For some reason, season three of Parenthood hasn’t been hitting me nearly as hard as season two, a collection of episodes that helped raise the show from promising newbie to one of the better dramas on television. As we head toward the end of the season, though, I’ve been trying to come to terms with what exactly my beef has been with the show, aside from my dislike of certain storylines. After having caught “Tough Love”, the 16th of 18 planned episodes this go-around, it finally hit me.
Parenthood‘s third season has been a lot of frustrating events that lead to the desired outcome. By the end of a 42 minute episode, we may have made progress in the storyline or packaged together a series of heartfelt moments designed to bring on the sniffles, but getting there has been rough going at times. Of course, I’ve enjoyed Parenthood this season for those heartfelt moments, that desired ending, and the consistently tremendous ensemble, but there have been times I’ve gotten aggravated watching.
“Tough Love” is one of those examples, as all five main plots ended at pretty desirable/appropriate/expected points and more than one of them had me breaking out the all-caps in my episode notes. I don’t even think anybody did anything out-of-character or at the behest of the plot, but it’s hard not to become testy as the personality quirks of certain Bravermans were turned up to 11 in the episode. Usually, they figure things out for themselves and it plays well to the naturalistic, low-stakes feel of a typical episode of Parenthood, but said feel can also highlight the worst aspects of someone while they figure things out. It’s messy and complicated and real life at its most naked, but in terms of television, it can make for an interesting sit through.
Just look at the Crosby/Zeek moments from “Tough Love”, where the younger Braverman gets a smack in the face regarding his father’s health after a mix-up at the pharmacy. You may remember that a couple of episodes ago, Zeek found out that he had an irregular heartbeat and made Camille promise not to tell any of the kids; it may have taken the entire episode for him to break out of his stubborn, childish, hypocritical stupor, but he finally broke down that Zeek wall and allowed himself to be vulnerable to Crosby. The final moment where Zeek opened up was honestly a beautiful part of the episode, a real “moment” for those that have been with Parenthood from day one (and a touching look at facing the morality of self and loved ones), but goodness did this episode highlight why I’m not a fan of the Braverman patriarch.
Zeek wants to all up in everybody else’s kool aid, telling them how to parent, conduct business, and live their life, but when it comes to his skeleton closet, it’s all of a sudden very hush-hush. I understand not wanting your children to worry too much over you, especially if they’re dealing with as much as Adam, Sarah, Julia, and Crosby are, but atrial fibrillation is treatable through medication and lifestyle changes. It’s not like he had something terminal that would quickly eat away at him, so why make it to be something more than it is? What’ll happen when Sarah, Adam, and (god forbid) Julia find out that their father lied to them about being ill? How would he feel if any of them had been diagnosed with something and kept it from him? You know and I know that Zeek Braverman, musty old bull in an emotional china shop, would never let any of these people hear the last of it if he was on the receiving end of this type of deception, so why’s he doing the deceiving?
Amber and Bob’s relationship/hook-up took a serious turn this week, as the candidate got invited up to speak at a conference in Sacramento and brought his assistant along with him. Last week, I mentioned that Amber’s kind of stuck between a rock and an even harder rock, in that she’ll either have to give up a man she has scorching chemistry with or a promising job that could set her on the right path from here on out. It looks like the latter may be closer to fruition, as Amber’s suspiciously sexy wardrobe she brought caused Haddie (hey, girl!) to run to Kristina out of worry. Now, Amber/Bob had to come to some sort of conclusion like the one we got, with Kristina driving out to the capital to bring Amber home, but I don’t know if it was went about in the right way. Kristina has had some truly inspired, moving scenes in Parenthood’s third season, but the shrill, grating part of her character was in full effect in relation to Amber and Bob and it made an uncomfortable scene even that much harder to watch. I get why she went to that mode, a mix of protectiveness over Amber possibly being “manipulated” by an older man and panic that Bob’s candidacy could be over if anybody finds out, but that doesn’t make it any better to watch.
Better Aunt Kristina finding out than, say, the press, and it needed to happen soon, but still, it brought out bad parts of her personality and highlighted the sometimes suffocating closeness that exists in the Braverman family.
