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Parenthood Cry-Cap: Swift Kicks in the Rear

PARENTHOOD -- "The Enchanting Mr. Knight" Episode 516 -- Pictured: (l-r) Mae Whitman as Amber Holt, Miles Heizer as Drew Holt -- (Photo by: Colleen Hayes/NBC)

Every once in a while, what a person needs most is a good, swift, unapologetic kick in the butt. That’s what several members of the extended Braverman family got in this week’s episode of Parenthood, an hour grounded in what this show does best: depicting the relatable mini-dramas that arise on ordinary days, among moms, dads, kids, siblings, and friends trying their best to look out for each other.

Sometimes those mini-dramas involve a daughter who refuses to sleep at her dad’s apartment, and also asks her mother whether she’s “done her research” before coming to speak during Green Week. (I know Sydney is going through a rough time, but oh my God, she was being such a massive brat in this episode.) Sometimes they center on a grown man who complains about real estate agents using words like declutter, and also sticks his ear next to heating vents so he can eavesdrop on his parents’ arguments over whether to sell the house he’s loved since childhood. And sometimes, they’re about a man and his wife, waiting anxiously to find out if she remains healthy and cancer-free. (In case you didn’t guess, the scene in which Adam and Kristina got their answer to the cancer question was the big cry moment in this week’s episode.)

But before we get to the cry, we need to talk about the butt-kickings. The first much-needed boot to the rear was delivered by Ed, to Julia, when he stopped by her house to express his separation-from-Joel condolences. Why do people on this show constantly pop up at each other’s front door to say things to each other? Why can’t they just call, or email, or text in that way that Julia and Ed used to do that made Joel so mad? Hey, Bravermans and your acquaintances: There are these things called Skype and Facetime that you can use. They’re like talking to another human in person, plus they save so much money on gas!

In any case ... when Ed showed up, in an effort to be thoughtful and, also, to make Green Week a little less awkward, Julia wasn’t having it. She got angry and accused him of ruining her marriage and splintering her family. This was completely ridiculous, yet consistent with the way Julia has rationalized most of the circumstances surrounding her separation. Julia is a perfectionist. She hates to admit something is her fault, and she really hates to fail. But by pushing the blame elsewhere, she’s not addressing the issues that could potentially help her repair her marriage — perhaps, based on the promos for the next episode of Parenthood, even as soon as next Thursday night at 10 p.m. Eastern! Ed had the guts to tell her exactly that. “If you honestly think I’m the sole reason you and Joel are having problems, you are kidding yourself,” he said. “And if you want your marriage back, you’re going to have to dig a little deeper.”

The interactions between Ed and Julia felt authentic and honest in a way that made me further resent the previous episodes in which Ed suddenly turned into that guy who gets drunk at silent auctions and makes scenes. Ed’s not that guy, and that was obvious from the way he handled things here. The small talk between them — “Thank God Green Week is over.” “The environment is such a pain in the ass.” — was funny and sounded like actual conversations that two Gen-X parents might have. A small thing, sure, but the kind of small thing that is such a pleasure when Parenthood gets it right.

The argument between Joel and Julia over whether Sydney should be allowed to deviate from the established staying-over-at-Joel’s plan also felt like a scene from an actual marriage. Parents: Who among you has said yes to something your child wanted because he/she was being stubbornly relentless but also because what the child wanted was something that you, secretly, really wanted, too? Oh, am I seeing all the parental hands being raised at the same time? Good, because if we’re being honest, we’ve all been there. Joel was right to force Julia to stick to their plan, but Julia’s response to Sydney was completely understandable, too. Julia wants her kids at home. When one of them begs to stay there, even if it’s under the false pretenses of having access to funky pajamas, she’s going to say yes.

A few months ago in one of these cry-caps, I insisted that Joel and Julia needed to get either separated or divorced in order to raise the emotional stakes on this show. Now that they’ve done it, I think it definitely has opened up Parenthood to explore some emotional, family tug-of-war territory that wouldn’t have been possible if the two J’s had remained blissfully happy under one roof. I’d be perfectly happy to see Joel and Julia reconcile at some point. But watching them struggle with separation, especially when so many families deal with the same thing, has been necessary and narratively energizing for the show.

