‘Parenthood’ – ‘Road Trip’: Is it much further, Papa Zeek?

A review of last night’s “Parenthood” coming up just as soon as I give you some fuzzy dice and a switchblade…

“I love you, Zeek.” -Grandma Blanche

One of the many aims of “Parenthood” is to achieve a sense of universality, where even if you didn’t grow up in a family like the Bravermans (which I didn’t), there will always be some dynamic among the huge ensemble that will feel disturbingly familiar. And few family experiences are more universal than the road trip, which makes this kind of episode so perfect for a drama like this.(*)

(*) It was also perfect for “Big Love,” whose best episode packed Bill and his many wives and kids into a caravan of cars en route from Utah to New York.

“Road Trip” is in many ways a very simple episode of “Parenthood.” The Bravermans drive from Point A to Point B (making enough stops along the way that a 5-hour drive somehow becomes an overnight trip), Zeek gets the closure he wanted from his mother(**) while she’s still healthy enough to provide it, and the adult siblings either don’t get subplots at all (Crosby, Joel and Julia) or get ones with fairly low stakes (Adam is frustrated Haddie won’t talk to him more, Drew is horrified to be around Sarah after seeing her in bed with Mr. Cyr). Even the Kristina/Max subplot is less fraught than a lot of Max subplots tend to be.

(**) Played by Frances Sternhagen, who will always be Ma Clavin on “Cheers” to me.

Yet there can be a real elegance in simplicity. Not every episode has to be filled with characters screaming (though Max does yell at Kristina) and crying (though Zeek does get choked up when Blanche says she loves him). Sometimes it’s enough to just get the little details right, like the chaos when everyone stops for lunch and can’t decide what to order, or the irritation that can rise when you’re an adult who has to listen to too many kids’ songs in a row at top volume. Sometimes it’s enough just to do a lovely job of photographing the scenery on the drive(***). Sometimes it’s enough to just show Monica Potter (who may just be the MVP of this season) reacting to Max calling Kristina a bitch, or to the shaky circumstances and mood she finds when she arrives at Blanche’s home. Sometimes it’s enough to just remember that you have Craig T. Nelson on the payroll and you might as well let him remind people what a good actor he is. Sometimes it’s enough to just show the Bravermans being together, in all their messy, funny, poignant glory.

(***) Can any Californians identify any of the territory they covered to figure out roughly where those driving scenes were shot? I don’t figure they flew the entire cast up to Berkeley to have them then drive to Bakersfield, but you never know.

That there was a damn good hour of television, in both the silly journey and the poignant destination.

What did everybody else think?