Review: ‘Parenthood’ – ‘Speaking of Baggage’

A review of last night’s “Parenthood” coming up just as soon as I do my teeth different…

Much better. Much better.

It’s not just that “Speaking of Baggage” put the terrible mayoral campaign aside, but that it did a strong job of adding shading and complexity to both stories that have worked previously (Zeek and Camille’s estrangement) and ones that haven’t (Julia’s growing attraction to Ed). It featured a whole lot of Amber, both dealing with the engagement and actually doing work at the Luncheonette, and the show is always improved when it gives us a steady diet of Mae Whitman reacting emotionally to the events unfolding before her.(*) It gave us a lot of Hank, and not in some trite way where he runs to express his feelings to Sarah and arrives to find the handsome d-bag wandering around her apartment in a towel. It even did some interesting, messy things with Drew’s crush on Natalie, in a way that tied into the rest of the episode rather than feeling like (as is sometimes the case with Drew subplots) it was just meant to give Miles Heizer something to do. 

(*) Proposed second-screen option: a video of Amber reacting to what’s happening on the TV show, whether she’s in the background of that particular scene or miles away, intuiting what’s happening because she’s supernaturally in touch with her emotions and those of her family. And if there can only be one, “Highlander”-style, which would you choose: “Amber Holt reacts to things” or “Wynn Duffy reacts to things”? 

Let’s start with Julia, since that’s been one of the season’s more problematic arcs to date. For the first time, it felt like there was a real effort being made to show Julia’s awareness of what was happening, and to demonstrate how this guy is making her feel. She’s trying not to give into this, but even showing up at Joel’s office wearing only a trenchcoat and her underwear was a direct response to the feelings she was getting from listening to Ed’s voicemail over and over again. Erika Christensen was excellent this week, and the script did a good job of tangling Julia’s guilt over her cheating heart in with the Zeek and Camille story. What those two marriages are going through isn’t a one-to-one match, and it would feel clumsy if it was, but Julia can see enough parallels in the idea of a wife feeling overshadowed by her husband (even if it was the other way around for the bulk of their marriage) and simply at seeing a loving couple drift apart, that of course it would wreck her even further.

Because Amber’s been absent from the Luncheonette, the show had to force this sudden closeness between her and the Ashes of Rome drummer, but otherwise that subplot was spot-on this week. The scene where Kristina told Amber the story of Adam’s proposal was terrific not only because it was Kristina talking about something other than why she should be mayor of Berkeley, but because of the way Whitman played the transition from Amber being moved by the story to Amber realizing that she didn’t feel the way Kristina did when Ryan proposed to her. That he then does it a second time with a real ring makes her happier, but the show rightly continues to share Sarah’s concerns about Ryan. He’s a good guy, and his love for Amber is sincere, but he’s repressing a lot of damage from both his childhood and his time in the Army, and he doesn’t seem comfortable in Amber’s world, above and beyond the frequent sight of her getting all cuddly with the drummer. I suspect we’re in for more trouble for those two, and the groundwork is being laid out nicely.

As always, Ray Romano’s presence on “Parenthood” is welcome, and the Hank stories have struck a nice balance between his friendship with Max and dealing with his leftover feelings for Sarah (and vice versa). At some point, I’m assuming he and Sarah will reconnect, but they’re not rushing it, and I’m enjoying the social awkwardness duet between mentor and protege.

And the Zeek/Camille schism played out well as the kids learned of it and made their own faulty assumptions based on what they think they know about their parents’ marriage. Camille has been the injured party for most of this arc, but Zeek was genuinely hurt when he told Adam that he wasn’t invited, and later when he stood in that big, empty house that he currently can’t share with anyone.

Take all those ingredients and bookend ’em with a pair of Bob Dylan songs (“Forever Young” as usual with the opening credits, and “I Threw It All Away” over the last few scenes), and you’ve got a winner. I was feeling very frustrated with season 5 last week, but “Speaking of Baggage” was a reminder of the many things “Parenthood” does so well.

What did everybody else think?