Review: ‘Parenthood’ – ‘These Are the Times We Live In’

A quick review of last night's “Parenthood” coming up just as soon as I object to the edited-for-TV version of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”…

There's a lot I could talk about with “These Are the Times We Live In.” I could discuss another great Sarah/Amber bonding scene, and about how poor Amber got stuck with extreme ends of the kid spectrum with relatively easy toddler Nora and… Max. I could talk about how much I enjoyed Hank joining Max in pacing around the kitchen, and then how good Ray Romano and Betsy Brandt were in the scene where Hank told Sandy he has Asperger's. (And also how the tables neatly turned by episode's end in terms of Sandy and/or Sarah feeling threatened by each other.) I could note that Natalie has turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to Drew. Or I could observe that this was the most overt budget-saver of the season so far, with Adam, Kristina, Crosby, Jasmine, Camille and half of the grandkids absent.

Really, though, all I want to talk about is the ongoing fiasco that is the Joel/Julia divorce arc, and how it's taken the show's pre-existing cult-like allegiance to Bravermans-by-blood at all costs to an irritating extreme.

We can disagree with one another about how at fault each of Joel and Julia have been in the break-up of their marriage, about whether Joel's complete refusal to engage with Julia was in character for him, and whether the problems that cropped up last season run so deep through the marriage that they're better off signing those divorce papers and walking away. But we can all agree that there was at least some fault on both sides here. We didn't hallucinate Julia kissing Roy from “The Office.” We didn't imagine that she blew up her career without talking to Joel first, and then angrily chafed at the primary caregiver role he'd happily acquiesced to for all those years(*). We didn't invent out of whole cloth Julia showing up at Joel's office to yell at his boss.

(*) Which makes Joel's decision to give up the house even more insane – and makes Julia seem thoughtless by not offering to pay him, even over time, for his share of the equity in the house. He put his career and earning potential on hold for years, the bulk of their money is tied up in that house, and odds are she's going to make more money than he is going forward. I can buy Joel being such a mess that he would make this gesture – and if it leads to a reconciliation, then it was a brilliant opening move (even if that's not how he intended it) – but it's yet another example both of Julia coming off worse than the show intends, and of the show deciding that money is an important issue only when the writers decide that it is.

Those things all happened. We all saw them. So for “Parenthood” to now act like this divorce is entirely Joel's fault – to give us a scene where he tells Julia,” I hurt you,” and for her to not respond immediately in kind – is just awful. If it was one isolated moment, I'd wince but move on, but that felt like a culmination of some “1984”-esque rewriting of history – Joel Graham has always been at war with his own marriage – designed to cast our sympathies entirely with Julia. Or, alternately, it's a bizarre over-correction to the way that Joel was written as a saint for so long, while Julia was the one having an emotional affair with another unemployed parent, as if the writers think that the only way we'll still root for Julia at all is if they act like Joel was the only villain in this story.

Sam Jaeger was terrific throughout this episode. So, for that matter, was Erika Christensen – and ditto Craig T. Nelson in the scene where Zeek told Joel to fight for his marriage. But that entire corner of the show has become such a mess that I'm not especially eager to see Mr. and Mrs. Graham reunite anymore.

What did everybody else think – of both the Julia/Joel of it all, and about “These Are the Times We Live In” as a whole?