“Parenthood” began its final season last night, and I have a review of the premiere coming up just as soon as we literally watch paint dry…
“This family is sick. Sick!” -Adam
Let's get the stupidity out of the way quickly, because otherwise, “Vegas” was a damn fine start to this concluding season, loaded with dust-inducing scenes and promising starts to new story arcs: It is roughly an eight-hour drive from San Francisco to Las Vegas, yet Adam and Crosby decide to go from the Luncheonette to Zeek and Sarah's hotel like it's a quick trip to the grocery store, and succeed in getting there about that quickly. That's just dumb – even Zeek mentions having flown when he returns to Camille near the end of the episode – and the sort of thing that makes sense if the characters all live where the show is written rather than where it's set.
The rest, though? This, again, was a fine example of why we watch “Parenthood,” with an abundance of gorgeously-written, directed and performed moments.
Just look at the two Amber scenes that bookended the hour. In the first, Mae Whitman does her usual splendid job of portraying all the complicated feelings Amber is wrestling with even as she thrills to the sound of the fetal heartbeat; in the last, Whitman's TV mom Lauren Graham is just as great at showing how Sarah would react to the news that her daughter is following the exact life path she once did. This is a series with smart, snappy dialogue, but so many of its best moments come from Jason Katims and the other writers trusting this amazing cast to say everything with their expressions, and we got a bunch of those last night: Haddie(!) immediately switching from wounded complainer to supportive cousin when Amber says she's pregnant, or the look of resignation on Max's face when he finally shows up at Chambers Academy (anything happier would have rang totally false, and it served as a nice contrast to Kristina trying to contain her joy), or Julia's reaction to her estranged husband playing the role of Saint Joel again in offering to help with the school's plumbing problems. This was an episode I almost felt like I could have watched on mute and still gotten most of the important points.
This also seems like a good collection of stories to wrap up the series with. I'm on the fence about Hank and his ex trying to “fix” their daughter, because as wonderful as Ray Romano has been on this show, it's probably one story too many. (As it is, Crosby's family continues last season's streak of being the most underused.) But if we're going for a life cycle approach, then Amber preparing to have a baby right as Zeek may be getting sick(*) are appropriate “to everything there is a season” plot developments. I expect Julia and Joel to end up back together by the finale, but the notion of her moving on – even if it's with a co-worker(**) whose facial scruff means we're instantly supposed to mistrust him – and trying to co-parent the kids with her ex is something the show only vaguely did with Crosby and Jasmine in season 2. (And, obviously, we'll get more of that with Hank and Sandy.)
(*) Katims began his career in TV working for Herskowitz and Zwick, and though their “thirtysomething” was before his time, I wonder if he's aiming to borrow one of that show's most famous devices and have Zeek's condition be a fake-out while it is another Braverman who sadly winds up in TV Heaven.
(**) I wonder if the show will bother explaining how Julia finally got another high-powered law job, given that last season showed how completely and utterly she had sabotaged her future career prospects, or if this is one of those things we're just supposed to shrug off, like Adam's dire financial situation never being an issue again.
Last season, “Parenthood” got locked into certain plots that were either dumb (Kristina for mayor! Kristina then immediately starts a charter school!) and/or that didn't convey the nuance that I think the creative team was going for (Julia and Joel's split). And it's entirely possible we may travel in many silly directions before the end. But “Vegas” felt purposeful in a way this lovely shaggy dog of a series doesn't always, and made me feel confident that the writers know exactly how they're going to bring the story of this extended family to a satisfying – if often tear-jerking – close.
What did everybody else think?