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Parenthood Cry-cap: Tears in the Backseat

PARENTHOOD -- "The Offer"

Anyone who signs up to be a parent knows he or she is signing up for 18-plus years of emotional angst brought on by everything from kids breaking curfew to kids breaking limbs, to kids just generally breaking their moms’ and dads’ hearts. And few things break moms’ and dads’ hearts more than knowing that their children feel friendless. That specific, wrenching form of parental heartbreak was what Adam and Kristina Braverman confronted in this week’s episode of Parenthood, during a scene that may have been the most moving in this less-than-consistently-emotional fifth season.

After Adam recommended that Max be given the space to go on an overnight field trip to Sacramento without his mother acting as a chaperone, he had an emotional meltdown that led to a call from Mr. Knight (In Shining Armor) and a preemptive pickup from his parents. In the car on the way home, Max confessed that another boy had peed in his canteen, that he’d been called a freak, that other kids — even the nice ones, even his former misfit soul mate Micah — were laughing at him. “Why do all the other kids hate me?” Max asked his parents, as if he were inquiring about the circumstances behind a scientifically proven fact. “Is it because I’m weird?”

Adam and Kristina were trying very hard to listen without getting emotional, but it didn’t work for long. Kristina climbed into the backseat with her boy and embraced him, letting him know he’s loved and deserves to be loved by others, despite his “I don’t like being hugged” protests. Meanwhile, Adam just did his driving-through-thick-tears thing while many Parenthood viewers turned into damp-eyed, puddles of sympathizing goo, because we know how much it hurts when our kids hurt like that. Looking into that minivan at that moment, for the moms and dads in the audience, may have been a little looking into a mirror. 

Needless to say, in cry-cap terms this was — on a cry factor scale of one tear to five — a solid four-tear moment. Two things about that. First: Max Burkholder, you guys. He played that scene perfectly, with just the right mix of Asperger's syndrome stoicism and confusion and bruised self-esteem that he didn’t feel comfortable acknowledging. This kid has been consistently spot-on as Max, ever since season one. Why no Emmy nomination, Emmy Award voters? I’m just asking. 

Second thing: Man, I really wanted to still be mad at Kristina after the judgmental cloud she rained down on Sarah Braverman last week. Based on the comments on last week’s cry-cap, a lot of you were bugged by that, too, so I suspect I wasn’t alone when I immediately felt irked by her helicopter mommy attitude about Max’s field trip, an attitude that, in retrospect, was probably more than appropriate. But as soon as she undid her seat belt and crawled to her son’s side, I couldn’t be mad at her anymore.

Here’s the thing about Kristina Braverman: She’s the kind of person who would probably drive me megabananas in real life. She’d be that woman whose control freakish, abrasive, nasal lioness-mother ways would make me roll my eyes so far back in my head during PTA meetings that I’d regularly get glimpses of my own cerebellum. But that would be because I had no access to the other side of her. I wouldn’t know how challenging it is for her to raise Max, or how hard she’s trying to do right by him, or how much she had to overcome when she had breast cancer, or what a generous and loving person she can be. I’d only know her as that annoying, too-pretty, vaguely whiny woman who always asks too many questions during those aforementioned PTA meetings and makes us all stay so long that we barely get home in time to watch the beginning of The Americans.

It’s to Parenthood’s credit that Kristina is someone who can be both irritating and empathetic in equal measure. The truth is that every mom — even that really, really annoying one who always blocks the drop-off lane with her stupid oversize SUV — is most likely a good-hearted person just doing her best. Every mother, including Kristina, is the kind of mother who would do anything to protect her son from bullies, and to comfort him when he starts believing there’s no place for him among his peers. The next time you’re inclined to bitch about Kristina’s behavior, stop and think about that for a second. Well, unless you’re going to bitch about how the heck she has time to make a roasted chicken based on a Gwyneth Paltrow recipe. Go ahead and bitch about that all you want.

Also, as it happens, there are other things to bitch about in the Parenthood world this week.

Perhaps it was Amber who said it best when she told Drew: “Stop being such a baby.” Drew was, without question, being a baby, and he wasn’t the only member of the extended Braverman clan behaving like one. 

