‘Parenthood’ – ‘My Brother’s Wedding’: Happily ever after?

A review of tonight’s “Parenthood” coming up just as soon as I ask you a serious question about expiration dates…

“People who want to be together make a decision to be together, and then they see. Life brings what it brings, but at least they’re together.” -Mark

Jason Katims has plenty of experience at writing season finales that have to double as series finales, just in case, having written two of those on “Friday Night Lights”(*) before penning the actual series finale. And though I feel reasonably confident that we’ll get a fourth season of “Parenthood” – NBC has so many other problem areas, and while the ratings aren’t good, they’re at least stable in their mediocrity (the “Chuck” phenomenon at work) – I can understand why he might have wanted to hedge his bets and give his characters, and their fans, a whole slew of happy endings, just as he did for many (but not all) of the “Friday Night Lights” regulars at the ends of seasons 1 and 3.

(*) Speaking of which… Billy Riggins! Derek Phillips turned into a terrific part of “Friday Night Lights” by the end, and I was amused as hell to see him here as a different, more knuckleheaded Billy in this show. Also, was it coincidence or further homage that his blonde dance partner at the reception looked a bit like both Mindy and Tyra?

And I’m fine with happy endings, whether the show comes back or not, as I think several of these open up interesting avenues for that hypothetical fourth season. For instance, Joel and Julia winding up not with a baby, but with a little boy who’s grown up in what sounds like an unsteady environment at best, has a whole lot of potential.(**) And whether or not the pilot Katims is doing with Jason Ritter gets picked up or not, they can do some good things with Sarah and Mark fumbling their way through life and either succeeding or splitting up.

(**) Though I wish they had at least hinted in the adoption agency scene that there was a chance this approach might get them something other than a newborn. I know Joel and Julia said they were ready for anything at this point, but I felt like they accepted this development way too easily, based on what the adoption agent had told them earlier, when they got a look at Victor. Felt like the show trying to surprise the audience in a way that wound up being a distraction in what should have been a big emotional moment. 

But there were too many “happy” endings that I ultimately wasn’t that happy about for the characters, and that the show clearly wanted me to be, for “My Brother’s Wedding” to feel like a satisfying conclusion to the season, let alone a potential end to this fine series.

I dealt with my feelings about Crosby and Jasmine getting married in last week’s review, so no need to rehash them here. I thought the wedding itself was beautiful, and very Braverman (laid-back, ’60s vibe, and magically thrown together in 3 days by the family all pulling together), and it offered nice moments for various characters in that setting, but I’m not interested in them being a couple.

And the show wanted to treat Adam tearing up Dwayne Wayne’s offer as some kind of beautiful, family-affirming gesture, when to me it played like Adam being guilted by his brother into doing something that was good for Crosby and very bad for Adam, Kristina and their kids. “Parenthood” is obviously pro-Braverman, wants us to take the side of the four siblings over whomever they’re in conflict with, and is in favor of anything that keeps the four of them in close contact with one another. But they’ve also established in meticulous, at times painful detail just how rough a go Adam and Kristina have had of it the last few seasons, how desperately they need the kind of money Dwayne Wayne is offering, and how much harder it’s going to be on all of them as a result of Adam deciding to put Crosby’s dreams above his own family’s very palpable needs. This is one of those moments where the family you create for yourself is more important than the family you were born into. I know there’s ambiguity here because they’re 50/50 partners, Crosby thought up the idea of renting The Luncheonette, etc., but I felt annoyed with Adam and Crosby for the rest of the episode after he tore up the napkin, and for once was rooting for a scene where Kristina yelled at one or both of them. (All we got was a brief glimpse of Monica Potter looking slightly peeved, maybe, while everyone was slow dancing in the scene right after Amber and Bob had their talk.)

And speaking of Amber and Bob, I’m surprised to find that I’m not supposed to view him as a predatory hustler, but as a good, noble and upstanding young man (like Mark) who knows what Kristina’s favorite muffins are and will graciously take Amber back as his assistant without requiring her to be his girlfriend. As with Jasmine and Crosby randomly turning out to be a couple we’re supposed to root for, that scene at the campaign office didn’t seem to track with a lot of what the show had presented earlier, and seemed there just to give Amber a rare feel-good moment.

I did like, as I said, Sarah and Mark’s various conversations – particularly in the way that the last few weeks have turned Mark from impossibly perfect into a more believable guy who’s nice and sweet and understanding but also very naive about what he’s getting into with Sarah Braverman – and if I never cared much one way or the other about Drew and Amy, I at least thought the presentation of them having sex for the first time felt right and true. And though Julia and Joel’s resolution was diluted both by the unnecessary surprise and by all the previous false alarms with Zoe (they had reached a point where either resolution with her baby was going to feel repetitive in some way), I thought Erika Christensen and Sam Jaeger did great work throughout, and it does set up a wealth of material for next season.

And I really hope there’s a next season, not just because I do like the show and the characters an awful lot, but because unlike “State” and “Tomorrow Blues” (or, to bring back “Chuck” again, that show’s various finales-that-weren’t), this isn’t the note I really want to end on. As I wrote at the beginning of this season, “Parenthood” is, by design, a messy show where it’s very rare for all the pieces to fit together and work properly every week. “My Brother’s Wedding” tried to wrap everything up in a neat and tidy fashion, but I don’t think it was entirely successful, given everything that had led up to it.

What did everybody else think?