‘Parenthood’ – ‘Mr. Honesty’: Stupid is as stupid does

Senior Television Writer
11.23.11 65 Comments


A review of last night’s “Parenthood” coming up just as soon as I picture our birth father stripping…

“You should not tell her this.” -Crosby

Hoo boy… I’m not sure where to begin with “Mr. Honesty,” an episode full of dumb stories and/or characters doing incredibly dumb things. There are episodes of “Parenthood” that represent everything that’s good and smart about this show and its characters. This was the unfortunate flip side of that.

Okay, why don’t I start with the good stuff? Amber’s struggle to make ends meet, and figure out a direction for her life, felt honest and real and simple. No weird plot mechanics; just Amber’s various choices (no college, live on her own, drive around a beater, get a low-paying McJob) catching up to her all at once, and her not knowing what to do. I liked her conversations with both Camille and Sarah(*), neither of which promised a magical solution, but just the idea that something’s gotta change. So that was all good.

(*) Is this the least Lauren Graham has ever been featured in an episode? She didn’t appear until well past the halfway mark, and only for the one scene. In the first two seasons, it seemed that in the balancing act of all the characters, the writers always made sure to have a significant story for both Adam and Sarah, who were first among equals in the ensemble. I’m glad to see they no longer need to force that, and can just let the stories go where they go.

For that matter, I would say the good majority of the Crosby/Jasmine story was very good. It dealt with an issue that felt real and germane to their situation – of course Jabbar’s too young to put two and two together the way they assumed – and it showed, once again, how much material there is to get out of seeing them try to take care of a child while not being together. And I even let myself believe that seeing them so at ease with each other for the first time in forever was just a nice example of the growth of their relationship…

… But then Crosby showed up at Jasmine’s place when Jabbar conveniently wasn’t there, and I knew they were going to sleep together, and my heart sank a little.

It’s not that they can’t have complicated feelings about each other. They did really care for one another once upon a time, Crosby never really let go of those feelings and Jabbar’s words had to have a powerful on them both. But having them fall back into bed together, and then seeing whatever complications come next with Jabbar, Dr. Joe, etc. seems much more trite and familiar than simply seeing their relationship play out as it has for most of the season so far. It’s the show forcing conflict because someone (whether it’s the writers, or someone at NBC) thinks they don’t have enough. And that’s unfortunate.

Still, that was preferable to either the Joel/Julia story or Adam turning into the world’s biggest moron.

Julia trying to adopt Zoe’s baby has been an awkward storyline from the start, and I suppose I should appreciate that baby daddy Troy at least came right out and said that they should be paid a reasonable sum of money(**) for their trouble. But Troy’s desire for compensation and how that’s thrown a monkey wrench into the plan feels just as much of a contrivance as every other step this story has taken. It’s not on the level of Landry killing someone in each of the 48 contiguous states during “Friday Night Lights’ season 2 in terms of implausibility and not fitting with the brand and style of the show, but it’s still been fairly silly, and feels like a story I wish the writers could find a way to get out of. I had hoped that Zoe’s initial rejection would be that way, but then they reconciled, and I imagine Joel and Julia will find a way around this obstacle, but… can we just skip ahead to Julie holding the new baby in her arms and Zoe and Troy going back to their home planet with Poochie already?

(**) I have friends who have adopted, and friends who have done surrogacy, purchased eggs, and gone through various other methods of having kids, and every one of those who watches “Parenthood” has sent me e-mails objecting to various details they feel the show has gotten wrong. And they always remind me of my objections when I would watch shows about newspaper reporters, or when my wife (who works in healthcare) watches medical shows, or how I imagine actual cops feel watching “CSI,” lawyers feel watching David E. Kelley, etc. TV drama has a long track record of eschewing accuracy in the name of drama (or, sometimes, in the name of expediency, since fact-checking everything can take more time/effort than they may have). It’s not ideal, but for the most part no one seems to notice unless the show is dealing with an experience that viewer has personally had. Still, given that this show is about parenthood, and that it’s decided to spend so much time on this story, I’d like to think they wouldn’t need to fudge the details as much as, say, “House” does with how a hospital works.

And then, there was Adam Braverman making the stupidest possible choice at every single turn. Sigh…

I get that human beings are not infallible, and that characters in scripted dramas are even less perfect most of the time (unless they’re Tami Taylor, that is). But there is someone making the wrong choice because it fits with their character – say, Sarah letting herself get sucked back into Seth’s orbit – and then there’s someone making the wrong choice because it’s what the story needs to move forward. (Ebert’s old Idiot Plot rule, where the plot only works if everyone involved is an idiot.) I can buy Adam telling Kristina out of guilt, even though I agree with Crosby (and Kristina) that it wasn’t the right thing for him to do. And I can buy him not having the heart to fire Rachel, as the central conflict burning within the heart of Adam Braverman is the struggle between doing what’s right and what’s necessary. But to then not tell Kristina about that immediately upon being asked? That is several bridges of stupidity too far. If you want to have him tell Kristina in that moment, and try to explain it and have her be just as upset as she was later? Fine. Do that. I haven’t liked this whole Chekhov’s Boobs story to begin with, but that at least would have been true to who everyone was. But to add this one extra layer of conflict, when Kristina had plenty of reason to feel hurt? Why? Why would they do that? What’s gained from that, other than making us all want to hate Adam? Kristina is sympathetic enough in this situation as it is. Totally unnecessary.

Again, sometimes “Parenthood” is great all around, and sometimes it’s a mix of greatness and head-shaking moments. But it’s very rare for the silliness to outweigh the smartness. This was one of those weeks.

What did everybody else think?

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