Parenthood returned last night after a two-week hiatus caused by the Thanksgiving holiday and NBC’s desire to turn Carrie Underwood into Fraulein Maria on live television. Perhaps the break partly explains why I couldn’t generate enough tears during this episode to semi-dampen a small corner of a single eyelid. Look, this is what happens when you get out of proper Parenthood crying shape. Your tear muscles go cold, and they need to warm up again before they can start running marathons. Which is a problem since, after this week, Parenthood won’t air again until January 2. In the interim, clearly we’ll all have to Netflix some old episodes and do some sob sprints and morning weep-jogs just to keep ourselves in proper condition.
Honestly, though, the break was only part of the reason this cry-cap is going to be all cap and no cry. With a couple of notable exceptions, too much of this week’s episode — which focused largely on the importance of setting relationship boundaries — felt predictable and uninspiring. Even some of the more spontaneous moments felt off, like the writers were straining really hard to do something delightful and the best they could come up with was … cathartic egging? Look, I appreciated that Adam wanted to encourage Kristina to find an outlet for her latent anger about losing the election. But throwing eggs at a Bob Little billboard on a very public street was stupid, especially since — as the playground scene earlier in the episode demonstrated — Kristina’s a Berkeley celebrity now. This election may be over, but if she ever wants to seek office again, the last thing she needs is egg on her hands, which got there because she was throwing it at a dude’s face.
But enough about post-election, yolk-related stress relief. Let’s run down all the predictable things that happened in this episode, along with the handful of delightful things that occurred.
Amber and Ryan break up.
After the nine-episode see-saw that was the Amber-Ryan engagement, things finally came to their expected halt when Ryan — who finally expressed out loud to Zeek that he isn’t adjusting well to civilian life — reenlisted, without consulting with Amber. I’m not an expert on military matters, but I’m guessing he can’t control-Z on that decision, which means Ryan will be shipping out soon, and there won’t be a wedding, and Mae Whitman is going to be crying a ton when the show returns in January. The Amber-Ryan breakup scene probably should have coaxed some tears out of me, but it didn’t, because I could tell how much the whole Parenthood team was straining to yank some out. Something about that exchange between Whitman and Matt Lauria felt more self-consciously dramatic than natural. Plus, Amber was pretty much weeping for an entire nation after Ryan broke the news, causing her to run to Sarah’s apartment for comfort. Seriously, she was full-on Tammy Faye Baker by the time she got to her mom’s place, so I figured, you know, she’s doing a pretty good job of crying. Let’s just let her handle that. For all of us.
Julia and Ed kiss.
Following the blowup that occurred between Julia and Joel in the previous episode, Joel seemed committed to trying to repair the marriage. For her part, Julia decided that repair would require cutting off ties with Ed, who, it turns out, is separating from his wife. Therefore she went all the way to Ed’s house to tell him to stop texting and e-mailing her, which made no sense because: (a) Why go to someone’s house if you want to cut off contact? and (b) The sustainability committee cannot run itself. Anyway, one thing led to another and: kiss, followed by awkwardness and guilt. This all could be seen coming from at least 87 miles away, even though personally, I don’t sense any real, legitimate heat between Julia and Ed. They both seem sad and lonely for similar reasons, which explains the pseudo attraction. But these two aren’t soul-mates-in-waiting. Yet their little fat-thumbed texting thing is going to drive another wedge between Joel and Julia. Predictably.
Drew can’t handle casual sex with Natalie.
The strongest emotion I felt in this episode was the desire to punch Natalie in the face when she said: “Drew, you’re so sweet. But frankly, sweet just starts to get boring.” Hey, you know what’s really boring? College girls who hook up with frat guys and act like that somehow makes them more interesting than other people. Yet even Natalie’s condescending attitude didn’t stop Drew from wanting to sleep with her and turn their casual sex into a relationship. Hey, you know who else isn’t up for casual sex?
Sarah, predictably, slept with Karl.
After their power outage rendezvous, Sarah made it clear to Karl, her tenant, that they can never, ever have sex again, making a weird, overdramatic speech that should have worked pretty effectively to send Karl speeding far away from flighty Sarah Braverman. But, you know, won’t. I actually liked the subtle parallelism between what was happening with Drew and what was happening with Sarah. For different reasons, neither of them are interested in pursuing romance with noncommittal players of the field. And in separate conversations, both of them expressed a desire to establish rules for how their relationships will function going forward. We, the audience, could see that similarity. But as is often the case with family, mother and son remained unaware of the ways in which their worlds dovetail.
Now, the enjoyable:
Kristina gets high.
Even though Kristina’s visits with Gwen are getting predictable at this point, too, I still like seeing them spend time together, especially when it means Kristina Braverman can kick back, relax, and take a nice ride on the pineapple express. I also enjoyed Kristina’s post-election cake binge, which reminded me of Joel’s post-dinner-with-Peet cake feast. Bravermans and Braverman spouses: They eat their feelings with frosting on top. They’re just like us!
Crosby gives advice to Drew.
Of course Crosby told Drew that he should take as much advantage of this Natalie situation as he possibly can. “Sleep around,” he advised, like some great sage of promiscuity. “Have some experiences. Get good at your craft.” I feel like 80 percent of the great moments in this Parenthood season have come from what Dax Shepard keeps bringing to the table as Crosby. Keep being good at your craft, sir.
Zeek’s fire pit.
Man, this thing was robbed of a Golden Globe nomination, wasn’t it?
It’s kind of lame that Amy, Drew’s ex-girlfriend, randomly showed up at his dorm, because you just know her presence will make Natalie jealous. But at least her episode-ending pop-in was a legitimate surprise. And anything that annoys Little Miss Anti-Boring is something I must completely stand behind, now and in the New Year when Parenthood resumes.