Review: ‘Parenthood’ – ‘Too Big to Fail’

A review of last night's “Parenthood” coming up just as soon as the Sorting Hat assigns me to Gryffindor…

There's a really good exchange tucked away late “Too Big to Fail,” right after Ruby – chastened by Amber's words about her own rough childhood – apologizes to Hank and Sarah for being so rotten of late. Hank is baffled by what just happened and wonders how long it will last. “Not very long,” Sarah says, speaking from a deep well of experience with a troubled teenage daughter.

Without that line, the episode leaves the impression that Amber has magically fixed Ruby within the space of a few minutes. With it, we're reminded that life is messy, and that – like the rollercoaster Steve Martin imagines in the “Parenthood” movie – there will be many ups and downs along the way. Ruby and Hank's relationship is at a real low at one point in the episode, and then an enormous high at the end, but she'll be back to yelling and doing stupid things before long. That's just the way it works – and the way “Parenthood” works when it's at its best.

The show is often at its weakest when it goes for the easy solution, or when it introduces a major problem and then just forgets about it at some point, and financial difficulty may be the series' Achilles heel. At various points in the show, we've seen Adam, Crosby, Zeek, Julia and others grapple with money problems – at times catastrophic ones, like Zeek and the bad land deal – in which the show gets good emotional value out of putting our heroes under extreme stress, and then promptly lets them go back to living a fiscally carefree lifestyle in one of the most expensive cities in America.

“Too Big to Fail,” as the title suggests, returned to this subject, and presented Adam, Crosby and Amber's stories in that early angst-ridden stage. The Luncheonette is failing, Amber has a very expensive addition to the family on the way(*), Crosby is the sole breadwinner for his family, and Adam feels responsible for them, plus his own family (including the absent daughter at the Ivy League school), plus Chambers Academy, etc.

(*) Though as Amber and Drew freaked out at the pricey stroller, all I could think was, “Call your Aunt Kristina, whose attic is no doubt full of gear that Nora no longer needs.” (Or call Jasmine, who may have many of Kristina's hand-me-downs.) What good is having such a huge, close-knit family if you can't pass around the cribs and strollers and whatnot?

And there were some good scenes dealing with that stress. Jasmine's speech to Crosby about not needing the house or the trip to Harry Potter World so long as they had each other was wonderful – probably the most likable and reasonable she's ever been on the show – and the mirrored one with Kristina and Adam was also excellent. (It's so rare to see Kristina in a position to be comforting Adam, when usually it's the other way around.) Within the hour, the material was strong.

The problem is that the show has a very extensive, poor track record in this area, and one that makes me assume that Adam will, in fact, come up with a Plan B to save the Luncheonette, Crosby's house, that Drew will somehow not become financially responsible for his entire family (though it would be very much like his Uncle Adam if he was), etc. It's what “Parenthood” has always done, and will likely do until the end, and it takes a lot of the tension away from scenes that are otherwise well written, directed and performed, because we know a financial rabbit's being pulled out of a hat very soon.

Some other thoughts:

* If you weren't on Twitter over the weekend, you may have missed Fienberg's unsettling brainstorm that Dylan looks exactly like Jared Leto circa “My So-Called Life,” as you can see below. Oscar Winner Jared Leto was, and continues to be, a very pretty human being, so that's not an insult, but it's pretty freaky nonetheless. And since Jason Katims' TV career started on “MSCL,” I wonder if the casting choice is an intentional homage or not. I guess we'll know if Max ever tries to compliment Dylan by saying he likes the way she leans. 

* I liked Kristina's reaction to Dylan saying how cool she is, given what we know of how high-strung and decidedly not cool she is. When you're Dylan's age, someone else's mother is virtually always more appealing than your own.

* I've been watching a lot of early “Gilmore Girls” on Netflix recently, so when Sarah and Amber paired up to play Celebrity, I thought, “Those two make a good team, but they're no Lorelai and Rory”… right before they turned into the second coming of Lorelai and Rory with the way they tore through those clues. Sometimes, you just have to embrace what Lauren Graham is good at, you know?

* In that same scene, Hank's very narrow interest in pop culture made for many amusing answers, particularly the one about Sandy's celebrity crush: “Shaft?” Well, you see this cat Shaft is a bad mother…

* This week in budget-saving: Joel, Julia, Camille and Zeek are all absent.

* Amber's explanation to the saleslady that she and Drew aren't a couple was a necessary one, given that the two of them at times unfortunately come across as something other than brother and sister.

* Harry Potter nerd digression: based on the stereotypes that govern each house, shouldn't Hermione be in Ravenclaw, and Ron in Hufflepuff? And why does Hogwarts even still allow Slytherin to exist at this point?

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at