Parenthood Cry-Cap: No Tissues Required

Photo: Vivian Zink/NBC
Episode Title
In Dreams Begin Responsibilities
Editor’s Rating

This week’s episode of Parenthood fell below the show’s usual high Braverman standards. I know this because my critical faculties tell me so, and because it was clear that the writers seemed to be flailing a bit. This is the first season of Parenthood in three years to receive a full 22-episode order. Perhaps it makes sense that some pointless Joni Mitchell–related filler and nonsense involving Mr. Ray — the hip-hop artist with the least hip-hop name in all of history — is getting tossed into the mix during episode four, while Jason Katims & Co. lay down the remainder of the season-five foundation.

I also know this was a weak episode of Parenthood because it didn’t make me cry. Not even once. It elicited zero tears, brought on no signs of semi-verklemptness … it didn’t even prompt me to sniffle in a Pavlovian-style response to the sight of Sarah and Amber getting into a teary-eyed argument about Amber’s pending marriage. I hate to see Sarah Braverman’s eyes well with liquid as much as anyone, but I just was not feeling that scene. Maybe that’s because it was so damn predictable. Or, to put it in Amber’s words, “This is the part I knew was going to come.”

Fine, I’ll concede that there were two almost moving scenes, which shall be discussed momentarily. But first, I have a few questions to raise about what happened in this hour of Parenthood. Questions like:

Does Adam look more glaringly Caucasian when he’s grooving to Joni Mitchell (“Joni knows how to lift you up and tear you down, all at once”), or when he’s dancing in his own living room to Run-DMC’s “It’s Tricky,” as he did back in season one?

With all due respect to Jurnee Smollett-Bell, is it possible for Heather Hall, Kristina’s campaign manager, to be more annoying with her Über-bossiness and willingness to sell Kristina’s political soul in exchange for donation money? You just know there’s going to be a scene in a couple of episodes when Kristina finally stands up to Heather and uses her shouty voice and thereby proves she has the guts to truly be a leader. You also just know all that’s going to happen while some emo-folk music is playing in the background.

Okay, so Ryan insisted that he could not invite his mother, stepfather, or actual father to his and Amber’s wedding. Then, when Amber pressed him further about his father’s whereabouts, he said his dad was dead. Amber seemed surprised to hear this. Which brings up this key question: As someone who’s about to marry the guy, wouldn’t Amber know that one of Ryan’s parents is deceased? And if she doesn’t, to Sarah Braverman’s point, isn’t that a warning sign that perhaps it’s too soon to get married, especially if their plan is to get married at a lake that looks kind of swampy and buggy?

Is anyone else really hoping that a future episode of Parenthood consists entirely of a flashback to the year when Crosby dated a girl while pretending he was vegan? Because I am so hoping for that. That comment was my favorite thing in this episode. The episode gets one star. That line of dialogue gets five.

All right, enough questions. Let’s get to the two most moving scenes, which, again, did not lead to full-on crying but came much closer than the scene in which Adam promised to remove Mr. Ray’s speed bump if Kristina gets elected, as well as every scene that involved the band Ashes of Rome.

1. Zeek cons Victor into working on his reading. As a nation, we really don’t talk about Craig T. Nelson enough. He is just perfect on Parenthood. Literally everything that comes out of his mouth sounds like something that your dad has either already said or probably will say sometime after his first beer at around 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. He’s also perfect because he’s such a believably devoted dad. I loved the way he boosted Victor’s self-esteem by asking for his help with the car, while also significantly noting that Sydney is not bad at fixing cars because she’s a girl. (Sydney’s just bad at it because she sucks at it. That’s the spirit!) I also loved the little wink he threw toward Julia when he started working his way through reading that instruction manual with Victor. Another emotional nudge and I might have genuinely welled up. As it stands:

Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Half a tear.

2. Max donates $20 to Kristina’s campaign. While it may have been lacking in the cry department, this episode of Parenthood did contain some funny moments, including Max’s summary of his father’s explanation of what happened with Kristina and that local developer’s campaign contribution: “He said you didn’t want to be in bed with Harry Lerner, and I said that I wouldn’t want Harry Lerner in my bed either. And then he said that was supposed to be a metaphor and then he told me to go play video games.” (You know, as a nation, we really don’t talk about Max Burkholder enough.) Max also told his mother that he had decided to support her campaign, at least until “he does more research,” and then handed her a crumpled $20 bill that he earned by agreeing to shut up for an hour in Ray Romano’s presence. It was really sweet. Again, not enough to release the Cry Kraken, but maybe enough to require some dabbing in the vicinity of the lower eyelids.

Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: Half a tear.

Here’s the good news: The preview for next week’s episode makes it look like Julia and Joel are going to start butting heads in an even more serious way. Which suggests that Parenthood, hopefully, will be back on narrative track and back to its cry-worthy ways in seven days time.