Parenthood Recap: Tastes Like High School

Photo: NBC
Episode Title
Aaron Brownstein Must Be Stopped
Editor’s Rating

“Oh, yeah. That tastes like high school.”

Those were the words Sandy spoke right after taking a swig of the blackberry brandy left behind at the rager thrown by the ever-rebellious Ruby. But they also pretty well summarized the vibe of this week’s episode of Parenthood, yet another time-bider that we’ll all probably forget about once the real cry-cap-worthy shit starts hitting the ceiling fans in the final act of this final season.

Maybe it’s all those teen movies that Sarah, Hank, and Ruby have been watching lately, but pretty much every plotline this week felt like it could have been ripped straight out of an '80s — or '90s, you know, take your pick — high-school flick. Fine: maybe not the part where Jasmine went to her mother’s office to start making $30 an hour filing documents. But a lot of the other stuff.

Let’s start with the whole Ruby-throwing-a-party-while-her-parents-were-out routine. Really, was anyone surprised that Ruby took advantage of her father’s leniency and went all Risky Business when she had the first opportunity? This is exactly the kind of thing that happens, by the way, when teenagers get exposed to Spicoli at an early age. Of course, the real purpose of this narrative development was to demonstrate that Hank is becoming slightly more capable as a father now that he’s fully aware of his Asperger’s-ish tendency to disengage. (Hey, don’t say he wasn’t engaging when he initially got to the party and didn’t do jack to break it up. At that point, Hank was simply attempting his version of doing a lap before committing to a location.)

The other obvious reason for this little story line was to show that Hank and Sandy — who has an amazingly nice house, by the way ... what the hell does she do for a living again? — are growing closer, in a way that I assume could be a threat to his relationship with Sarah, mainly because Sarah’s relationships usually get threatened at some point, and also because Mark Cyr is supposed to resurface again in an upcoming episode. Which, I mean: okay, I guess? I don’t know, when we’re down to just five more episodes in the entire show’s run, I feel like I’d prefer to be spending more time with our core characters than with lip-curling, generic-teen Ruby and her Ruby problems, even if those problems do affect Hank and Sarah. I also have to think that the Bravermans who were absent this week — Adam (away on business!), Sarah (in Napa, for some unexplained reason!), Joel, Julia, and Zeek (nowhere to be found, also for some unexplained reason!) — were sitting at home, watching this installment going, “You cut me out of this episode so Ruby could have a kegger?”

Anyway: Beer bashes gone wrong were not the only teenager-y issues confronted in this week’s Parenthood. There was also unrequited love in the form of Dylan’s rejection of Max/decision to swap spit with some kid named Aaron Brownstein. (That kid may say his last name is Brownstein, but I’m pretty sure he’s the son of Hirshfelder from Dazed and Confused.) Max did not take this news in any way that could be construed as “well.” Which, of course, led to a lot of things happening that led to the usual questions about the way Kristina runs the Chambers Academy, which must be raised in an airing of grievances-y way.

Such as: Why didn’t Max get in trouble for circulating flyers that demanded that Aaron should be expelled? He was spreading lies and propaganda about another student. At the very least, he should have had to serve detention or something. (Detention! That could have turned this into a Breakfast Club episode!)

Also: What kid these days would try to get back at another kid while relying on tactics that require the use of a Xerox machine? Seems like Max would have been more likely to spearhead a social-media campaign against good 'ol Aaron, especially since he could have done that more effectively without his mom finding out.

And: When a dejected Max finally ran away after his Dylan collage became the laughingstock of the Chambers Academy lunchroom, how did Kristina have time to follow him? She’s the principal of the school. She has tons of kids, staff members, and other issues to attend to, such as: With Adam out of town on “business” who the heck was running the kitchen? Her world can’t revolve around Max during the day. It’s not just inappropriate and unrealistic, it’s not healthy for Max. At this point, Kristina is beyond being a helicopter parent. She’s like a GoPro parent, a camera perpetually mounted on Max’s shoulder that reminds him his mother can see, hear, and accommodate his needs at all times.

I really wanted to cry during that scene where Kristina told Max she was so proud of him for sharing his feelings with Dylan. I really did, but I just couldn’t, because I was still too ticked off at Kristina for yelling at the drivers who nearly hit her and Max with their cars after they both dashed into the middle of a busy street. The fact that she copped such attitude about that spoke to exactly what’s misguided about the way she’s handling Max right now. Whenever Max is upset or has a problem, she’s basically telling him that he should expect special treatment: that traffic should stop to accommodate him. That’s not how life works, and I’m not sure that’s helping Max, as well intentioned as it might be.

And then there was the business with Amber having Braxton Hicks contractions (don’t worry, she’s fine — didn’t even have to call her mom in Napa) and Crosby dealing with his financial concerns and near-midlife ennui by aerobicizing to the Ramones and trying to smoke weed at a club while listening to a band called Cornfed. (Fun fact: Crosby’s pot confiscation was apparently based on something that actually happened to Parenthood writer Ian Deitchman at a Foo Fighters concert.) Technically, these two were dealing with adult problems. But they, too, responded to them in classic arrested adolescent fashion.

“I didn’t come here to join a rock ’n’ roll studio to play it safe!” Amber shouted at Crosby at one point. If you change the words rock ’n’ roll studio to record store, I’m pretty sure what you have there is a line from Empire Records.

Honestly, the only person who behaved in a fully sensible, mature, and close-to-believable manner in this week’s Parenthood was Jasmine Trussell-Braverman.

Yes, I said Jasmine.

No, I didn’t lose control of my fingers and start typing the name Jasmine when I actually meant to refer to another character. I really meant to say something nice about Jasmine! I know: What is happening on Parenthood that it’s finally come to this??

Listen, when credit is due, you’ve got to give the credit. While Crosby responded to his situation in a poor-me, semi-narcissistic fashion, Jasmine just did what she had to do, taking a part-time job that she didn’t particularly want but knew she needed to support the family. When Crosby bemoaned the fact that his Luncheonette wishes and Ashes of Rome dreams had forced Jasmine to give up her own career ambitions, she didn’t complain about putting her aspirations on hold. She just said that working as a filing clerk was only temporary. “We’ll all get our time to shine,” she said confidently.

I’m not sure if Jasmine is right about that, or that she, or anyone, for that matter, would be that understanding under those circumstances. But Joy Bryant made me buy it. That scene, as well as the one where Crosby lied to Camille about why his wife was suddenly working in an entry-level-ish administrative position, were the only ones in this episode that got close to something resembling reality.

So here’s the deal: Next week there’s one more episode, then Parenthood goes on hiatus until January, when the final four episodes of the series will air. I would guess that the writers are planning to break out the serious sob-guns in that last stretch. So let’s relax. Let’s agree to approach next week’s episode with low expectations, and hope that we really, finally, need to break into our designated Parenthood stash of facial tissues in early 2015. And hell, you know what? Let’s open a bottle of blackberry brandy, then take a nice, long slug off of it and try to believe that there are some better, more cry-worthy days ahead of us before we say good-bye forever to the Bravermans.