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Parenthood Cry-Cap: A Few Points Behind

This week’s Parenthood was about Bravermans left behind and letting go. Crosby traded in his Jabbar basketball hopes for a winter of ballet classes. Zeek was forced to let go of Millie and accept that she’s now off in Italy, painting in museums he’s never heard of while he’s home alone, eating ice cream and relieving himself in the front yard. Kristina gained points in the mayoral race, then immediately lost them again thanks to Bob Little’s dirty politics and Adam’s capacity to turn the phrase “Get off my lawn!” into a meme. And Joel and Julia had to tell their son he’s being pushed back to fourth grade, while potentially letting go of their marriage.

Before this cry-cap delves into the cries (and there were two really wrenching ones and one almost-teary moment, which means Parenthood
is up this week in the cry-cap polls), I need to say something. And that something is this: Joel and Julia really need to get divorced. It's not that I'm rooting for them to get divorced; I like both of them and I think that, theoretically, they should be able to work through their issues since they’ve both seemed like pretty reasonable, even-keel people up until now. But for the sake of the Parenthood narrative, and the potential for cry-caps that are much heavier on the cry, that divorce needs to happen.

In my first cry-cap of this season, I noted that part of Parenthood’s greatness stems from its capacity to make us feel, feel, feel. But it’s also a show that makes us comfortable. We know we’re going to cry but, most of the time, we know that’s going to be a warm-bath, lit–Yankee Candle kind of cry, one that’s cathartic but not truly devastating. Even when Camille and Zeek seemed on the verge of a breakup, or Amber got in a car wreck, or Kristina got cancer, the audience has always trusted that things would work out, because this is Parenthood. And Parenthood bathes us in a sense of comfort, the kind of comfort some of us have always gotten from our own families and that some of us haven’t, which is why we seek it out instead from shows like Parenthood.

I’ve generally been okay with that. But at this stage, in season five, I think it’s time to rip our hearts out. We need to see the quote-unquote perfect couple — Joel and Julia — end their marriage. And not just with a temporary separation, but permanently, via an ugly, dragged-out divorce. We need to watch the agony of how that plays out, because it will be real and raw and upsetting, and it’s time for Parenthood to commit to going there, the same way that another Peter Krause series, Six Feet Under, did in ways from which I have yet to fully recover.

Speaking of Six Feet Under — and this may be an issue for a separate post, but nevertheless — I also think we need to see a character die on this show. To be clear: I don't want anyone to die on this show, as I love every single person in this sprawling family (yes, I am including Jasmine!), and the notion of a single one of them leaving this Earth is honestly making me cry as I type this. But that’s why, at some point, it probably should happen. Because this is a good drama, and really good dramas rip you to shreds by reflecting real life right back at you. And what happens in real life, I’m sorry as hell to say, is that people you love with every ounce of blood that pumps through your heart die. Marriages do, too. But still, life has to go on somehow, despite the grief, pain, and loss of what once was so perfect and right.

Sorry, I just needed to say all that. And without further ado, let’s go directly to the cries, which are largely Joel and Julia–related, thereby proving the point I just made.

Julia finds out Victor is going to be left back. Unable to just chill — understandably — Julia pressed Victor’s teacher to tell her what had been decided regarding Victor’s fate. She heard what she feared she would hear: that Victor should be moved back to fourth grade, right in the middle of the school year. Julia immediately lost it, and I lost it a little with her. Even though, unlike Joel, she thinks it’s probably better for Victor to move back now, she still knows it will crush the kid, and no parent wants to crush her kid. Of course, in her grief, Sustainability Ed was there with a hug that prompted a lot of extreme close-ups that signified the level of sexual tension between these two. But they did not succumb to their temptation. I, however, totally succumbed to the first cry of the Parenthood evening. Cry factor (on a scale of one tear to five): 3.

Julia and Joel tell Victor he’s being left back. First, let me just say that Joel was being uncharacteristically jerky in this episode. He was adamant about Victor not being shoved back to fourth grade and suggested putting him in private school, an idea Julia vetoed because they can’t afford private school on “just Joel’s salary.” Of course, Joel misinterpreted that statement as yet another of Julia’s putdowns regarding his chosen profession and chastised his wife for quitting her job. “All these decisions you’re making, they’re bad decisions,” he said. “You’re not helping here.” Wow. That was way harsh, Tai. So Mom and Dad were entering this difficult conversation with Victor from a bad place, and as an un-united front. Consequently, it went badly. Xolo Mariduena, the actor who plays Victor, honestly looked like he might have been almost-laughing a couple of times, but then he gave himself over to the crying, which just hurt to watch. If you’re a parent who’s ever had to talk to a weeping child about a legitimate disappointment, you know how much it purees the soul. The soul was pureed even more, in this case, when Joel provided zero emotional support for Julia afterwards. Lord. Tears. Cry factor: 4.

Kristina decides not to use Bob Little’s tryst with Amber against him. Right before Kristina’s press conference, I was wondering why she hadn’t spoken to Sarah yet if she planned to drop Amber’s name while mentioning Bob Little’s affair with an intern. But then she ended up not outing Bob and I thought, Oh. Well, that avoided a ton of awkward Braverman dinner table conversation. Instead, Kristina explained the violent Adam incident that Little’s campaign had leaked, which referred to the punch Adam threw in season two at a man who called Max a retard. (Loved the way the writers brought that back, by the way.) Kristina left it at that, refusing to stoop to Bob Little’s very small-minded level. It’s exactly what Bob thought she would do. “You’re not going to say anything, Kristina, because that’s not who you are,” the little weasel told her when she confronted him. “Otherwise I would have won that campaign two years ago.” He turned out to be right. But also wrong. Because here’s the thing: If Kristina proved that she really was someone else, all she’d be is a snake just like Bob Little. And Kristina Braverman, bless her, is not a snake. I didn’t cry during her speech. But I teared up, just a little, out of solidarity with her decision. And also, because I still feel sad that no one’s asked about Haddie in weeks. Cry factor: 1.

This cry-cap is basically over, and I didn’t even get to cover how much I loved the plot point about Crosby accepting that Jabbar may not be interested in the things Crosby wants him to love, one of those relatively minor, but really emotional facts of parenting that I love Parenthood for confronting. I also didn’t get to mention Sarah’s blossoming “friendship” with Karl (predictable) or the fact that Amber told Ryan to downgrade his engagement ring while they walked out of a screening of An Unmarried Woman (not subtle). But presumably these matters will resurface in time, if not again next week. Based on the teaser for next Thursday’s episode — in which Ryan pummels one of the Ashes of Rome dudes, Kristina finds out whether she won the election, and more awful stuff happens to Joel and Julia — a lot more tears will be shed six days from now. So really, any crying we did this week was just a bit of pregaming, a warm-up for what may be one of season five’s main events. That’s fine. I’m ready, Parenthood. Go ahead. Break my heart.

Photo: NBC/2013 NBCUniversal Media, LLC