Review: ‘Parenthood’ – ‘Keep On Rowing’

A review of last night’s “Parenthood” coming up just as soon as my butcher looks at me like I have leprosy…

“Parenthood” ended 2012 as one of my 10 favorite shows of the year, and it began 2013(*) with an episode largely reminding me of why I put it there: one filled with laughter and pain and sweetness and, of course, tears.(**)

(*) Ordinarily, the broadcast networks don’t air original episodes of shows on New Year’s Day. In this case, though, NBC wants to finish airing this season of “Parenthood” (there are four more episodes) quickly so they can get season 2 of “Smash” into this timeslot by early February. On the one hand, that kind of treatment suggests a bunch of network executives not overly invested in a show developed under a previous regime (and very invested in “Smash,” which was Bob Greenblatt’s pet project even before he came to NBC). On the other, if it turns out the modest popularity of “Smash” last year was largely dependent on having “The Voice” as its lead-in, then within a couple of months, Greenblatt and company may be looking at what “Parenthood” does in that timeslot (not great, but stable and much less problematic than other parts of the schedule) versus what “Smash” is doing in it, and recognize that they’d be wise to stick with Team Braverman another year. 

(**) As Fienberg noted on our best of 2012 podcast, declaring when you started crying during an episode of “Parenthood” has almost turned into a competitive Twitter sport. 

After the 12-hanky events of the Christmas episode, this week’s cancer story dialed things back just a bit, while still giving Monica Potter and Peter Krause their usual showcases. The mix of emotions washing over Potter’s face  – exhilaration, fear, regret – as Kristina shaved her head(***) was superb, and the whole argument between Adam and Kristina was messy in that great “Parenthood” way. He is trying to do something for her when he gets the hooker wig, but he’s also doing it for himself. I liked that the story essentially reached its climax midway through the episode when Kristina showed up with the limo and the red wig, and that everything after was an entertaining coda. Ryan Hansen got to do Ryan Hansen things as Luke the salesman, and even Kristina being too tired was a mild disappointment; for Adam the gesture was more important than the trip to Funky Town.

(***) Potter did not shave her own head, and while the bald cap she wore was seamless, there’s no getting around the way her skull looked bigger than it should have because her real hair was tucked underneath the prosthetic. I can understand why Potter might be reticent to shave her head a few weeks before she might be looking for more work (whether just a hiatus gig or something more long-term in the event of non-renewal), and usually I just accept the illusion of a bald cap in this circumstance. But because the emotions on “Parenthood” (like “Friday Night Lights” before it) are so raw and honest, the artifice feels more distracting than it might on almost any other show. I’m moved by Kristina’s circumstance, but I’m also thinking about the makeup job.

With Kristina’s situation being ever-so-slightly lighter, the real heaviness this week came from Julia and Joel’s corner of the series. The show has splashed around a bit in the emotional issues surrounding Victor’s adoption, but this was a dive into deep, dark water. Even months later, Victor can’t think of Julia as his “real” Mom, and he carries deep emotional scars from life with his biological mother and in foster care. So Julia and Joel are walking on eggshells around him and letting him bend the rules Sydney has to live by, which leads to one verbal explosion from her mom (“Shut up and eat it, please”) and one physical one from her brother, who sends an aluminum bat flying over her head. More disturbing than the bat incident, though, was the way Julia referred to Sydney as “our child” when discussing the incident with Joel – “our child,” as if Victor is just a temporary, troublemaking houseguest. Julia caught herself seconds after she said it, but this is not a situation that’s going to be easily stabilized.

As usual, the show tried to balance the serious stories with some more relaxed ones involving the other siblings. Of those, I preferred Crosby’s freak-out about Renee moving to Sarah’s ongoing romantic angst involving Hank and Mark. Jasmine’s not one of my favorite characters on the show, but Crosby does love her, he did marry her, and that means he now has responsibilities to her family, too. It’s a complicated situation, and one that Renee clearly understood as she tried to broker a peace with her son-in-law upon arrival.

(Also? Dax Shepard had a nice comic touch directing the various Crosby/Adam and Crosby/Adam/Amber scenes at The Luncheonette.)

At this point, unfortunately, I think I have Sarah romance fatigue. As good as Lauren Graham is, as good as Ray Romano is, and even as good as the two of them are together, it feels like the rest of the show made an evolutionary leap forward this season, while Sarah’s still stuck back in season 2 or 3, hitting the same beats over and over. I understand why she might have some abandonment issues with Hank after Mark broke off the engagement, but I no longer care about which guy Sarah’s with or how well it’s going.

Let me make the first reminder of 2013 that this blog’s spoiler policy means no talking about the previews for the next episode – and also warn you that it may be difficult for me to review said episode in a timely fashion (or at all), given that I’ll be hip-deep in press tour – and then I’ll ask you: what did everybody else think?