Less energizing is Drew’s continued fixation on Natalie, who continues to mess with his mind. First she wanted to hook up with him whenever she felt like it without being in a relationship, then she just wanted to be friends, then she was jealous when Amy was staying with him, and now she’s mad because Drew is paying attention to her again in Amy’s absence. That entire relationship is a toxic waste of time for Drew and the only reason he can’t see it is because his damn bangs are in his eyes and apparently obscuring both his vision and his judgment.

But enough about that. Let’s talk about the kicking of Sarah Braverman’s butt, by Hank, who told her that skipping off to Zimbabwe with Carl and blowing off her work deadline would prove she’s still the same flaky Sarah she’s always been. He was right, even if he was speaking at least partially out of jealousy. And she was right to stay in town and meet her professional commitment. But it wasn’t quite clear why that meant she had to break things off completely with Carl. Man, I wish Parenthood could figure out what to do with Sarah Braverman. The writers tend to just toss her back and forth between different love triangle scenarios, which is repetitive and limiting for the character. It’s the Ann Perkins from Parks and Recreation problem, and it needs to get fixed. But with Mark Cyr set to make a reappearance in an upcoming episode, it doesn’t look like it will be.

Speaking of limiting, let us turn to the world of Camille Braverman, whose efforts to sell the Braverman compound were seemingly thwarted, at least for now, by Crosby’s accusations that she’s being selfish by forcing Zeek and the whole family to give up their beloved family home. Camille was right to remind her son that she’s put herself last for at least the last four decades and that it’s only fair that she should get to live the life she wants. Still: isn’t it obvious at this point that some great compromise will be reached that will allow Camille to pursue her big-city dreams and the Braverman family to keep that house? A Vulture reader suggested to me on Twitter that Crosby will probably buy the place. I’m not sure if he has the money to do that, but I can totally see his parents renting the house to Crosby and Jasmine -- who could sell their tiny abode and save some money -- while Camille and Zeek spend part of their time in the city, perhaps in a nice condo subletted from this mysterious friend of Crosby’s. There are ways to work this out, you guys.

But now, let’s talk about the cry, because if I don’t express my admiration for Peter Krause really soon, my heart might burst.

Kristina gets the news. This was the only cry moment in this episode, but it was a goodie: After going to the doctor for her one-year check-up, Kristina confirmed that she was completely cancer-free. It was great news, even if it means that all the promos for this week’s Parenthood were completely misleading. And as soon as she delivered that news to Adam, he broke down and cried.

Peter Krause was just wonderful in that scene, trying so hard to hold everything in and then, inevitably, letting it all out in a total, teary gush. Adam and Kristina may be a little annoying when they’re on a Mendocino spa trip, but their loving supportiveness of each other in this episode was really lovely, even if I didn’t totally agree with Adam’s decision to keep Kristina revved up about starting that charter school.

After visiting with Mr. Knight — Max’s English teacher who took away Max’s chair, but for valid and educationally sound reasons that made him an obvious hero in smart guy glasses — Kristina took what he said to heart about how much commitment is involved in operating a school. “I don’t want us to do something unrealistic,” Kristina told Adam. And she was completely right! It’s kind of unrealistic, as unrealistic as showing up at Mr. Knight’s house unannounced — again with the random pop-ins — and asking him to run the school based on a single brief conversation about Max’s lack of a chair. I get it, I get it: He’s their “Knight” in shining armor. I also get that Adam was trying to keep Kristina motivated on the school front so that she’ll think about long-term goals instead of living in fear that her cancer will come back.

She needed a kick in the butt. I’m just not sure that a charter school is the right kick. I am, however, absolutely certain that when Peter Krause cries, I cry. And when that happens, I feel like Parenthood did its job for the week.

Cry factor on a scale of one tear to five: 3.5 tears.

Photo: NBC