Season finale review: ‘Parenthood’ – ‘The Pontiac’

A review of the “Parenthood” season finale – and some thoughts on season 5 as a whole – coming up just as soon as we talk about the big tomato in the room…

When NBC announced last spring that “Parenthood” would get its first full-season order since season 2 (and only its second one ever), it seemed like a great thing. Finally, the show would have time to properly service all of the great characters in its stable, would be able to pace story arcs better, and just have more room to breathe for all the great glorious messiness that is life in and among the Braverman family.

Instead, things felt even more imbalanced and weirdly paced than in the show's shorter seasons. Some major characters got virtually nothing to do (Crosby's arc for the season was about mold, I think), while we suddenly learned an awful lot about Drew Holt and the spell he casts over the ladies. Some stories like Julia and Joel's separation and the selling of Zeek and Camille's house got stretched across the entire season – at times very clearly stalling so we could make it across all 22 episodes – while others were raced through, so that Kristina had time to both run for mayor and start a charter school in the same season.

“The Pontiac” felt a bit like the season in microcosm, with certain elements being repeated over and over, while we got significant new characters like Ryan's mom and Haddie's girlfriend – not to mention the entire concept of Haddie coming out to her parents – established as major things at the speed of light. We got closure on some of the year's arcs, as Zeek and Camille's house was finally packed up and – in the finale's best sequence – the tradition of the backyard family dinner was passed down to Adam and Kristina, and as Sarah finally decided to give Hank another shot, Asperger's or no. On the other hand, there was no mention of the school and, while things between Joel and Julia are warmer, they aren't back together yet (he's conspicuous in his absence from the final scene).

That's always the tough thing to juggle on a show like this, which both has a lot of characters and seems to live perennially on the bubble. I would guess NBC renews it (and likely for a shorter order), but Jason Katims and company have to play things safe to a degree and end each year with most of the Bravermans in a happy enough place that the audience won't be upset if this turns out to be the last we see of them. And factoring that in, I'm actually impressed with the patience shown with Joel and Julia here at the end, even if the pacing earlier in the season – as well as the behavior of each character at different times to make this happen and then drag it out – felt way off.

But there were enough good moments, like Adam figuring out Haddie's secret on his own, or Sydney getting upset at the end of what had been a perfect day with her parents back together, or Zeek taking pleasure in giving the GTO to Drew (which has the bonus of eliminating a source of tension with Camille), or the simplicity of the family at the backyard party (which was shot to echo the one featured in the opening credits), carrying on like always but in a new location, that I was reminded of why I like “Parenthood” so much, even in a pretty flawed season like this one. I hope it'll be back next season, and I hope Kristina spends that season doing a lot of relaxing and playing with Nora.

What did everybody else think?