Parenthood borrowed a page from Parks and Recreation this week — well, kind of — by suddenly, unexpectedly flashing its narrative forward. Instead of skipping ahead a couple of years, though, Parenthood time-hopped three months into the future, only to find that, hey, guess what, everything’s pretty much the same as it was roughly 90 days prior.
Ruby: Still a moody little pill with a vague resemblance to Avril Lavigne, a resemblance that’s most notable on days when she’s hung-over and last night’s eye makeup is smudged across her face.
Max: Still crushing on Dylan with no clear indication that she genuinely reciprocates his feelings.
Adam and Crosby: Still having troubles at the Luncheonette, although, after three months, those troubles seem much more dire than they did in last week’s episode.
And certain members of the Braverman family: Still randomly MIA due to NBC’s season-six cast-salary-reduction measures. (This week in Spot the Bravermans Who Got to Take the Week Off, the correct answers were: Zeek, Camille, Joel, Julia, Sydney, and Victor.)
The most dramatic, noticeable change that resulted from that three-month leap was the swelling in Amber’s belly, which had grown to the six-months-pregnant phase, a phase that tends to prompt soon-to-be-single moms to ask for raises once they realize how expensive cribs and auto-folding strollers are. (Yes, by the way, Amber: You should register. If anyone needs to rake it in at a baby shower, it’s you.)
Here’s the bottom line: Despite the fact that this Parenthood installment, called “Too Big to Fail,” hopscotched over one-fourth of a year, it still lacked a sense of significant movement. The stakes weren’t merely low. They were just kind of ... meh. More meh, even, than a game of Celebrity where Hank gets the clue “Hips don’t lie” and haplessly blurts out “Oprah?” (If he had guessed Baby Fish Mouth at any point during that game, I automatically would have given this episode an additional star.)
Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that an episode minus Zeek and Camille and Joel and Julia felt so blah. Most of the real heart-punchers this season have involved those characters’ story lines. Take them out of the equation right now, and what you’re left with are ... well, multiple scenes that involve conversations about whether or not Drew should major in economics. I appreciated that Drew would feel compelled to study something practical because he feels like he has to be the “responsible” member of his family. I just wish the writers had handled that in a way that didn’t require Drew to deliver a monologue that announced, very specifically, in case we didn’t get it, that he feels like he has to be responsible for the rest of his family and therefore is majoring in economics.
This was the problem, again and again, with this episode: too much on-the-nose telling, not enough subtle showing. One could argue that this has always been an issue for Parenthood, a show that never met a Braverman who didn’t want to have a serious, hash-it-all-out heart-to-heart about even the most minor subject. But I think one of the show’s strengths throughout its run has been the fact that those heart-to-hearts often felt entirely natural, and that the emotional weight of them could frequently be conveyed without everyone talking in Hallmark-speak.
By contrast, in this week’s episode, it seemed like even the tiniest thing had to be emotion-splained, in ways that didn’t ring true.
When Amber gave Ruby that whole speech about how she should cut her dad some slack and Ruby responded by telling Amber it was “cool” that she had such a good relationship with her mom, I just didn’t buy that that conversation could actually have happened between those two people at that particular moment. Up until that point, Ruby was a bitter teen who resented both of her parents and Sarah. All Amber did was hold Ruby’s hair back while she barfed, and suddenly, Ruby was not only totally comfortable taking advice from the pseudo-stepsister she barely knows, she was instantly all about the “I Love You”s and “I’ll text you when I get there”s with her dad. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and certainly not in a day after one hung-over conversation involving a moody teenager. (Random aside: Was this, officially or unofficially, John Hughes Week on network and premium-cable television? First Noah’s family on The Affair was watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Then The Goldbergs announced plans to do a Bueller tribute later this season. Then, on Parenthood, there were Sarah and Hank, watching The Breakfast Club, or, as Hank calls it, Elmo’s Thing or Whatever: Fire. It’s a weird coincidence is what I’m saying.)
But back to the matter of random teens on Parenthood whose situations don’t make sense to me: Dylan! Totally don’t get what the deal is with her parents. They just ... go on trips and don’t care what she’s doing? So she’s ... trying to get pseudo-adopted by the Bravermans? Also — Chambers Academy Grievance Alert — is it appropriate for Kristina, as the head administrator of the school, to keep having this girl stay over? Dylan is quickly becoming a Haddie surrogate for Kristina, right down to the room she sleeps in and the pajamas she wears. They even look a teeny bit alike, don’t they?
Then there was the matter of Crosby, Jasmine, and the trip to Harry Potter World that could not be. When Crosby finally confessed to Jasmine that his business was going down the toilet, his sense of guilt was thoroughly believable, as was his description of what he’d been doing late at work on so many nights: “Hiding and panicking and playing Candy Crush.” Those seven words basically summarize all of January 2013 for me, so I totally get it, Cros.
But, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, Jasmine’s response seemed too understanding to be real. “You’re my guide for the rest of my life,” she said to her husband — actually, she might have said “You’re my guy for the rest of my life.” Either way, it sounded like something written in cursive and stanza form in one of those excessively wordy wedding-anniversary greeting cards. The point is: She said this just moments after learning that they are in such bad financial shape that they can no longer afford to book trips on Expedia. This is one of those instances where Jasmine would have been totally justified to ream Crosby OUT, far more justified than she was that time when she made him sell his car. Instead, she oozed nothing but compassion and understanding.
When Crosby and Jasmine decided to compensate for their inability to buy Jabbar some butterbeer in Orlando by throwing him a surprise Harry Potter party, it was really sweet. It was the only moment in this episode that brought me anywhere close to crying, even though I still didn’t cry.
As Crosby and Jasmine stood there, watching their son and his friends playing a poor man’s version of Quidditch, Jasmine said, “It’s almost as good as the real thing.” And Crosby, looking not at all convinced of that, replied, “Almost.”
That summarized how this episode of Parenthood felt. Everything in it tried to feel like something real but, for the most part, wasn’t quite. And watching it made me miss the real thing, the real Parenthood, the show that can be so much better than it was this week.