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PARENTHOOD -- "Stay a Little Longer" PARENTHOOD -- "Stay a Little Longer"

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Parenthood Has Lost Itself This Season

Parenthood has always been the strange little underdog, the ensemble drama that flouted convention (no cops, no sexiness) and focused on small-scale character-driven stories. I love Parenthood. But between its stress-inducing repetitiveness and its sudden disregard for typical human behavior, the show is driving me crazy this season. Weren't you supposed to be the show about ostensibly ordinary (if very talkative and nosy) people, Parenthood?

If I have to watch one more fight between Crosby and Jasmine, where Crosby wants to do something relatively immature and Jasmine lectures him, I will probably die from a lethal combination of boredom and irritation. This is not a functional partnership in any way. "I let this disgusting musician come stay at our house and encourage our young son to do drugs, but I am doing this for you, baby," is not a compelling story and it's also not a particularly believable pickle for one to find oneself in. I get that conflict is at the heart of drama, but this is a conflict that has been played out in entertainment since the dawn of time, and has been repeated on Parenthood since the pilot. Jasmine: divorce this child and marry someone who is an adult. Alternately: Crosby, be a damn adult already.

We've also seen Sarah cycle through the same story before: She sort of fudges her way through a job interview and then finds herself in way over her head. It's how she got a job with Hank in the first place, and yet here we are again, with Sarah's high-energy alleged charm landing her a much bigger photography contract than she's capable of delivering on. Remember when Sarah wrote a play, and it seemed like she was going to be a big fancy playwright for a hot second? I do, but perhaps I am the only one. It's still not clear to me how Sarah is qualified to be the super of a building, how she sweet-talked her way into that job, or why an apparently very successful and fancy (and thus presumably wealthy) doctor would live in an apartment complex with such an apparent disregard for maintenance that its management would hire one Sarah Braverman to be the superintendent. In earlier seasons, Sarah had a lot of thinking to do — a lot of self-recrimination to work through, a lot of guilt. Her recent fight with her daughter, Amber — about Ryan being (or not being) like Amber's absentee father — could have dredged up something other than latent wisdom in Sarah. When we tell people we don't want to see them make the same mistakes we've made, it's not just to protect them: Oftentimes we don't want to relive our own shame, to watch our anguish be reflected back to us all over again. At least that's how it is in life.

Elsewhere in the Braverman clan, Adam and Kristina have also lost some ground on credibility. Are we supposed to assume that Max is still in some kind of behavioral therapy? Early seasons of the show went to great lengths to portray Max's therapies — you don't bring in Minka Kelly for no reason — but as Adam and Kristina agonized over Max's falling out with his one-time friend, neither mentioned seeking or receiving the advice of a specialist. They also did not mention Haddie, their daughter, who is never mentioned ever. Some of Max's adolescence will be hard because he has Asperger's. But some of it will be hard because adolescence is just hard, even for the neurotypical. It would be nice if Adam and Kristina ever seemed to acknowledge that they've been through parenting a teen before. It was pretty hellish! Their daughter ran away! You'd think they might have learned something! Nope, nope, let's just have the same fights and questions over and over and over again.

As much as I like Matt Lauria as an actor, and as much as I think Ryan's an interesting character, it's been clear since day one that he and Amber were not actually going to get married. And their relationship played out exactly as expected: Ryan had a short fuse and some serious untreated PTSD; Amber liked playing house and was in deep denial about the severity of Ryan's psychological issues. Things didn't work! Much crying ensued. I don't need everything to be crazy Scandal-like twists and shocks, but I need something more than the most obvious of stories. The same goes for Drew's fundamentally uninteresting love triangle with his high-school girlfriend and his college fling. Either have a threesome already or get off the pot, you people.

Even the strongest story line right now has suffered for how obvious it is: The possible dissolution of Joel and Julia's marriage has been by far the most wrenching and compelling story this season. But from the second Ed entered the show, everyone who'd ever seen a television show before knew what was going to happen: He and Julia would form a bond, Joel would be too busy to notice how depressed Julia was feeling, and suddenly Ed and Julia would be BFFs and then something more, and then it would all blow up in everyone's faces. That is indeed what happened, with nary a twist or even distinctive dialogue to distinguish this Parenthood version of the PTA affair from all other versions.

The acting on the show is so strong, and a no-gimmick family-drama is a complete rarity on TV right now — we need Parenthood. I don't want the show to suddenly get melodramatic or ridiculous, just in the name of finding conflict. But if it's going to focus on the mundanities of life, those mundanities need to feel more authentic, more earned. Right now the plots are too trite to seem real, but too ordinary to be dramatic.

Photo: Colleen Hayes/NBC