Parenthood Recap: Bravermans Drunk, Bravermans in Love

NUP_165446_0535.JPG Photo: NBC
Episode Title
The Scale of Affection Is Fluid
Editor’s Rating

Take the Braverman wives — please!

But seriously, folks: Aren’t wives just the worst? They’re always doing and saying the naggiest things.

“Take your heart medication.”

“Don’t drive because the doctor told you not to.”

“Stop encouraging our son to aspire to have a healthy romantic relationship since no girl will ever like him back. Ever.”

“I put a boot on your motorcycle so you can never again ride haphazardly into a ditch and fracture your ribs.”

IT NEVER ENDS. And if the wife isn’t nagging you about something, she’s acting like a total slut by letting her boyfriend play basketball with the kids. Am I right?

For real, Parenthood cry-cap readers: All the badgering that poured forth from Jasmine, Camille, and Kristina (especially Kristina) in this episode was annoying, not only because nagging is annoying, but more important, because so much of their behavior was written in a way that parked too lazily in Stereotypical Harpy Wife Town.

In the cases of Camille and Jasmine, it helped a little that their concerns were largely justified, even if Jasmine’s booting of Crosby’s bike was both extreme and a move that raised unanswered questions. (Like, how did Jasmine get the boot? As part of the San Francisco Police Department’s “Punish a Husband, Save a Husband” program?)

But in Kristina’s case, her insistence on dictating how she and Adam should approach Max’s crush on Juno ... I mean, Dylan ... seemed terribly misguided. Her instinct to protect her son from getting hurt: totally get it. But — and this counts as my Weekly Grievance About Chambers Academy — it was so clear yet again in this episode that’s it’s terribly unhealthy for her to be overseeing the school that Max attends. Imagine yourself in middle or high school, standing in the hallway and looking at a drawing or a note from someone on whom you are crushing. Then imagine your mother popping up over your shoulder, out of nowhere, and going, “What-cha READ-in’?” It’s like your worst tenth-grade nightmare, right? That is Max Braverman’s daily existence. #FreeMaxBraverman.

So, yeah: I continue to have mixed feelings about the way the whole “Max likes a girl” story line is being handled, and those mixed feelings reflect my mixed feelings about Parenthood in general at the moment.

There are times when I feel like this particular plot (and also, the show) is being handled in a way that rings true and is consistent with what we know about these characters. For example: It made sense that Max would fixate on his feelings for Dylan and obsess about them in a way that no one and nothing could discourage. (“I can work with a 2,” Max decided when he learned where Dylan’s level of romantic interest in him landed on that ever-fluid scale of affection.) 

But then there are other times when the show, and this story line, come across as overly contrived in a way that prevents me from fully connecting with it emotionally. (On a related note: This cry-cap contains only one cry-ish moment; this was an episode that performed weakly on the weeps.) Another example: I wasn’t so sure that even ultrablunt Max would so openly announce to everyone, including his grandfather, that he likes a girl, nor was I convinced that he would be so willing to continually discuss the situation with his parents. I am far from an expert on Asperger’s, but it seems to me that any teenage boy would rather douse himself in “secret” Worcestershire sauce and throw his body directly on to Adam Braverman’s backyard barbecue girl than discuss romance with members of his immediate family.

And yet — and yet! — I was sort of glad Max was willing to engage in such conversations, because it led to one of my favorite scenes in this episode: the one in which Crosby, Zeek, and Adam attempted to explain what it means to get to various bases with a girl. I loved two things about that scene: the wonderfully expressive faces Peter Krause kept throwing at Monica Potter, and the fact that Max Burkholder was clearly about to burst out laughing at any given second.

This is what I mean about my conflicting feelings regarding this show. All at once, in the same episode of Parenthood, I can be frustrated by the lack of verisimilitude in some scenes, completely see the verisimilitude in others, and not buy into a specific scene at all, but also not even care because I find it delightful regardless.

Other examples of situations from this episode that were lacking in verisimilitude: Amber’s brief relationship with Griffin, the Guy Who Works at a Tech Start-Up and Also, I’m Pretty Sure, Is in a Death Cab for Cutie Cover Band. Their coffee-spilling meet-cute was too rom-com goofy. Plus: Was anyone else discomfited by the fact that this dude basically stalks dogs on the regular? Look, I appreciated the concept behind this plot. Amber slowly must begin to realize that having a baby means cutting her normal, carefree 20-something life off at the knees. Griffin the Emo Guy helped her learn that. But the story seemed to exist solely to teach a lesson, as opposed to adding something substantive to the episode.

I also wasn’t sure if I believed the way Joel is responding to Julia’s burgeoning relationship with Not Joel. The guy’s hurt. He felt blindsided by that basketball montage, as we all have at some point in our lives. But storming into Julia’s office the way he did and saying what he said — “What you do not have a right to do is go around introducing our kids to whoever you feel like sleeping with that week” — didn’t seem like typical Joel behavior. Then again: This is a tough situation, and perhaps Joel’s behavior would not be typical under those circumstances. Even the way he looked in Julia’s office — his shoulders slumped, his shirt partially untucked, his facial expressions a mix of impotence and rage — made it clear that he’s not himself. So maybe that makes sense. Or maybe Joel would respond with greater maturity. I don’t know. I’m still not sure. (So many mixed feelings!)

I am sure that it was totally awkward when Adam had to explain that Sarah wasn’t at the barbecue because she and Hank were in Santa Cruz on a photo shoot. What that really meant was: NBC can’t pay for Lauren Graham and Ray Romano to be in this week’s episode, so they aren’t, a fact that also allowed season six of Parenthood to keep up its one-road-trip-per-episode quota, even if we didn’t actually see this road trip.

Now, on a more positive note, here’s the one thing I fully, 100 percent found true and heartfelt in this episode: the relationship between Crosby and Zeek. When Crosby snuck into the physical-therapy room and saw Zeek struggling on the treadmill, both the look of quiet shame on Zeek’s face and Crosby’s panicked need to get out of there before his presence worsened that shame — well, that all felt just right.

I also loved their bar conversation about the bear in Yosemite, and the more mushy-gushy one that later followed, which brings me to this episode’s one and only cry moment.

Cry Moment 1 (and Only): Zeek Advising Crosby

When Zeek urged his younger son to try harder to relax and enjoy his time with his kids — “It just goes by fast,” he said, speaking with the authority of someone who had already watched it go — his statement made Crosby tear up, and it made me do the same. That’s one of those things that we hear people say all the time about parenting young kids: “It goes by so fast.” But it’s also one of those things that’s true and that — as parents overwhelmed by work, personal obligations, and the boundless energy of our children — it’s almost impossible to appreciate until it’s too late. Crosby seemed to appreciate it. Not enough to stop him from drinking his weight in bourbon, but still: He heard what his Dad was saying, in a way that was both credible and moving at the same time. The way Dax Shepard and Craig T. Nelson interacted with each other in this episode was just a great example of two actors doing natural, unaffected work in a way that made their performances seem effortless and emblematic of a legitimate bond between father and son. Well done. See what I did there? I didn’t even nag them for getting drunk, not taking their medicine, and forcing Jasmine to come pick them up.

Cry factor, on a scale of one tear to five: 3 tears.