Specifically, Drew was being the kind of baby who hides from self-involved college girls named Natalie by staying at his sister’s colorfully decorated industrial loft and composing indie-folk ballads while smoking weed. I swear to God, Drew was two joint puffs and three acoustic-guitar strums away from turning into the male, 2014 version of Milla Jovovich’s character in Dazed and Confused. And all because of Natalie. Natalie! Natalie, who doesn’t realize that it’s unacceptable for her to be mad at Drew for “dropping her” to spend time with Amy when she has repeatedly told him she is not interested in commitment and has consistently taken advantage of his desire to be her boyfriend.

Look, here’s the thing about Natalie: In three or four years, she’ll probably be a cool person. She’s just an immature girl going through that college freshman phase so many of us went through back in the day, when we acted like total narcissists and hooked up with too many guys and sat in our dorm rooms listening to R.E.M.’s “Nightswimming” and thinking that our thoughts and feelings were incredibly deep and unfathomable to the rest of the mortal world. That’s fine. That’s Natalie’s journey right now. But right now, Natalie also happens to be a self-involved, irritating, phony, unreasonable B-word. I have no idea why she is in practically every one of Drew’s classes considering what a large university Berkeley is. But nevertheless, Drew needs to return to those classes, move back to his dorm room, politely ignore her, and just move on. I honestly can’t take it anymore and I certainly can’t listen to another one of his acoustic, emo jams. And I say all of that with love since, apparently, according to this Buzzfeed quiz, I actually am Drew.

But like I said, Drew wasn’t the only member of the extended Braverman clan acting like a baby this week. Sarah — with all her hemming and hawing about her client’s response to the surfing photos — was acting almost as immature as her son. Good Lord, Sarah, if you can’t stand waiting for a response from the people who hired you, why not send them a quick email to make sure they received the photos and that everything’s moving forward? Isn’t that what normal, well-adjusted adults normally do in such situations?

And really, on the Sarah front, why the unnecessary, ongoing tension with Hank? I’ve grown to really like Hank, and I especially like the understated way Ray Romano plays him. He’s now earned a spot on Parenthood independent of his relationship with Sarah, and I think it’s better if the show keeps it that way. The fact that we’re clearly headed toward another love triangle moment between Sarah, Hank, and Mark — who’s set to return for a spot on next week’s episode — just feels far too repetitive of a plot that already played itself out. Sarah Braverman deserves to start carving out a new narrative trajectory for herself. So does Hank.

Moving on ... was Zeek Braverman being a little babyish this week when that potential buyer started walking through the Braverman compound, calling the barn a shed and complaining that the kitchen wasn’t updated? Well, maybe. But his petulance was understandable. The man doesn’t want to sell Firepit Central, and it looked like he’d at least get a reprieve from doing so until Snobby Grumpy Buyer Guy came back with an all-cash offer that exceeded the asking price for a home that Zeek and Camille have not even officially listed yet. (By the way, what do you think the offer was? I’m thinking at least $1.2 million. At least.) That’s going to be hard to turn down, so much so that the emotional fallout from the sale will likely play out right through this season’s finale, which is just four episodes away.

And finally on the list of Braverman family babies, we have Joel, who felt such enormous guilt over failing to pick up Victor from baseball practice that he bought the kid a cell phone without consulting Julia. That’s just classic, separated parent behavior. Julia was absolutely right to tell Joel that he was way out of line, and to point out that the reason Victor feels insecure and untethered is because Joel decided to move out and continues to make zero attempt to work on his issues with Julia. I understand that those issues run deep and extend far beyond the whole relatively minor Julia-Ed texty-kissy relationship. But she’s right. The dude’s not trying, he’s just retreating. Just put some pot in his freezer and a guitar in the Sad Dad Apartment and Joel will basically be the responsible grown-up version of Drew.

To Joel’s credit, though, he really wanted to reassure Victor, to protect him from hurt the same way Kristina and Adam ached to protect Max. Which is why the second cry of the night came when Joel assured Victor that he’s not responsible for his parents’ separation and that no matter what happens with Joel and Julia’s marriage, he’ll always be their son.

“For the rest of your life, your mom and I are not going to stop loving you,” Joel said through tears. Which, of course, led to me shedding a few tears. Like I said earlier, there’s nothing more relatable to a parent than another parent, trying their damn hardest to protect their kids from the harsher edges of this often too-cruel world.

Cry factor for the Joel/Victor scene: 3 tears.

Photo: Danny Feld/NBC