Max’s quest to get out of gym may have resulted in the asocial Braverman finally snagging a friend (Micah, also sitting out in gym class), but the moving scene of Adam and Kristina carrying Micah’s wheelchair up the stairs was undercut by the rest of the episode. I don’t think Adam and Kristina are bad parents in the least; I think they both obviously love their children to bits and want to give them the moon, stars, and each and every planet, but their treatment of Max was another instance of them giving him whatever he wants if he argues/acts out enough. Max has never really had any follow through from his parents and that can’t be good for him; something like punishment may disrupt Max’s routine and throw him very off balance, but he’s not learning about how to interact with people in the real world by them always kowtowing to him. Not everyone is going to give in if you protest/argue enough and I couldn’t help but not feel all the power of the final moment due to that lapse in parenting. I expect the parents on Parenthood to make mistakes and to sometimes fumble around before finding their way, but it’s hard to ignore a pattern of similar mistakes made by the same parents. Max is a good kid that deserved a friend, but the way that he got it and the precedent it continues are worrisome.
But if you didn’t lose it a little when Micah’s parents told Adam and Kristina that he had never a friend before, you might be watching the wrong show.
The two other Braverman siblings may not have fallen into the theme of the episode, but their plots weren’t without their strong points. Sarah and Mark’s quest to have a baby, like, yesterday may be giving me mixed feelings, but of everything in “Tough Love”, their story felt the most real, particularly by bringing Drew into things and having him display a pretty normal teenage reaction to the idea. Thus far, Mark and Sarah has been a sea of romance and sarcasm, a veritable primetime fairy tale, and reality really hit them tonight, giving even more depth than they had before. This type of storytelling is where Parenthood truly shines, in that they managed to hit on key personality traits without exacerbating them or making them take over the episode; instead, they made it to where no one was glaringly over the line and you could fully understand each side of the story. The call to Seth may have been a nice, admirably adult move by Sarah to try and do anything to help her son cope with change, but let’s hope that it doesn’t mean a full reunion is in the works. Julia’s control freak nature had been well-established before “Tough Love”, but man, did it get the spotlight in a major way. Although I loved Zoe finally (finally!) putting Julia in her place for having awful boundaries, part of the reason I haven’t been invested in their plot is that there are no stakes and with something like this, there absolutely should be some. The “threat” of not having the baby has been grinding Julia’s gears even more recently, but just between us, it’s been pretty obvious that they were getting the baby from about episode 6; the rest has felt like pretty significant wheel spinning and although they’ve done far more with the material than I expected, great acting can’t mask predictability.
“Tough Love” ended in pretty decent places for each Braverman, with Julia learning to tone it down, Max getting a friend, Amber ending it with Bob, Sarah reaching out, and Crosby having a moment with his father. But getting there was frustrating, thanks to the (very real life) problem of having this many strong characters turning their personalities all the way up pre-finale and a whole lot of questionable actions along the way. We’re only two episodes from concluding another season of Parenthood and while each episode has had at least one moment/scene/plot movement that I’ve adored, it’s not quite measured up to season two. Regardless of that fact, I’m looking forward to seeing where this season of change leaves the Bravermans and where we all go from here on out.
Thoughts, Quotes, & Observations:
-“I leave you alone for five seconds and you’re shredding important documents again?”
-“Do you start all your best talks with ‘hey, man’?”
-“Just two dudes eating a burger, hanging out.”
-“You can’t avoid being super sexy.”
-“It took three chapters, but that tyrant finally went down.”
-“I should probably say something funny now, but I’m not sure how to do that.”
-“I guess I’m not the teenager whisperer that I thought I was.”
-Crosby’s nickname is Goose. Is this a new thing or have I not been paying attention?
-The song playing over the closing montage was Ian Britt’s “The Shape of Us”.
-Another episode with no new images are released. Sorry for any repeats, guys, but next week has new photos.
-Here’s a little information about spina bifada, the disorder Micah’s afflicted with.
-The paralegal job Zoe turned down had a higher than average salary, according to the 2010-11 Occupational Outlook Handbook.
-For the record, who is Haddie to be running to her mother with very vague (albeit correct) suspicions? Didn’t someone who shall remain nameless (but rhymes with Gladdie) carry on a secret relationship, at least part time, not too long ago?
-Next week on Parenthood: We get another addition to the Braverman family, Sarah faces a choice about her future with Mark, Adam gets an offer on The Luncheonette, and Crosby & Jasmine reconcile their past.