‘Parenthood’ – ‘Amazing Andy and His Wonderful World of Bugs’: Days of future Max

A review of tonight’s “Parenthood” coming up just as soon as I sing this review to the tune of “Three Blind Mice”…

“Are you happy?” -Adam

Because “Parenthood” has so many characters, each with their own issues, it’s natural that viewers would tend to gravitate towards one character or group more than the others. Early in the series, I found stories about Max – or about Adam, Kristina and Haddie dealing with Max and his Asperger’s issues – to be much more interesting than anything involving the rest of the ensemble. Max Burkholder’s performance was so great, and there was a specificity to that story and the way it affected each member of the family that really grabbed me, and even kept me around when I was struggling to maintain interest in a lot of other corners of the show.

A lot of the series has caught up with it(*), to the point where last week’s fairly Max-light hour may have been the show’s best so far, but I still remain a sucker for a good Max episode – and “Amazing Andy and his Wonderful World of Bugs” was a very good Max episode.

(*) In my “Friday Night Lights” series finale interview with Jason Katims – which you won’t want to read yet if you’re a fan of that show and don’t have DirecTV – he talks about how even though that show and “Parenthood” have very different visual styles, over time he’s allowed a lot of the improvisatory production approach to “FNL” to filter over here. And there’s a palpable difference in the intensity of many scenes, like last week’s Amber/Drew/Sarah argument, compared to how some of those scenes might have been performed last season.

Max is a kid, and so even though he’s different in many ways from the other kids, there’s also a sense that Adam and Kristina can let some of those differences wash off their backs. All kids are different in some ways, after all. But faced with an adult Aspie in Amazing Andy – unsurprisingly well-played by Michael Emerson in a performance quite unlike Ben Linus on “Lost” – who shares Max’s chief interest and a number of his particular quirks, it’s like the first time that Adam has to accept that Max is one day going to be an adult, and an adult with Asperger’s, and he’s going to have to get by in the world on his own. And so even as Kristina is freaking out(**) about throwing an Aspie entertainer into a party that’s already going to be combustible thanks to all the other kids and their issues(***), you can tell that Adam’s fascinated by the guy and wants to see a little more about what the future might have in store for his son.

(**) After her shrillness in the Haddie/Alex storyline, Kristina was back to being perfectly likable and sympathetic in this one. The power dynamic in Max stories, and Kristina’s sense of helplessness and love, tend to wear down the abrasive edge that Monica Potter often provides in other kinds of plots. This was a very good episode for Potter.

(***) By the way, did I forget something about Max’s class situation? My recollection is that he transferred to a private school sometime in season one, but that it was still a class full of fairly typical kids, other than that one Aspie girl who wouldn’t invite him to her birthday party. Did I misunderstand something about the composition of the class? Was there an episode I missed where he changed classes again? Or is this one of those fuzzy continuity things like what grade Tim Riggins was in?

The party scene was so wonderfully chaotic, and as with the Halloween episode, there was that huge sense of tension, and so many ways in which things could have taken a turn for the disastrous, so it was an enormous relief when Gaby got Andy to start the presentation early, and when Andy was a big hit with the kids. And the party also nicely integrated some of the other subplots, like Kristina walking in on Joel and Julia in mid-baby-making, which is a familiar scene but one that was quite funny here because of how matter-of-factly Kristina and Julia discussed things once Kristina understood what was happening.

On the other hand, Crosby and Gaby? The show has been telegraphing where this was going pretty much since the first time Dax Shepard and Minka Kelly shared a scene together, so there’s no shock value there. And while they finally got around to making Gaby more than Max’s serene, wise, perfect aide in this episode, she’s still not a character I’m especially invested in. Clearly, bad things have been coming for Crosby and Jasmine, but this doesn’t seem like the most interesting bad thing the writers could have tried.

What did everybody else think?