‘Parenthood’ – ‘Step Right Up’: Shift happens

Senior Television Writer
09.28.11 21 Comments


A quick review of last night’s “Parenthood” coming up just as soon as I have a second card for dad…

In my review at the start of the season, I noted the tricky balancing act Jason Katims and company have to do in terms of generating drama with interesting stakes while dealing with a group of average people whose jobs rarely have anything to do with the plot. There are times when that can veer into forced melodrama, as we saw with the Alex/Haddie plot at the start of this season, but “Step Right Up” was kind of the flip side of that: a low-key, slice of life episode in which none of the Bravermans got into any extraordinary kind of trouble, but which was ultimately less memorable than the ones where people cry a lot. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of outing now and again, as it both helps move along different stories (Jasmine being attracted to President Wayne Palmer, Julia and the coffee girl, Kristina’s concerns about the recording studio, etc.) and keeps the show from feeling manipulative 24/7, but it was also a reminder of why the show sometimes feels the need to push for higher stakes. (Or, alternately, to do an episode that’s much higher on comedy than “Step Right Up” was, though I’m sure the rat scene with Sarah and Amber was meant to be hilarious.)

The Drew story summed up the episode and this issue nicely, I thought. On the one hand, Drew is an incredibly realistic character: a nice kid, but one who’s not incredibly articulate, or really extraordinary in any way, just going through his life and dealing with the confusions of adolescence. And yet that honest, ordinary quality makes it very hard for the writers to come up with interesting stories about him, and outside of maybe Sydney, he’s the character who gets the least to do out of anyone in the regular cast. (There are rarely Jabbar-centric stories, but you see him a lot in Crosby/Jasmine stories, where Drew can disappear for weeks on end.) There was nothing wrong with seeing him struggle to ask out a girl – especially since it provided continued employment for Fiona Gubelmann and her name – but it was just a pleasant, disposable subplot this week. (Though, to be fair, she could become his girlfriend and lead to stronger stories down the road.)

And I was glad to see the assault story wrapped up, because it was very hard to get around its shaky origins (which Adam at least alluded to in confronting the parents, when he noted all the underage drinking at the party). I want to see the show continue to use the terrific Michael B. Jordan, but preferably in stories that don’t have me constantly complaining, “Oh, that would never happen!” – which, again, is the eternal struggle of any “Parenthood” script. Go too far towards the melodrama or too far towards the everyday, and the stories don’t quite work. There’s a very narrow sweet spot for this show, and fortunately it hits it more often than not. This just wasn’t one of those outings, I suppose.

What did everybody else think?

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