‘Parenthood’ – ‘New Plan’: April in Paris

A review of last night’s “Parenthood” coming up just as soon as I cut the soliloquy from “Hamlet”…

As the episode’s title suggests, “New Plan” had a common theme riding through most of the storylines, with various Bravermans trying a different course of action after the old one failed to work. Crosby decides – ridiculously, but the show and all its characters are aware of this – that buying a house might somehow win Jasmine back. Amber decides the way to respond to not getting into any college is not to go to community college for a year or two and transfer(*), but to blame Sarah for making her care about college and follow her bliss to something else. And Julia, having accepted that she can’t get pregnant again (and at least for now not even contemplating the idea of adoption), tries to overcompensate by aggressively bonding with a confused and mostly uninterested Sydney.

(*) We know how good Mae Whitman can be on a sitcom, and that she used to work a lot with the Russo brothers. Who’s up for a tone-shattering “Community”/”Parenthood” crossover where Amber winds up at Greendale for a bit? Pierce could crack short jokes, Abed and Max could somehow meet and bond, Britta and Kristina could compete to see who has the best wounded expression, Sarah can fend off a bunch of Jeff Winger advances, etc. The thing writes itself. Someone put Jason Katims and Dan Harmon in a room and get it done.

Of those stories, I actually found the Julia one the most effective, because of the restraint involved. I love “Parenthood,” but like a lot of network dramas it’s easily susceptible to the disease of “tell, don’t show.” This episode could have very easily given Erika Christensen(**) a long, tearful monologue about how she wishes she could have another kid, how with 20/20 hindsight she regrets not being more involved in Sydney’s life and how she fears it’s already too late, etc. But they didn’t have to, because it was so obvious already what she was doing, and that it wasn’t working, and that Joel could see that and felt awfully for her. Still tears, and some nice performances from Christen, Sam Jaeger and Bonnie Bedelia, and I appreciated that the creative team knew the audience would get it.

(**) Whom I’m assuming injured her arm in real life and had to get it written into the show.

The Amber story is interesting and tricky. On the one hand, Amber tends to flit in and out of the narrative (though not to the degree that her brother does), which makes it difficult to truly appreciate the problems she’s dealing with. On the other hand, when I think back to even the early episodes last season, Sarah was always the one pushing her about school, and constantly droning on about how she didn’t want Amber to make the same mistakes she made (including, as Amber pointed out, having Amber), etc. So while I think she’s overreacting to a mortifying situation with the college thing, I can also see how she feels like none of this was her choice and that her mom set her up for it all. And anything that’s going to keep Whitman at the forefront for this season’s remaining episodes is alright by me.

As for Crosby’s dopey plan, it remains attached to the show’s problematic conception of the Crosby/Jasmine relationship, in which what Crosby did was obviously terrible and maybe unforgiveable, but where Jasmine’s own role in the disintegration of that relationship has been conveniently swept under the rug. So I don’t think the house will win her back, nor do I want it to, but I also understand that Crosby wouldn’t give up yet.

What troubled me more was the Adam/Crosby reconciliation. I knew it would be coming at some point before the season ended, just for the sake of storytelling convenience. (The show depends too much on scenes where the four siblings are together to keep two of them in a perpetual feud.) But I still don’t buy it. I get what Sarah says to Adam about the importance of supporting your brother even after he’s done this awful thing, but Adam is both a stubborn guy and understandably more committed to the family he created than the one he was born into, and I just don’t see him letting go of what Crosby did to Max this quickly or easily. I don’t.

Not every plot fit the theme – not unless you want to consider Haddie’s decision to have sex with Alex on prom night a new plan, as opposed to the logical progression of their relationship. That’s kind of a standard storyline for any show featuring parents and teens, but I thought it was well-played, particularly the chaotic, “Parenthood”-y scene where Alex and his friend come to the house to pick up Haddie and Amber, and everyone’s talking on top of each other, and both Adam and Kristina have to step back and recognize that their little girl is a woman.

And I was glad to see Richard Dreyfuss a bit less hammy this week, though that may just be the result of his character not being drunk. It’s still a Very Special Guest Star performance he’s giving as Gilliam, but I can accept that a guy who’s devoted his life to the theater would carry himself in a very theatrical manner.

Two episodes to go. Boy, that snuck up on me.

What did everybody else think?