Review: ‘Parenthood’ – ‘Lean In’

Senior Television Writer
11.21.14 67 Comments

NBC

A review of last night's “Parenthood” coming up just as soon as there are no cookies…

What a maddening episode of “Parenthood” was “Lean In,” full of Bravermans behaving badly (and, on occasion, the Braverman-adjacent doing the same), and the show only sometimes seeming to be aware that this is what was happening.

This week's worst offenders: Kristina and Adam, who are spectacularly out of line for the majority of the episode. It's not just that Kristina has completely failed her role as headmistress and protector of the other kids at Chambers by choosing to be Max's mother first and foremost, but that she and Adam are doing such a lousy job of being Max's parents. There is trying to make the world bend a little to accommodate a kid with special needs, and then there is enabling your son's ongoing harassment of other kids in his class, getting angry when other people object to it as such, and even assuring Max that he was not harassing Dylan, even though he really, really was. When Dylan's mom says that they only see things through the lens of Max, it is perhaps the truest thing anyone has said in the history of this show. Yet this entire fiasco – including Kristina being rightly called out in front of all the other Chambers parents – goes away after one apology from Max, even if it's incredibly eloquent and self-aware for him. At least Kristina and Adam finally recognize how wrong they were, but they were way too self-righteously incorrect for way too long.

Bravermans behaving badly, albeit in an understandable way: Zeek and Camille combine to put Drew in an awful position. Drew makes the right decision, and is rewarded for that by Zeek giving him an epic “You let me down” speech. We get where Zeek is coming from – he's scared about his health, wants to give Camille this trip before it's too late, and doesn't want to anyone telling him what he can and can't do(*) – even as he's treating his grandson horribly for the sin of trying to protect him. The Zeek/Camille scene that followed was terrific and poignant – a reminder of what Craig T. Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia can do on those occasions when the show lets them loose – even as it was setting us up for that brutal closing scene. Zeek may or may not die before the end of the series, but it sure doesn't look like he's making it back to that French B&B, does it?

(*) The show is very consistent in showing where the Braverman entitlement comes from, and it's not from Camille. (Semi-related: anytime we get a Julia scene with either of her parents, I'm somehow surprised all over again to remember that she's their kid. Maybe it's her height – which would be less of an issue if Maura Tierney had stayed in the role of Sarah – or just the way she carries herself, but the only thing she seems to have in common with the rest of the family is the sense of pushy entitlement.

The Joel/Julia/Chris mess was impressive in how it had each party being inappropriate at different times: Joel with the romantic lunch date, Chris with a reasonable request in a completely unreasonable location and manner, and Julia with virtually everything. (I appreciate that the show remembered the existence of Ed, even though Julia and Joel and the show have all agreed that Joel's sin of walking away was obviously the greater one.) We've spent two years building to this reconciliation, and it happens in the most abrupt and underwhelming manner possible. Yes, Julia's wavering in every scene of the episode, and there's a sense that she really wants to let herself forgive Joel, but the scene ultimately plays out as true love's kiss finally bringing her to her senses, and I wondered why we needed to spend so much time getting to this moment. If the show had ended with them split up and co-parenting the kids, that could have been an interesting direction (just as it would have been had the show had the sense to do it with Crosby and Jasmine years ago). And if the show had turned their reconciliation into this huge moment, I might have rolled my eyes even as I was understanding the need for it all. What we got just didn't seem worth the bother.

It's a mark of how weird and uncomfortable so much of the episode was that it was a relief to keep returning to the Sarah/Hank/Mark storyline, given how many different iterations of Sarah and Mark – and how many different Sarah love triangles – “Parenthood” has given us over the years. Here, there was never a suggestion they might get back together – even Hank understood that – and their reunion was treated as a chance for Sarah to consider the road not taken, before deciding that the path she was on was the right one. Good stuff all around from Graham, Romano and Ritter, and a welcome alternative to the myopia and arguments happening in so many other parts of the show.

What did everybody else think? Did you miss Amber, Crosby, Jasmine and all the younger kids, or were there enough Bravermans on deck this week for your liking? Should the Chambers Academy parents be launching an investigation into their headmistress? Are you glad Julia and Joel are finally back together, or were you #TeamChris? And how are you feeling about Zeek's chances of surviving through the finale?

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