Review: ‘Parenthood’ – ‘Jump Ball’

A review of last night’s “Parenthood” coming up just as soon as I trash the evidence of my ninth grade accomplishments…

I didn’t get to review last week’s episode, but it was a fairly bleak one, between Max losing his best friend and Joel’s reaction to all the Julia/Ed business. “Parenthood” generally tries to blend its heavier storylines with comedy and/or uplift, but we’re steering into some fairly dark waters at the moment, and “Jump Ball” continued that. Joel announces he wants to move out, Amber presents herself as a drunken mess to her father, Amy’s extended stay with Drew is revealed to be part of a deep depression rather than just a spot of homesickness, Zeek finds out that Camille intends to keep traveling the world without him, and though Dr. Pelican can’t diagnose Hank as being on or off the autism spectrum, Hank nonetheless blows up Crosby and Adam’s poker game(*), just as Crosby predicted he would.

(*) Note that one of the players was David Walton, most recently of “Bent” and the star of NBC’s upcoming “About a Boy” adaptation – which is also set in the Bay Area and conveniently produced by Jason Katims. I didn’t catch his character’s name, and therefore don’t know if Katims was aiming to turn the new show into a very tenuously connected spin-off, or if simply his reference to not wanting to ever deal with kids was a bit of meta humor. 

UPDATE: NBC tells me that Walton was, in fact, playing his character from “About a Boy.” Interesting, though not without precedent. (When spin-offs were more common, networks would sometimes take a new show and try to retroactively make it a spin-off by having a character appear on a pre-existing show. And now I wonder if Crosby is going to pop up on “About a Boy.” 

There was a lot of good, if sad, material here, but a few scenes stood out to me. The first is Adam and Kristina getting excited at the idea that Hank has Asperger’s, listing all the things he’s done in his life and how that might be a positive future for Max. Of course, we know just how miserable Hank is, how much of his life he’s screwed up due to these Asperger-like tendencies, etc. Growing up to be Hank is a better outcome for Max than living with his parents, having a menial job (or no job at all) and no social life, but it still shows them recalibrating their expectations for who and what their son can be as an adult.

The second was Crosby and Adam’s argument over inviting Hank to the poker game. The show hasn’t given us a ton of scenes where adult relatives outside Adam and Kristina’s household have to deal with Max, but you at least get the sense that the rest of the family has gotten used to his many quirks. He’s accepted because he’s part of the family, because he’s a kid, and because he has a condition with a name and an explanation. Hank’s an adult, is Sarah’s grumpy ex-boyfriend, and Crosby has no idea about the possible diagnosis, so to him, Hank is a “freak” to be avoided at all costs. And that’s yet another window on Max’s future, as well as a moment where Adam sees a less flattering side of his brother and has to swallow it because it’s not his place to tell him about Hank’s private business.

The third is Zeek and Camille at dinner. On the one hand, it feels like it’s taking Zeek forever and a day to follow the advice of his kids and his pal Rocky to just tell Camille how he feels and offer to travel with her. On the other, his reluctance to speak, and his attempt to be polite and walk on eggshells around her rings true, as does the general sense of complexity around the issue. As simply as it is to say that Zeek can just run off to France or Italy with her for months at a time, how long before he’s missing his house, his car, his grandkids, his favorite foods, etc.? She wants adventure. He wants to be with her. There are some compromises to be made here, but not simple solutions.

That scene also contained the first election reference in a few episodes, meaning that story’s not getting the Tyra/Landry “we shall never speak of this again” treatment, but even with that mention, “Parenthood” feels on much stronger footing so far in 2014. Nobody’s in a happy place at the moment – and I particularly appreciate that they aren’t just walking back the Julia/Joel stuff, but dealing with the idea of a Braverman marriage failing – but the individual character and story beats feel right, and that’s what we count on most here.

What did everybody else think?