‘Parenthood’ – ‘Just Smile’: Cover boy

A review of last night’s “Parenthood” coming up just as soon as I go to Harvard/Harvard…

At NBC’s press tour party, I did a short interview with Jason Katims, which I will hopefully have time to transcribe at some point after I’m home and recovered from TCA madness. We talked about various story developments, and at the end I brought up the Julia/Joel/Zoe storyline, which to me has been this season’s Achilles heel – and Katims called it one of his favorite stories they’ve told lately, particularly in the way that Julia has developed an unlikely maternal bond with Zoe.

And while I will likely never appreciate that story arc as much as Katims, watching it in last night’s episode reminded me that a lot of what I dislike about it is the origin of it. The first few episodes dealing with the idea were just so tin-eared and contrived and un-“Parenthood”-y that I can’t help thinking about them even as the material has gotten significantly better. To call back to Katims’ last show, there was some good Landry/Tyra material that spun out of the murder storyline, but it was hard to notice because it was attached to something that I felt was a massive narrative error. Julia buying the coffee girl’s baby isn’t as terrible an idea as Lance becoming a serial killer, but there’s definitely some baggage that all Zoe scenes bring with them. That said, Troy is now out of the picture, and I really do like the work that Rosa Salazar is doing as Zoe. The stiff upper lip she was struggling to maintain upon returning from the break-up was a very nice bit of acting, and if I can put the bumpy earlier stuff out of my mind, I’d like to see more of how Julia and Zoe deal with each other in the final weeks before the baby comes.

While Salazar’s change of expression in that scene was good, it wasn’t a patch on yet another Lauren Graham micro-expression showcase. Just as she did in the initial scene where Mark mentioned kids a few episodes ago, Graham had to convey so many different emotions at once in that final scene – relief, joy, embarrassment, anxiety about how difficult this might be – with very minor changes in how she held her face, and she did it all. Great moment.

For that matter, Dax Shepard had to do a lot of mood-changing work last night in the Adam/Crosby storyline, though that was more over the course of the hour. Things ultimately worked out okay – the Luncheonette gets the publicity, Adam gets to be cool, and Crosby is reminded that what really matters about the gig is making music and meeting attractive women – but the tension between the two brothers before Crosby made his peace offering with the framed cover felt very real and honest.

I’m on the fence with the Amber story, which was the most predictable of the hour: Amber feels overwhelmed and underqualified, then shows off some quality (in this case, candor) that those stuffy interns with their fancy degrees don’t have. I’m always in favor of giving Mae Whitman more to do; it’s just a question of whether this is the show giving her something to do (that conveniently lets them double down on Amber/Kristina scenes in the way the Luncheonette gives us Crosby and Adam at once) rather than coming up with a story that really fits her. We’ll see.

Overall, though, a very solid episode, bringing various ongoing storylines (the Luncheonette, the campaign, Zoe) back to the forefront after last week’s off-formula road trip.

What did everybody else think?