Parenthood, Season 5, Episode 19, “Fraud Alert”
Written by Jason Katims
Directed by Bethany Rooney
Airs Thursdays at 10pm EST on NBC
These weeks, on Parenthood: Max has horrible classmates, Victor and Sydney struggle to adjust, and Zeek and Camille have a decision to make
Parenthood, after starting out strongly, has fallen into a familiar pattern this season, with certain of its storylines absolutely succeeding and others consistently falling flat. The two most recent episodes exemplify this, giving viewers profoundly affecting moments with Max, Sydney and Victor, and Zeek and Camille while also returning to the same frustrating well with both Joel and Julia and Sarah and Hank. At this point, it seems unlikely that either of these two problem storylines are going anywhere before the finale, leaving viewers to hope that the expected turnarounds with both happen more subtly than currently expected.
Joel and Julia’s eroding marriage, and the fallout surrounding it, gives us some of the best and most frustrating material in both episodes. Everything involving either Victor or Sydney works, and works well. From Sydney’s lashing out to Victor’s abandonment issues recurring, in these episodes Joel and Julia’s lack of communication finally starts to adversely affect their children. While utterly unlikeable, Sydney’s needling of Victor finally brings Joel to a breakthrough- he wasn’t happy long before Ed, and hopefully this realization will push the parental aspect of this storyline forward soon. Speaking of Sydney, it really would be nice for the writers to give her a moment of positivity or even relatability. Her insecurity has been presenting as bratty behavior and while that makes sense given the situation, it’s making it increasingly difficult to empathize with her. Xolo Mariduena in particular shines as the insecure Victor. The series may have dropped the ball with his schooling (remember his struggles in school? It would be nice to know how things are going for him now that he’s in Sydney’s grade), but his moment with Joel in “The Offer” and skating excursion in “Fraud Alert” make for compelling drama.
As for the parents in question, the second of these two episodes finally starts to put the pieces together of why Joel has been reacting in such an extreme way to Julia’s flirtation with Ed. This is long overdue and while Julia’s quick mention that Joel’s father cheated on his mother helps explain a bit of his behavior, it’s not nearly enough and the tossed-off delivery Erika Christensen gives the line makes it feel like an afterthought. And perhaps it is intended as such, another sign of Julia’s obliviousness to Joel’s perspective, but given the consistent thematic ties between Julia and Camille at the beginning of the season, one would think Julia would be more attuned to Joel’s complaints about having sacrificed for so long only to feel unsupported when it was Julia’s turn to do so. It now appears the better correlation may have been relating the despairing, self-denying Camille to Joel. A final nitpick for Joel- when we last saw him, he was barely keeping his head above water at work, and that was with all of the parenting duties falling on Julia. How has he possibly managed to put even more into his work while having to be so much more involved with the kids?
Sarah continues to frustrate in all of her interactions with Hank. Much like the Joel problem, we are now three episodes from the season finale and despite having spent much of the season watching Hank want to get back together with Sarah, we’ve yet to get even the slightest sense of why, after their successful relationship last year that only ended so he could move to Minnesota to try to be a better father to his daughter, they haven’t picked up where they left off. Instead we have Sarah consistently taking advantage of Hank’s feelings for her and stepping past her prescribed Just Friends line. If there’s a good reason she won’t take him back, we needed to hear about it at the start of the season, so we could invest one way or the other. Without that information, their separation feels unearned and false, and this is only exasperated by Hank’s renewed overtures. At least Hank finally speaks up for himself in “The Offer”, even if he does backpedal at the end of the episode. It seems likely answers are coming, however slowly, but it’s disappointing to see so much story potential with Hank and his recent awareness of his probable placement on the spectrum set aside in favor of relationship retreading.
There’s quite a bit these weeks that works, however, and a big part of that is Max. Despite Adam and Kristina’s occasional insufferability, Max’s field trip and the fallout from his fellow students’ bullying of him has given that branch of the Braverman clan a lot of strong material. The clear highlight of “The Offer” is the car scene, driving home from the field trip, with Max Burkholder giving another fantastic performance as Max and Monica Potter and Peter Krause just as strong in their reaction shots. The weight of Adam and Kristina’s powerlessness is palpable and their focus on Max is far more interesting (and far less centered on their inexplicable financial privilege) than Kristina’s mayoral campaign, Adam’s new label, or their decision to open up a high school in under a year. Nora may remain mostly offscreen and Haddie doesn’t even get mentioned most weeks, but when Adam and Kristina are parenting Max, they’re fantastic to watch. Hopefully the strength of this storyline in these two episodes will bleed over and improve the Let’s Start a School arc that is likely to kick into gear in the final weeks of the season.
The final main element in these episodes is the continuing saga of Camille and Zeek’s house, which they appear poised to sell and vacate by the end of the season. Zeek’s unhappiness over the sale, but decision to move forward with it out of respect and love for his wife, is explored well in “Fraud Alert”. It’s great to see Camille and Zeek’s differing desires about the house tie in to the same root- their age. Camille is feeling her age and wants a few more adventures while she has time, whereas Zeek is feeling his, and it’s making him want to cling tighter to the known. Both are understandable, both are valid, and hopefully by the end of the season, both will have been relayed to the other partner. Losing a location as central as the Braverman house will affect the series dramatically and while there have been some bumps in the road, it’s nice to see this storyline get as much thought and care as it has all season.
With only three episodes left, Parenthood is winding down on what has been a problematic season. With several storylines looking like they’ll resolve in the finale (and not before), there’s still a lot of time left to fill, but for now, things seem to be moving in the right direction.
What did you think of these episodes? Did you enjoy Drew the babysitter? Anyone else relieved Mark is engaged? Are you expecting any surprises in the main storylines? Post your thoughts below.