Between finales, pilots, and premieres, there’s plenty of TV to …
After six seasons, Parenthood walked off the field with its head held high, its finale a joyous celebration of the series’ core principles. Much of the final season has felt like a series of foregone conclusions, character beats and plot points easily foreseeable by fans who know the Bravermans well enough to have a strong sense of how they’ll react to their current struggles. That doesn’t mean the journey hasn’t been a satisfying one, however. When Joel and Julia get news of Victor’s sister, everyone watching knows they’ll adopt her, because they’re Joel and Julia and this is Parenthood. Yet their conversation on the dance floor is no less sweet and stirring for this fact. The series has always been one about the messiness, challenges, and rewards that come with family. By the finale, everyone watching is just as much a part of the Braverman clan as the characters themselves, aware of the show’s foibles and maybe a little tired of hearing the same stories repeated at every family function, but holding it in a special place in their heart nonetheless.
Parenthood begins its final season by picking up almost exactly where season five left off. “Vegas” may take place months after “The Pontiac” but for the most part, everyone is in the same place. Amber is indeed pregnant, with Ryan still out of the picture, Kristina is launching her school, and Zeek and Camille are happy in their new home. The only surprise Katims and co. throw the audience is Julia’s new office fling, which may become something more. It’s a surprising move given where the last season ended, but a not unwelcome one.
Parenthood has had an uneven season. After starting the year out promisingly, odd and unexamined character choices started to take over the show, leaving the audience to connect the dots to understand the extreme reactions (or lack of reactions) demonstrated by several characters. Joel, swamped at work (except when he isn’t), reacts poorly to Julia’s indiscretion and leaves. Hank’s back, but he’s not with Sarah, and no one knows why. Kristina runs for mayor, because remission? , and Adam, inspired by her, convinces Crosby to start their own label. Several of these storylines overstayed their welcome, stretched too thinly over the 22-episode season, but fortunately the finale draws more heavily from the narratively energetic start of the season than the slog that was much of its second half.
After months of stalling, last week’s “Cold Feet” jumpstarted all of the series’ stagnating season-long arcs, finally giving the show a bit of momentum. Thankfully that continues this week, with each of the threads not only progressed, but examined in a way they haven’t been for much of the season. Yes it’s easy to infer that Kristina’s impulsiveness this year stems from her cancer scare and exposure to the harsh impartiality and unpredictability of death, and we’ve seen a handful of scenes on this topic over the course of the season. But while there’s plenty to be said for letting the audience read between the lines, at a certain point a character deciding to run for mayor and then open up a new school becomes a difficult pill to swallow (for this reviewer, that point was almost immediately). Showing us Kristina’s anger and frustration over Gwen’s fate gives us the emotional background we needed for these choices and, thanks to Monica Potter’s fantastic performance throughout the episode, builds up substantial reservoirs of empathy for a character whose Mama Bear instincts toward the people and projects she cares about can quickly become aggravating.
After months of dragging their feet, the Parenthood writers finally move several of their season-long arcs forward this week and it’s astonishing how much of a difference a little momentum makes. Julia focuses on work and makes a big move in her personal life, Drew moves out of Amber’s and has it out with his roommate, Hank and Sarah start to talk about why they haven’t gotten back together, Adam and Crosby remember they started a label, Kristina and co. move forward with their school, and Camille and Zeek find their new home. Everyone we see makes strides this week, and after the morass of interpersonal miscommunication (or willful non-communication) that has defined so much of the season, it’s incredibly refreshing.
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.
Parenthood often centers on familial strife, the ups and downs that come with having, and caring for and about, a large family. Unlike the lovefest of “Just Like at Home”, this week’s episode centers on the ugliness that can peek out when a group of overly stressed and tired loved ones sit down to dinner. It’s well depicted, but unfortunately, it’s not particularly pleasant.
Parenthood knocked it out of the park last week by focusing in on the difficult transitions happening for Julia, Sydney and Victor, and Amy. It was somewhat of a respite, with the various Bravermans coming to each other’s aid and generally being the best versions of themselves. This week that break is extended somewhat, with each of the main storylines in a holding pattern. While the episode is entertaining, it’s far from essential and indicative of the growing pains present this season, with the series that so excellently adapted to a shorter episode order last year straining to expand back to its full 22 episode order.
Parenthood has struggled this season with a handful of storylines, most notably the Julia and Joel friction and eventual trial separation. While this arc has felt contrived and frustratingly unexplored, from Joel’s perspective at the very least, the fallout from his decision two episodes ago has been fantastic, both in concept and execution. This week, Sydney and Victor head to Joel’s new apartment for their first weekend away from home, leaving Julia alone with her thoughts (and Orange is the New Black), and watching each set of characters react to this, and the way writers Ian Deichtman and Kristin Rusk Robinson spin out this separation rite-of-passage into a celebration of sibling love, is absolutely beautiful.
Parenthood has had varying success with its season-long exploration of crumbling relationships (Amber and Ryan, Camille and Zeek, Julia and Joel). Amber and Ryan flamed out spectacularly after weeks of emotional and engaging ups and downs, while Joel and Julia’s distancing has been far less effectively portrayed, with first Julia’s and now Joel’s motivations only peripherally explored. This week, however, both remaining couples and their problems are handled well, with respect and honesty.
Parenthood shifts its focus back to the season-long (thus far) saga of Amber and Ryan this week, as Matt Lauria gets an emotional sendoff. In this potentially-final episode for Ryan (though he could just as easily return later in the show’s run), writer Julia Brownell wisely picks up the under-developed thread of Ryan and Zeek’s bond, giving viewers a clearer peek inside the character’s head than he would allow were he sharing all of his scenes with Amber. Tying her in with Zeek as well is just as important- most of Amber’s scenes this season have been with Ryan, Sarah, or the gang at the Luncheonette. It’s nice to be reminded that she has other relationships in her life informing her romantic decisions. Amber’s goodbye to Ryan is moving and heartfelt and, one imagines, very familiar to those with loved ones serving in the military. The scene treats both characters respectfully and while viewers may sympathize more fully with one person or the other, it’s great to see a balanced approach to the breakup of such a likeable couple.
Parenthood is back this week, opting for only a couple weeks off rather than a more standard month-plus hiatus. With Kristina’s mayoral bid over and done with, the Luncheonette label storyline seemingly forgotten, and Amber taking the week off, “Promises” is able to focus on a couple of the under-represented arcs of the season, as well as the continuing saga of Julia and Joel.
Several shows may be on hiatus, but there’s still plenty of TV to fill the podcast this week. We kick things off with the comedies, including the Psych musical, before moving on to the week’s genre offerings and finishing up with the dramas, including the finales of Homeland and Masters of Sex. Then we welcome back SoS’s Amanda Williams to discuss portrayals of physical disabilities on television in our latest Informed Opinions segment.