Review: 'Parenthood' - 'Nora': All apologies
A review of tonight's "Parenthood" coming up just as soon as I go untucked...
NBC sent "Nora" out in advance (which is why the review's going up now as opposed to sometime tomorrow morning). Where cable channels tend to send out most, if not all, episodes of their scripted series in advance, the broadcast networks only do it on occasion outside of season premieres, usually for an episode that's special in some way, whether because of a big guest star, a major plot development, or simply quality so high that the critics will rave about it.
"Nora" had a notable guest star in John Corbett, but he was reprising a role he played several times last year. It had a couple of big plot developments, in the birth of Adam and Kristina's baby - and people do love childbirth episodes - and Zoe agreeing to let Julia have her baby (since she's not using it). It wasn't, however, what I would call an extraordinary episode of "Parenthood." It's very good - better than that in spots - but I'd easily put last week's "Clear Skies from Here On Out" ahead of it, for instance. Some parts worked extremely well, and other parts didn't - in other words, it was an episode of "Parenthood."
Let's start with the good, including Amber being set up as the new Gaby (I'm assuming), Mr. Cyr having his first meeting with Seth, and Adam missing the baby's birth but possibly landing the studio's first artist.
Max has long been the show's ace in the hole, and here he's used to give some direction to Amber, a character the show doesn't always know what to do with, outside of recognizing that Mae Whitman can act more than a little. Whether she actually becomes Max's new (untrained) behavioral aide (note that Kristina tells Crosby they have yet to find a good Gaby replacement) or this was just a one-time thing, those scenes in lunch detention - as Amber slowly came to realize the specific issues her cousin struggles with every day, then figured out a way to teach him - were terrific. (I especially loved that, even though Amber taught Max how to give an apology that sounded sincere, he didn't magically become non-Max, as evidenced by him loudly telling everyone to stop talking about the baby, because he has something more important to discuss.)
I wasn't sure how the show would use Seth this time around, but I quite like what seems to be the idea here: that while Mr. Cyr is cool with dating a significantly older woman who has teenage kids, Sarah has still had a lot more life experience than he has, and that experience comes with baggage. She's not going to want to get back with Seth (at least, I hope not), but I can see her attempts to take care of the guy after he hits rock bottom as causing friction with Mark, no matter how cool he seems to be here. And the conflict outside the guest house, with Zeek responding like a fierce papa bear protecting one of his cubs from a familiar, annoying predator, was suitably ugly.
And while dressing Adam up in hip-hop gear and forcing him to interact with a rapper and his entourage seemed like an easy joke (albeit one that Peter Krause plays well, as we see whenever Adam dances), the actual meeting unfolded nicely, with Adam never really fitting in, but making a connection to the guy, anyway. And I'm glad that the discovery of why Crosby was late (and why Adam needed to get to the hospital) was handled in such low-key fashion, not like a wacky sitcom misunderstanding: Adam gets it immediately, explains that he has to go, the others understand, and maybe they'll sign the contract at some point.
On the other hand, while I appreciate that the birth scenes was also relatively low-key and not filled with the histrionics you usually get from Very Special Birth Episodes, Crosby and Kristina's scenes together ultimately felt like a first or second draft to me. Or, at the very least, like one of those instances where the sheer number of people and stories on this show got in the way; I would have totally watched an entire episode that was just Kristina and Crosby bickering about Dr. Joe(*), the recording studio, etc., driving to the hospital, and continuing to argue while she gave birth and they waited for Adam. The end result was fine, but not what I think it could have been if it had had even a little more time.
(*) I watched this screener back to back with last night's "How I Met Your Mother," so I got a whole lot of both the name Nora and discussions about the ethics of doctors dating patients (or, in this case, a patient's mother) in a 90-minute span.
And as for Julia and Zoe... boy. As I said a few weeks back, I was only okay with the idea of Julia asking Zoe for the baby because the show and the other characters all seemed to recognize that this was a fundamentally terrible idea, and that Zoe's reaction to the initial request was the appropriate one. While this episode featured Julia at her absolute nicest - and also with oodles and oodles of free time, which hasn't always been the case in her life - and featured Joel being as wonderful as usual, it just seemed way too neat and convenient and fake that Zoe would have such a wonderful time with them that she would get over both her disgust at Julia's initial request (and what it said about her previous niceness) and her understandable desire to do a closed adoption where she wouldn't know the family she gave the baby to. The whole thing felt forced and manipulative, even as it was giving Sam Jaeger his first significant screen time in a few weeks.
But the Max/Amber and Sarah stories were both terrific, and Adam and Kristina welcoming a new Braverman should introduce some interesting story possibilities going forward. (Though I wonder if the show will want to conserve some of the newborn material for whenever Julia and Joel welcome a baby into their home.)
What did everybody else think?