Review: ‘Parenthood’ – ‘Happy Birthday, Zeek’

A review of last night's “Parenthood” coming up just as soon as we agree on a pronunciation of “culinary”…

For a large chunk of the hour, “Happy Birthday, Zeek” was frustrating in the way that so much of season 5 was – in part because it kept revisiting some of the weaker elements of last season. Tons of time on Chambers Academy (including Crosby rightfully noting that Adam has checked out of his responsibilities to the Luncheonette in favor of the school), plus more of Joel taking sole blame (“YOU DESTROYED US!”) for the break-up of the marriage (though at least there was an acknowledgment that his behavior was wildly out of character) do not a satisfying episode make. For a while, I was worried that the highlight would be Hank standing in for every “Parenthood” viewer and wondering exactly how Amber got pregnant given Ryan's physical condition at the time.

But then… then Zeek smiled at Amber's news, and it made everything better.

Even when the series gets deep into one of its funks, “Parenthood” is still good for a beautiful moment like that, which pays attention to the long tail of history between certain characters (Zeek has always had a special bond with his eldest grandchild), and to the chemistry between certain actors (Craig T. Nelson and Mae Whitman are always fantastic together). In the midst of the siblings (other than the amusingly oblivious Sarah) arguing over whether Zeek should have the surgery, here was a simple, powerful illustration of why the man should fight to stick around no matter what.

I still suspect that the series will end with Adam as the new patriarch – quite possibly with the Bravermans playing baseball on top of Zeek's ashes, in a callback to the baseball-heavy pilot episode – and after keeping Zeek somewhat marginalized in previous years, the best thing this young season has done so far is to remind us of how important he is to the entire big clan.

What did everybody else think? And are you with me in recalling all the previous evidence of Syd being the wickedest Braverman grandchild, and thus someone whose current behavior should not be such a shock to her parents?