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Parenthood Cry-cap: Everybody Loves Ray Romano

“Promises,” the Parenthood episode that reimmersed us in the Braverman-iverse after a three-week holiday break, was mild from a cry perspective, but colored with enough compelling shades to make it a pretty strong hour of television.

I loved the rift between Max and Hank and its impact on Hank, which will be covered in more detail momentarily. I loved the nitpicky rules of the silent auction, which, as any parent who has attended such an event can tell you, are very real and must be followed. (No, Crosby, you cannot bid on the Napa trip after bidding has clearly closed, although I do respect your bold decision to bid on Sarah’s photographs on Ed Brooks’s behalf. I’m assuming the amount of money Crosby and/or Ed listed on the auction sheet was: “Infinity Dollars, Plus One.”) Also: I really loved the cameo appearance by the great Paul Dooley, who clearly needs to co-star with Craig T. Nelson in a remake of Grumpy Old Men.

Now, a question: Has Parenthood reached maximum love-triangle capacity? In this episode alone, three factored into the plot: Hank-Sarah-Karl, the latter of whom, as a handsome do-gooder often involved with younger women, is now officially Parenthood’s George Clooney; Joel-Julia-Ed, which got sloppy and frustrating; and Drew and the ever-annoying Natalie (“I met my high school boyfriend at a Dirty Projectors show” – PLEASE STOP ALL THINGS YOU SAY AND DO, NATALIE) and Amy, who took a break from life at Tufts to hang out in Drew’s dorm 24/7 like some sort of Michael Bluth to Drew’s George-Michael. Which, technically, makes either Drew’s roommate or Natalie the P-hound in this situation.

That love triangle list doesn’t even include this season’s other three-pronged sources of romantic tension, between Joel, Julia, and Peet, or Amber, Ryan, and the drummer from Ashes of Rome. (The aftermath of the Amber-Ryan split was, thankfully, ignored in this week’s episode.) That seems like an awful lot of confused feeling of jealousy, guilt, and attraction, even if Parenthood is a show that often thrives on such feelings.

Perhaps it’s not a coincidence, then, that the most outstanding, touching relationship in this week’s episode — and, arguably, all of season five so far — was the one between Hank and Max, which has been consistently believable in a way that a lot of the flirtation-and-resentment stuff just hasn’t. And that, right there, is the ideal segue into this week’s three cry moments.

1. Hank expressing concern to Sarah that perhaps he, like Max, has Asperger's syndrome: After Max completely lost it at Hank’s studio, Adam apologized and gave Hank a book about Asperger’s to help him better understand Max’s behavior. Hank dug into the text and — like all of us, every time we go on WebMD to figure out why our right elbow is tingling — instantly believed he has the same disorder. So he dashed over to Sarah’s (right before her date with Parenthood Clooney) to try to process all this. The notion that Hank would see parallels between himself and Max isn’t exactly surprising to us, the audience, since the Parenthood writers have clearly been establishing the synchronicity between their personalities all season. But it’s another thing entirely for Hank, himself, to feel that sting.

Ray Romano is still thought of primarily as a funny man, even though Everybody Loves Raymond has been off the air for nearly nine years. But he’s proven on Parenthood this season how truly convincing he can be as a dramatic actor. He’s taken Hank, an off-putting grump of a guy, and slowly — without ever making it seem like he was trying too hard — turned him into someone who’s still appropriately grumpy, but also empathetic and likable. That’s not an easy thing to pull off and Romano has done it in a way that seems perfectly effortless and natural. Which is why, during his life-flashing-before-his-eyes Asperger’s rant (“I’m just like him. I’m just like Max”), I got a little teary. Does Hank really have Asperger’s? I don’t know and it doesn’t matter. He can at least relate to it, understand how Max is wired, and begin to question how his own wiring shapes his world. That makes him one of the more compelling members of the extended Braverman family right now.

Cry factor, on a scale of one to five tears: Three tears.

2. Julia confessing to Adam that she kissed Ed: Because I am not made of impenetrable stone, sure, I got a little verklempt when Julia finally admitted to Adam that she kissed Ed and that she and Joel are having major marital troubles. I did feel for her, in that moment. But in general, I didn’t like what was going on with this whole story line this week. That’s not because I believe Joel and Julia should stay together. As I’ve said before, I think divorce might be just what the Drama Doctor ordered for these two. But it made no sense that Ed is now coming across as this pushy, stalky, drunky jerk. It’s understandable that Julia is trying to establish some distance between them, but the way Ed came across at the silent auction — as an overly aggressive, inebriated mess — seemed at odds with the considerate, down-to-earth guy he’s largely been up until now. It seemed like he was being painted with a suddenly cliché brush simply to justify Joel’s decision to sock him in the jaw and do his “Stay away from my wife” routine. Which also was totally cliché.

It’s realistic, to me, that Julia and Joel might grow apart and need to separate. But the way it’s all playing out is beneath what Parenthood is capable of. In short: You can take a couple of my tears, Julia Braverman-Graham. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it!

Cry factor, on a scale of one to five tears: Two tears.

3. Max’s apology to Hank: Oh, good, this means we get to talk about Max and Hank again! When Hank finally developed the pictures Max wanted, Max found it in himself to deliver a carefully worded apology that clearly had been scripted for him by Kristina or, possibly, Kristina’s former campaign manager, Heather Hall. (“I understand that there’s a difference between a promise and a lie and that it’s not nice to accuse someone of dishonesty in a casual manner” kind of sounds like a political press conference mea culpa, doesn’t it?)

I mentioned earlier how underrated Romano is; that goes double for Max Burkholder, who said his robotic, means-to-an-end sorry with the same admirable commitment he has brought to this character since he was just a wee lad back in season one. By the time Parenthood’s oddest couple sat down to play a friendly game of chess, yep, there they were: tears.

Cry factor, on a scale of one to five tears: Three tears.

Photo: NBC