A quick review of last night's “Parenthood” coming up just as soon as I take you into the bad news room…
Zeek's health crisis has been a mixed bag for the show so far this season, providing ample opportunity to get choked up for an ensemble full of actors who have made that into their specialty, but laying on his potential demise so thickly that I mainly spend time worrying that it's a fake-out, and wondering under what circumstance another Braverman might die in his place: Will Crosby crash his motorcycle?(*) Will Camille keel over while waiting for news from the surgeon? Is Amber going to be hit with preeclampsia? Will Julia choke on a Twizzler? Why is Drew doing such a long drive(**) in the hot sun with the top down? It doesn't help that the show already did the Kristina cancer arc. It's not that one family can't go through two potentially fatal health crises in such a short period of time, but that the Christmas episode where she seemed near death, only to pull through at the last minute, makes me suspicious that the show will try to wring all the tears out of its actors and audience as we wait for someone to die, then do something else entirely. (Though the Kristina arc also nicely informed the scene where Adam explains the bad news room to Crosby.)
(*) This isn't a show that has generally had to employ special effects, and with good reason: the attempt to digitally obscure the face of Dax Shepard's stuntman made it look like Crosby had just turned into Rorschach from “Watchmen.”
(**) And, again, we have two Bravermans embarking on an impromptu road trip of impossible length. The part of Wyoming closest to Berkeley is still a 12-hour drive (Drew later references having to be in the car for 18 hours on the way back), yet they appear to arrive at high noon based on the blazing sun that I fear is going to give Drew melanoma. I suppose they could have made an overnight stop (Camille mentions that Zeek will be in the hospital for a full day before the surgery), but these are still people putting a lot of mileage on their cars.
Amber and Drew's trip to give Ryan the baby news was, like so much of the Amber/Ryan relationship, complicated and thorny and really well done. You can see exactly how this news might make Ryan think he can finally get his act together, just as you can see what Drew sees: that this guy is a well-meaning trainwreck who will only put Amber through the same things their dad put their mom through. Amber's final conversation with Ryan was tough but not cruel, in the way she allows for the possibility that he can get his act together, even as she makes clear that she and the baby won't be a part of that process. I don't know if the shooting schedules of this final season and Matt Lauria's new job hanging with Bob Little on “Kingdom” were compatible, or if this is the last time we'll see Ryan, but this was a good story, again. Given the people this show has in its cast, and what they had on their resumes before the series began, it's kind of remarkable how Mae Whitman(***) has become the emotional fulcrum, but she has. (Amber's conversation on the porch with Zeek was another highlight, and one that made me worry that it was the last scene they would share together.)
(***) Think about the kind of range required to play both Ann Veal and Amber Holt.
As for the episode's other subplots, Hank and Sandy trying to fix Ruby – with Sarah caught in the middle – unfortunately feels too tangential at this point, despite how good Ray Romano and Betsy Brandt are, while I'm having a hard time viewing Julia's new boyfriend as anything but a placeholder until she forgives Joel for not forgiving her sooner for kissing Roy from “The Office.”
As with Zeek's condition, this may be me overthinking what the show is doing. Maybe we will, in fact, end the series with the family burying Zeek, with Julia getting engaged to the new guy, with Amber moving to Wyoming to be with Ryan, and all kinds of other permanent change the writers won't have to deal with after the finale. But I feel like we can see the strings being pulled more than usual this season, even if they may be pulling in a different direction than I think.
What did everybody else think?