Apologies for not getting a review out last week, guys. My laptop decided to try and stage a coup, but after a week and a half of tussling, I think I finally got it back in working order.
Some of my favorite episodes of Parenthood are structured around a central, ambiguous concept, with each of the various storylines exploring an avenue of the concept. This way of arranging/writing an episode makes things feel a little more cohesive while showing that one may not be aware of all the nooks and crannies of things like control, perception, and self-awareness, three “ideas” that the show has explored in the past.
“Sore Loser” was no different, as we got to spend 42 minutes watching the Bravermans dealing with the concept of loss through tantrums, self-reflection, and crushing realizations. It was an episode that didn’t pack as much of an emotional wallop as last week’s “In-Between”, which made me a mess several times, but that hit on a lot of good stuff that made it a satisfying bit of TV.
The title comes from Sydney’s (remember her?) sudden descent into Crazytown, as Joel and Julia’s coddling of their young daughter finally came back to bite them. Or, in this case, smack Joel in the face after a ruthless game of Candyland. No, really, cute little Sydney exercised a strong pimp hand and actually hit her dad, a scene that was both terrifying and weirdly funny; you don’t expect to see something like that and when she did it, I may have let out an uncomfortable giggle, but what sealed the scariness was Joel’s reaction. Sam Jaeger never gets anything to do and when he does, it makes you wonder why he’s so often a floater on this show. For half a second, I thought this little lesson in humility that Joel wanted to teach his daughter had taken a dark turn and we were about to see spanking brought into the Braverman world; intellectually, I know that won’t happen, considering Joel’s demeanor, but Jaeger’s intensity and barely restrained anger was fascinating to watch. As a whole, I liked Sydney getting some shine, mostly since it stoked some of the insecurities that Joel and Julia have about their parenting and touched on the idea that every parent will have some regrets. The sped-up conclusion made sense to me, following Sydney being “broken” by her parents, though the entire thing being set into motion by an increasingly grating Zeek only annoyed me.
Plus, it gave Julia a chance to get drunk and pass out while keeping her daughter locked in her room, which was another funny shot in a storyline that saw what happens when the “innocence” of a child is lost to increased bad behavior.
While it was nice to see Joel and Julia away from the dregs of the plotline with Zoe, other aspects of the show shone a light on the issue of loss. Most of season three has found Sarah learning how to let go and accept the loss that is bound to come in her near future. She had to say goodbye to Seth once again, Amber moved out, and now Drew has decided to go kicking and screaming into adulthood, whether Sarah likes it or not. If “Sore Loser” is an episode about loss, season three has been a season of loss for Sarah Braverman, culminating (thus far) in a rift with her only son. After Drew gets a D in math, she tries to tighten the reins a little bit, forcing Drew away from Amy and toward a textbook. When you’re a 16-year-old boy with your first girlfriend and a mother who has been a little lapse, shall we say, with the discipline, punishments like that won’t stick, but luckily for Drew, Mark and Camille had his back. After coming to the realization that this punishment won’t work for Drew and that she may have to come to terms with the fact that he’s coming out of his shell a little, Sarah relents and offers some ice cream as a peace offering.
The evolution of Drew has been one of my favorite aspects of season three. He’s still a kind, sensitive soul with a touch of teenage awkwardness, but he’s made some progress this season in terms of standing up for himself and learning how to speak up. (There is the whole “he just said he loved his girlfriend” thing, too, of course.) I was waiting for the inevitable clash between Drew and Sarah the second Amber actually moved out and their scenes tonight didn’t disappoint; there wasn’t a whole lot of fireworks in the same way that Amber/Sarah arguments usually had, but Drew very rarely raises his voice and bucks when disciplined, which made something like “Sore Loser” stand out against his other storylines. What we saw tonight may have been one small step toward Sarah having to let Drew go in the near future, but it was one giant leap for Drew in terms of self-assurance and independence.
Kristina and Adam dealt with two examples of loss this week, the loss of security over their son and the loss of a potential business relationship. When Max suddenly becomes the target of bullies at school, it’s a double whammy for Kristina; she has to come to terms that, like Sarah and Julia, her child is growing up and she can no longer be there round-the-clock to protect him, while possibly putting another strike against mainstreaming him in her mind. Of course, Kristina took care of it her way, in a scene that continued season three’s trend of mining comedy from one of the least expected sources, but you have to wonder where she goes from here regarding Max. Kristina’s had a tough time since Nora’s birth, from her appearance to her family’s closeness, so it makes me think that instead of letting him find his own way, she’ll cling tighter to him in a bid for stability and to continue having some sense of control in her life. I only hope that it doesn’t come at a cost of Max’s development because even though he’s had some growing pains recently, mainstreaming is good for Max’s independence. Adam, on the other hand, has potentially lost an employee after flirty new assistant Rachel planted a drunken kiss on him. The two had been celebrating, with Crosby, the studio being booked for a month solid by band manager Gavin, culminating in a (rather heartfelt) scene in front of Rachel’s apartment. One of the things that I like about Parenthood is that a scene like that could have easily been over-the-top and too soapy, but the show chose to give Rachel the respect and dignity so as to not demonize her character. It’s obvious from her interactions on the show thus far that she’s not had a lot of good influences in her life, so once someone showed her a bit of kindness, she immediately latched on to it.
It’s that type of characterization that makes you feel for Rachel and empathize with her, a smart decision by the show that adds dimension to an impulsive decision. Even though you know what happened was wrong, there are no bad people in this case, which falls in line with the type of realistic grace that the show has shown time and time again. It’s too bad that this can only end one way and that the Luncheonette will be losing a receptionist sooner rather than later.
With “Sore Loser”, Parenthood showed that loss doesn’t have to be a bad thing necessarily. Sometimes, when you lose something, you open yourself up to bigger and better things, as well as the fact that the loss suffered in “Sore Loser” is more of the transitional nature. Sydney and Drew are in the process of growing up, Adam’s business relationship with Rachel is now in jeopardy, Max is still adjusting to being mainstreamed, and Crosby is having to deal with the presence of a new father figure for Jabbar. While status is being lost and relationships are in the gray area that has been present on Parenthood this season, all of this is making way for new things in the lives of the Braverman family.
Thoughts, Quotes, & Observations:
- “You know why it’s fun? ‘Cause I’m the best one there.”
- “I didn’t realize kids like lounge acts these days.”
- “You’re cute when you’re in denial.”
- “Good thing I left my turtleneck at home, right?”
- “We killed her.”
- “Probably ’cause I make sure they look at my rack first.”
- Favorite math pun: Max-amatician or “Here’s looking at Euclid”?
- The math warriors gave me serious flashbacks to my time on the academic team. Yes, I’m a nerd.
- For those wondering, the acoustic version of “You’re the One That I Want” was performed by The Lennings.
- Prediction: Drew and Amy will be having sex later this season. It will be a simultaneously awkward and adorable scene, which will give Sarah fits.
- Don’t look now, but we’re officially halfway through the season. Time flies when you’re sobbing into a wad of tissue, no? Just me? Okay…
- Next week: Adam and Kristina deal with Kissgate fallout, Crosby and Jasmine reconnect, Drew and Amber are uncertain about their futures, and Joel and Julia’s adoption plans may be falling through.