A review of the "Parenthood" season two finale coming up just as soon as I take you to the junkyard...
"You do not have my permission to mess with my dreams. Are we clear?" -Zeek
"Parenthood" is a show whose strengths and weaknesses are often the same things.
The huge cast allows for lots of different kinds of stories, and for most viewers to have some kind of obvious entry point, but all those people eat into each other's screentime more than is effective. Sometimes you have peripheral characters like Drew disappear for weeks (if not months) at a time, or you have more central characters like Joel and Julia spend almost the entire season playing supporting roles in other people's drama.
Those heart-on-sleeve, tearful, big emotional moments can pack an incredible punch, but they can also feel like the show reaching too far, too fast, or hitting the same beats over and over again. (It felt like Mae Whitman cried 75 different times tonight, and while each moment was independently great, and also appropriate given recent events in her life, together it was a bit more than felt necessary.)
Overall, there's a messiness to "Parenthood" that can be really appealing but also really frustrating, and I thought both the good and bad "Parenthood" were very much on display in "Hard Times Come Again No More."
First, the good. Again, maybe there was one too many tearful Amber scene, but dammit if Zeek taking her to the junkyard and ordering her not to take away his dreams wasn't a spectacular scene, so well-written, and played by Whitman and Craig T. Nelson. Zeek's one of those characters the show tends to lose track of, but as he told her about his days in Vietnam and how visions of family helped carry him through, he reminded you exactly why the show keeps him around. They may not have a good ongoing plan for him or Bonnie Bedelia, but Nelson's a tremendous In Case of Acting Emergency, Break Glass asset.
I also thought most of the stuff with Adam was really strong. The series has moved so far away from the source material that I was almost amused to hear about Max's missing retainer, as that's one of the more memorable scenes from the movie. They flipped it around, of course: back then, the idea was that Steve Martin was more than willing to go buy a new one, and had to hunt for the thing because his panicked son insisted on it; here, Max has no problem getting a new one, and it's Adam who's being stubborn, channeling all his frustration over both his work situation and the ongoing stress of being Asperger dad into finding this one piece of plastic. The scene where Adam tried to get Max to see that what he said at the hospital(*) was wrong was an effective, heartbreaking one. And while I think Adam put too happy a face on the firing given his panic earlier this season when he tried to find another job, I'm glad to see the back of Cory, and I can believe that Adam was just trying not to freak out Kristina. The show likes to put Adam in a pressure cooker, and I imagine a season 3(**) where Adam has to deal with the financial and physical stressors of adding a baby to the mix will only give Peter Krause more opportunities to flip out.
(*) For a few minutes there, I thought the finale was going to take place entirely in the waiting room. That may not have made the most satisfying finale - leaving no room to deal with issues like Sarah's play or Adam's job, for instance - but I was actually disappointed when the action cut away from that closed, tense setting where all the Bravermans were on top of each other, dealing with various ongoing emotional issues even as each of them was worried about Amber.
(**) We likely won't know about the show's fate until the upfront announcements next month, but at this point I feel fairly confident it's coming back. Its numbers are fairly consistent (were, in fact, up a bit last week), NBC owns it, etc., etc., etc.
Now, the bad.
I am so, so disappointed - if not surprised - that Crosby and Jasmine seem on the verge of reconciling. We've talked so much this season about the ways in which I think the writers miscalculated with the writing of Jasmine, and this fight, that I don't need to rehash things, but Jasmine's a character I'd be happy to see get on a bus with Cory and never return. Or, failing that, I'd have been happy to see Crosby and Jasmine have to co-exist as Jabbar's parents, but never again as a couple. And given the way she's been written all season, I don't believe that she'd actually give Crosby a second chance, not even after he stopped trying to win her back, setting up the classic "If you love something, set it free" situation.
And Julia's baby-related flip-flopping was handled in about the clunkiest manner I think the show could have, even considering how often Joel and Julia have been relegated to the background this season. I recognize that there are a lot of steps that have to be crossed in a story like this - Julia decides she wants another baby, gets Joel to agree, trouble conceiving, then acceptance that they can't conceive, then deciding to adopt, etc. - to feel honest, but tying the final stages so closely to Random Pregnant Woman #6 was silly.
In looking back over my reviews of this season, I was reminded not only of all the highlights and lowlights (including that period early in the season when every storyline seemed to get wrapped up in a neat bow by episode's end), but all the stories that seemed like they might be important once upon a time and then were easily forgotten (pretty much everything to do with Gordon). For the most part, I liked what the show turned into by season's end much more than what it was doing in the fall, but, like the rollercoaster metaphor the old lady tells Steve Martin about at the end of the movie, this is a show that's always going to have major ups and downs, for however long it's around.
What did everybody else think?
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