won’t have anyone to fall back on if he flounders after he graduates. I’m not sure that completely tracks—you can’t tell me the Bravermans wouldn’t bend over backwards to help one of their own—but Drew’s anxiety about his future feels real enough to make it work. There’s also some nice, subtle acknowledgement on Drew’s part that Natalie doesn’t have to have the same worries. (Considering what we see of the Braverman family, however, admittedly it does feel a little odd to have Drew act like he’s anything less than upper middle class.)

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Moving on from money woes, the Ruby and Hank show is back in this episode and I’m still not quite sure it works. Hank is fine, Hank and Sarah are fine, and Hank and Sarah and Ruby’s story here in this episode is fine, but it can’t help but feel a little unimportant. I like Hank fine, and I actually find Hank and Sarah’s relationship fairly interesting as it develops, but I can’t find a reason to care about Ruby. Even the involvement of Amber at her very best Amber powers wasn’t enough to completely sell the story, especially Ruby’s quick turnaround from total nightmare to perfect child. Were we supposed to infer that Ruby looked up to Amber so much that hearing that Amber’s father was a deadbeat dad was enough for her to appreciate Hank? Considering this is the first time we’ve seen them in a room together, that doesn’t quite work. Hank’s “I love you, too” almost made the whole story work, though. Almost.

Finally, there’s Max’s continued quest to make Dylan like him more than a two and a half. This storyline was pretty great in the last episode, but this is another one where the overt three-month time lapse makes things a little strange. Has Dylan been coming over to Max’s house every day for three months? Max mentions that it’s after the “second date” so Dylan can stay the night, so does that mean they’ve only seen each other three times in three months? I know I am overanalyzing, but it’s little things like this that make that title card such a bad idea. Beyond any logistical abnormalities, the story itself is fairly decent, even if it deals more with Kristina navigating how to make sure Dylan’s attachment is to Max rather than Max’s family. It’s a good showcase for the tricky line Kristina’s character walks between overly coddling of Max and genuinely protective, and it walked it well here.

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Overall, this was an episode that definitely shouldn’t have worked, that many times probably didn’t work, yet it was one I enjoyed immensely while watching it. I just hope any time jumps that happen in the rest of the season are a bit more on the implied side of the storytelling spectrum.

Stray observations:

  • Braverman Of The Week: A rare Jasmine win! She was a strong contender for her supportive words to Crosby, but it was the Harry Potter party that clinched it.
  • I really want to have a Harry Potter party so I can get sorted. (I’m probably a Hufflepuff, and I’ve accepted this.)
  • Okay, Amber, you’re pregnant. We got it. You can stop touching your belly now.
  • Never trust stroller Transformers. They’re obviously Decepticons who will steal your babies.
  • Kristina’s face when Adam called the Bravermans a “bonus” she got in their relationship was priceless. PRICELESS.
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