A review of tonight's “Parenthood” coming up just as soon as I'm watching a keg and marijuana paraphernalia…
One of the conditions of NBC giving “Parenthood” this final season was a reduced budget, which means every castmember has to miss at least a couple of episodes. Given that this is already a series that has more characters than time to properly service them, the forced vacations aren't in theory a bad thing, and there have been times this season where the show has juggled the absences well enough so they're not noticeable.
“Aaron Brownstein Must Be Stopped” was not one of those times.
Giving Joel and Julia the week off after the previous episode ended on Joel making a big dramatic gesture in front of Julia wasn't ideal, but their absence was one of the less egregious this week. (Zeek's would be the least, in that there wasn't an obvious need for him in any of these stories.) But giving both Hank and Amber prominent storylines while Sarah is in Napa for reasons, and, especially, doing a big Max/Kristina/Chambers Academy story while Adam was also conveniently out of town just felt super clumsy.
Chambers Academy is an idea that's always skirted the very edges of plausibility, and those scenes are never helped by the fact that Kristina and Adam appear to be the only faculty members there. Yes, we see a brief glimpse of a red-headed man responding to one of Max's outbursts, but for all intents and purposes, this is a big open space filled with special needs kids and Kristina, and she's trying to be both principal and Max's mom, and it's really not working out at all. The entire Max/Dylan fiasco played out like Kristina was blaming Dylan for all that went wrong, and protecting Max, and while that's understandably her default mode, his behavior was way out of line – even given his Asperger's, and the environment of the school. For Kristina to give him multiple passes on this – and also to run out of the building when she appears to be the only grown-up there – reinforces the idea that Chambers Academy is entirely a fantasy camp that Kristina and Adam built for Max, and the other kids there don't really matter to them(*). Max Burkholder was, as usual, superb in this episode, but Max Braverman was way out of control, and what was meant to be an uplifting scene at the end instead played as Kristina affirming everything her son did.
(*) Which Thursday at 10 academic setting is more unfairly biased against students who aren't regular castmembers: Chambers Academy, or Annalise Keating's law “class” on “How to Get Away with Murder”?
Meanwhile, as good as both Ray Romano and Betsy Brandt have been – I could listen to Hank say “marijuana paraphernalia” and make old man cultural references all day – it feels especially glaring to have a big Hank/Sandy/Ruby story in an episode where so many of the Braverman clan weren't around. Not only should Sarah have been part of this story somehow – especially given how much Hank and Sandy were acting like a couple in their final scene – but the Ruby story is an unnecessary intrusion in a season where we're supposed to be saying goodbye to the Bravermans. If this weren't the final season, and/or if it was a 22-episode season, I could see this as acceptable filler material. But when we're this close to the end and juggling Zeek's health, Crosby's depression, the potential end or salvation of the Joel/Julia marriage, etc., it's not the time to be dwelling on this other family unit. Hank has been successfully integrated into the show, but mainly in the relationships he has with Sarah and Max. If Sarah was around, it might have felt organic, but without her, it's a little spin-off(**) embedded into “Parenthood.”
(**) Last night, my wife decided that she wanted at least some of the Bravermans to migrate over to another show, and suggested we get “Transparenthood.” If nothing else, Max and/or Hank trying to understand trans issues would be… interesting. (But of course you could deposit those two anywhere short of Annalise Keating's law class: Greendale, Pawnee, Westeros… And Joel could fit into any home remodeling show.)
The Crosby/Jasmine material was probably the episode's most successful and consistent storyline, and not just because Crosby finally acknowledged what a stupid damn decision it was to turn down the money Dwayne Wayne was offering to buy the Luncheonette. As in the Jabbar birthday party episode, we got to see Jasmine be the reasonable and helpful one, but we also got to see Crosby start to come out of his funk and recognize that he can't just pout and dance around to the Ramones. It's also good to pair him with Amber, who's been one of the show's most sensible characters in recent years, but who's letting the waning days of her pregnancy send her back down some reckless, romanticized behavior from seasons past. Much as Crosby is (as always) annoyed by the intrusion of his mother-in-law, he also seems to be realizing he has to take more action to help out the family, while Amber's pushing him to go down with the Luncheonette ship – and for Drew to go back to an impractical major and career path.
With only five episodes to go – and potential births, deaths, divorces, etc. to deal with – will “Parenthood” go with implausible but uplifting happy endings, in which the Luncheonette somehow survives, Joel and Julia reconcile, Zeek lives to hold his great-grandchild, Drew wins the lottery, Max gets a girlfriend, and on and on? Or are we heading for some tough endings for whichever characters are budgeted to appear in these concluding chapters?
What did everybody else think?