Written by Jessica Goldberg
Directed by Ken Whittingham
Airs Thursdays at 10pm EST on NBC
This week, on Parenthood: Amber acts out, Hank gets a not-diagnosis, and Joel calls it
Parenthood has had a solid fifth season so far, but despite several interesting, entertaining moments and scenes, this week’s episode leaves a sour taste in the mouth due to the handling of the most problematic of the season-long arcs, Joel and Julia’s disintegrating marriage.
The execution of this thread has struggled since the beginning of the season, when Julia seemed erratic and was constantly talking about being depressed or frustrated without the show actually demonstrating this. This changed in episode seven however, which finally let viewers into Julia’s head and gave Erika Christensen a chance to shine. From there, the arc’s problem shifted over to Joel, whose motivations and headspace remain unexplored to this point. We’ve gotten a few moments that shed light on his stress and frustration, including last week’s long-overdue scene at his work, but nothing near what’s needed to balance audience sympathies and make his decision to not even try to work on his marriage fit with what we know about the character.
Yes, Julia screwed up by becoming overly emotionally attached to Ed, and yes, she should have come clean about it sooner, but Joel’s reaction has been almost shockingly immature. On a show where Jasmine and Crosby have overcome Jasmine keeping Jabbar a secret and Adam and Kristina have weathered cancer, and where Julia and Joel made it through the incredibly emotional struggle to adopt Victor, this is what threatens to tear them apart? Julia is desperate to fix things, and Joel doesn’t care. There’s story potential there. But why this change in family-man Joel? He’s closed himself off to Julia, which makes sense given the situation, but he’s not talking to anyone and that makes for problematic television. Does Joel have any friends? Any non-Braverman family? If not, shouldn’t he be more invested in working to repair his single most important relationship? Had things between Julia and Ed escalated further, or remained buried for longer, Joel’s inability to reconcile with Julia might be more understandable; instead, his decision to move out feels like a complete overreaction motivated by the show’s poorly-executed desire to pull on the audience’s heart strings.
Elsewhere, Camille is back from Italy and Zeek is trying, bless him. This couple seems to be drifting apart as well, but we’ll need a few more episodes to see where things are actually headed. Camille seems to be testing boundaries this week, wanting Zeek to lay down the law and show he cares about her by Neanderthal-ly asserting dominance and forbidding her to do things just when he’s doing his best to be considerate and supportive. It’s a not-unrealistic depiction of some couples, yes, but these kinds of ridiculous relationship mind games are incredibly frustrating, so hopefully the show is headed somewhere else with this pair.
Amber seems to be in a good headspace when the episode starts, but that quickly falls away and she winds up drunkenly berating her father. Only having jumped aboard Parenthood in season four, these scenes aren’t as effective for this viewer as they likely are for longer-term fans, but they still work and more notably, give the character some new ground to explore. It remains very strange how disconnected Sarah has been from her daughter over the past several episodes, but at least when this continues next week (that photo shoot is coming up), there will be a legitimate reason for Sarah to think Amber’s being looked after.
Speaking of Sarah, “Jump Ball” follows up episode eleven’s powerful and rare Adam-and-Julia scene with an even rarer Sarah-and-Julia scene. Christensen and Lauren Graham work well together and it’s a shame we don’t get more with them, either this week or in general. For a family this close, it’s surprising how infrequently the various siblings talk to each other about the parts of their lives they’re struggling with. Sarah once again being the relationship voice of reason as she has been all season (first with Amber and Ryan, and now with Julia) is entertaining, given her own terrible track record, and it’s great to have an audience surrogate reassuring Julia that it would be ridiculous for Joel to leave because of this particular bump in the road.
Over on campus, Drew is having a tough time getting a read on Amy, matching the audience’s likely take. A lot of students struggle upon going to college and the small glimpse we get of this rings very true. It will be interesting to see how the show handles this development- is this just Amy being scared and dragging down Drew with her neediness, or is this a legitimate mental health concern that Drew is being wise to heed? We’ll see if she makes plans to transfer schools or keeps avoiding the issue. Either way, given how Natalie behaved last week, anything that keeps Drew away from her is probably a good thing.
The final significant element of this week’s installment is Hank’s exploration of his potential Asperger’s. The early episode scene between Adam and Kristina, discussing this, is the standout moment of the episode, both for its relatability and humor, and while Hank’s notable uptick this week in Max-iness is a bit on the nose, the benefits of the storyline outweigh its narrative tidiness. Folding Hank further into the grasping, hugging arms of the Braverman clan (without him necessarily even realizing it’s happening) has a lot of comedic potential and also adds significant emotional stakes to the potential re-pairing of Sarah and Hank the show’s been teasing. It’ll be interesting to see how everything plays out. Hopefully with some tweaking, the same will be able to be said for the rest of the arcs this season, particularly the once-again-floundering Joel and Julia.
What did you think of this episode? Did you have the same reaction to Joel’s decision? Were you glad to see John Corbett back? Which Braverman sibling pairing is the most underexplored? Post your thoughts below!