Parenthood is back on television, and that means our Thursday nights will now be filled with joy, and tears (always the tears with this show), and a squirmy discomfort whenever Zeek says something a little too un-P.C. (“Dad, you’re saying words out loud”), and futile attempts to swallow the big ‘ol lumps this heart-on-its-sleeve drama always puts right in the middle of our throats. Of the many, many things I love about Parenthood — its absolutely perfect cast, its capacity to simultaneously sugarcoat and frankly present the realities of family life, its repeated use of the word "funkytown" in a sexual context — what I may love most is that it’s such a pure, simple pleasure to watch.
When I tune into Parenthood, I don’t have to psychoanalyze the motivations of a meth lord or worry that I missed a very important Easter egg involving a pair of khaki pants from season one. I don’t have to concern myself with Cytron or Gladiators in Suits or trying to figure out who any moles are. There’s no need to think about serial killers, terrorism, or power struggles over iron thrones. Parenthood is just a thoughtful, well-written show that gives us permission, week in and week out, to feel, feel, feel. Sometimes, that’s just the kind of sweet relief we all need.
So that was a long way of saying: Hi, Bravermans. Welcome back to primetime television. Man, it’s really, really good to see you guys.
Let’s approach this first recap of the season as we will likely approach most of these recaps: by discussing the episode’s cry moments. As Parenthood regulars know, it’s impossible to get through an episode of this show without tearing up at least twice and full-on weeping at least once, usually because Amber is really choked up about something. Seriously, Mae Whitman is one of the best damned criers on television. Sob for sob, bawl for bawl, she’s right up there with Claire Danes and Aaron Paul. (Inadvertent rhyme: nice.) If she gets upset or even mildly verklempt, just endorse the check and grab the Kleenex because: You. Will. Cry.
By my calculations, there were three cry moments in this week’s episode, one of which (obviously) involved Amber and was a really big deal. Those moments, in chronological order, were:
1. Kristina’s conversation with Gwen. Discouraged by a hesitant Adam to accept a job offer from Bob Little to run his mayoral campaign, Kristina mentioned the opportunity to her cancer-suffering friend Gwen, whose immediate response was: Do it. “If there’s anything this taught us,” the frail-but-fighting patient said while receiving yet another round of chemo, “it’s no waiting.”
The words were moving enough, but Kristina’s response to them, as she choked back the first gurgle of a sob, really put this scene over the top into potential weep territory. It also reminded us that Monica Potter really deserved an Emmy nomination for her work on this show last season. The end result of that conversation: Kristina decided to really seize the day by running for mayor of Berkeley herself, which is exciting and also a little ridiculous since this segment of the Braverman clan just dealt with an election storyline last season, when Max ran for class president. Presumably, Kristina’s mayoral campaign won’t be based on a “Bring back the vending machines” platform, or that’s just going to be super-redundant and also really unappealing to Berkeley voters, unless the vending machines are the farm-to-table, organic kind.
Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Three tears.
2. When Crosby and Jasmine finally named their baby: Yes, Crosby and Jasmine welcomed their daughter into the world in classic TV birth fashion, which meant that Jasmine unexpectedly went into labor, then gasped and grunted until new life miraculously popped out of her unseen lower regions. Crosby had some trouble adjusting to the bundle of initially unnamed joy, due to lack of sleep and a feeling of disconnectedness from the child. (“I’m not the person I was three days ago,” he complained to Adam, in what may have been the best line of the night and the best description ever of how it feels during week one of new parenthood.) But he seemed to warm up when Jasmine said she wanted to name the child Aida Braverman, honoring Crosby’s desire to pass along his last name. Given Crosby’s and Zeek’s comments about the biracial baby’s white-skewing skin tone, the name Aida — the same name given to the Ethiopian princess in Verdi’s opera — provided some necessary cultural balance. Plus knowing that there’s another Braverman in the world … I mean, you guys … awwwww.
Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Two tears.
3. THE PROPOSAL: This was the go-for-broke, carpe tear ducts, bigtime cry moment of this episode. At the end of the hour, Ryan returned from his time in Kandahar, wearing his Army uniform and looking all handsome. Then he got down on one knee and proposed marriage (bold! underlined!) to a shocked and overwhelmed Amber, which was completely out of left field and possibly a little too soon and definitely going to freak out Sarah Braverman, but Amber was crying so damn effectively and that song by Joshua Radin was tugging all the right heartstrings so ... oh, who cares? Good for those crazy, Skyping kids in love.
This was a sweet, moving scene on its own terms. But for those who watched Friday Night Lights, also helmed by Parenthood showrunner Jason Katims, there was an extra layer at work here. In the last episode of that beloved NBC drama, Matt Lauria’s Luke Cafferty says goodbye to his girlfriend Becky as he’s shipping out for military duty but it’s never clear what happens to him after that. So in a way, even though Luke and Becky exist in a parallel, Dillon, Tex. universe, seeing Lauria’s Ryan come back home and propose to Amber made us feel like maybe Luke and Becky’s story ended happily, too.
Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Three-and-a-half tears.
Some other things happened in this episode that didn’t make us cry (yet) but are worth noting.
* Joel got a great job working for an architect who, oddly, is a woman named Pete; is played by Sonya Walger; and seems perfectly poised to come between the uber-perfect Joel (now with Tom Cruise circa Top Gun haircut!) and Julia. It feels weird to watch Walger being put in this position, mainly because she will always be Desmond Hume’s constant as far as I am concerned. But I’m actually in favor of the Joel/Julia separation plot line because, if it happens, it will be sad as hell, and I’ll cry until my pupils get erased by salt water and, as noted above, that’s basically why I watch this show.
* I have mixed feelings about Hank’s return to Parenthood. I like it because: I like Ray Romano. I don’t like it because: Why the hell did he leave Minnesota so quickly when he seemed so determined to be with his daughter? That’s a total quitter move. I like it because: He’s clearly forging a bond with Max, which is nice to see. I don’t like it because: What the hell, he didn’t even bother to tell Sarah he was back? He’s obviously a good guy but my God, does he always have to be such a wet dish towel of a person?
* Speaking of Sarah, man, I really hope the writers don’t saddle her with another love triangle situation, this time involving Hank and Carl, the guy who lives in her new apartment building. But I’m really worried they’re going to do exactly that. Instead, how about this? Sarah Braverman does nothing for the rest of the season other than express befuddlement and outrage over the text messages sent to her by Drew (now with emo-Bieber haircut!) from college: “I gave birth to ‘u.’ Don’t I deserve the ‘y’ and the ‘o’?”
Emoji Lessons With Lauren Graham. That could become the post-Parenthood equivalent to Talking Bad. Let’s make that happen. Carpe emoji, people. Carpe.