Review: ‘Parenthood’ – ‘I’ll Be Right Here’

A review of last night’s “Parenthood” coming up just as soon as I ask if you want tea…

“I love you, and we’re going to be fine.” -Kristina

“Parenthood” has always been a show that’s struggled to service all of its terrific actors, and the breast cancer storyline has only served to make the imbalance more obvious. Kristina’s condition, and how it affects both her immediate family and the extended Bravermans, is such a big deal that it has to get a large chunk of screentime each week, at the expense not only of fringier characters like Joel or Camille, but even of the other adult siblings. There’s no time in “I’ll Be Right Here,” for instance, to show Julia and Joel dealing with the financial implications of her quitting her job, though she briefly alludes to it in a conversation with Adam. And Crosby is used briefly for comic relief in his mishap with poor Otis.

But here’s the thing: the stuff with Adam, Kristina, Haddie and Max has been so damn good that the rest of the show melts away in my memory when they’re on screen. I’d love more of everybody else, but this is shaping up to be the show’s strongest, most consistent overall season thanks to the work of those four actors and the writing they’re being given.

Look at something like the peanut butter sandwich scene. It’s such a small moment – a daughter helping her mother make a sandwich – but it means so much, because Haddie has flown all the way across the country to do it, because they know what Kristina is facing in the morning, and because Haddie is the one taking care of her mother instead of the other way around. And Sarah Ramos and Monica Potter are just as great in that scene as they are in other moments where they’re letting the waterworks fly.

That final scene at the house was so brutal, wasn’t it? You understand where Adam and Kristina are coming from in lying to Haddie – if they tell her the truth, there is no way she goes back to Cornell, and they don’t want her to derail her future for their sake – but at the same time, if Kristina gets really sick while Haddie’s blissfully unaware in Ithaca, she will never, ever forgive them.

Max’s winning speech was also a lovely moment, even if it felt a little like wish-fulfillment, given how badly the Bravermans (and the audience) needed something good to happen right then. I would say the odds are 50/50 at best that Max talking publicly about Asperger’s would make him an even bigger target of mockery (kids that age are the worst), but I can also see how his forthrightness, and the way he used the words Haddie cleverly planted in his mind to make his point, connecting with the otherwise bored audience.

“I’ll Be Right Here” also wisely made Kristina’s condition a frequent subject for the other characters to deal with. Even though Crosby doesn’t have a lot to do this week, all of it in some way relates to his sister-in-law, and that makes it – particularly the callback to Jabbar’s bedtime prayers – resonate much more deeply than if he was just off in an unrelated storyline. Similarly, I like how Amber spent much of her first date with Ryan distracted by thoughts of Kristina(*). Dating is confusing enough without factoring in a potential family tragedy, and the writers and Mae Whitman did an excellent job of capturing that swirl of emotions, up through Ryan coming back with flowers meant for Amber and not her aunt. 

(*) Is this the first we’ve heard that Bob Little lost the election, by the way, or have I forgotten an earlier reference?

Even Sarah’s storyline mentioned Kristina briefly (Drew asks about her in their final scene together), but that was the closest we came to a fully independent story this week, and one I continue to have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it’s really hard to feel sympathetic for Sarah in this circumstance, since we know what motivated this sudden move and her complete lack of thought for how it would affect Drew. On the other hand, I think the show is very much aware that she’s in the wrong here, and that several people (Mark most particularly) have a high potential to get badly hurt before this is done. Some of the most interesting stories spin out of characters doing the wrong thing, but because the show has built up this deep reservoir of empathy for Adam, Kristina, and company, it then makes a storyline about a Braverman behaving badly seem even harsher than it might in a more typical context.

What did everybody else think?