Review: 'Parenthood' - 'One Step Forward, Two Steps Back': The junk food pyramid

Kristina fights for Max's vending machine, Mark and Hank fight over Sarah, and Julia makes a decision on Victor

<p>Lauren Graham as Sarah Braverman in &quot;Parenthood.&quot;</p>

Lauren Graham as Sarah Braverman in "Parenthood."

Credit: NBC

A review of last night's "Parenthood" coming up just as soon as I calculate to kiss another man's fiancee...

We only have one more episode to go in this shorter-than-average "Parenthood" season,(*) and "One Step Forward, Two Steps Back" lived up to its title by moving some storylines closer to resolution while leaving others to be dealt with next week. But it was also one of the weaker outings of what's been an outstanding season to date.

(*) As I noted last week at press tour, NBC's executives are understandably pleased with the creative state of "Parenthood," and my guess is that the ratings for "Smash" will put into even sharper perspective how well this show has been doing in the timeslot. I feel reasonably confident about renewal, but wouldn't be surprised if it's another short season like this one, in part because a show with a cast this big is not cheap to make.

Adam and Kristina were mostly in the margins (I can't remember the last time we had an hour with so little of Peter Krause, though it may have been tied to him directing the previous episode), and what little screen time they got was used to pay off the vending machine subplot in less-than-effective fashion. In one corner, you have the PTA moms, who were so cartoonish that I'm surprised we didn't learn that Marleise had joined their ranks, just to screw with Adam's family. In another, you have a resolution that's supposed to seem uplifting, but didn't really work because Kristina didn't get Max the exact thing he wanted — when we know just how difficult it is for Max to compromise on his obsessions — by getting a vending machine designed to give out only healthy snacks. (This also doesn't explain where the Skittles came from, nor why Max's classmates would be wasting their hard-earned candy to make it rain on him.)

The Ryan story also went for a happy ending that didn't sit quite right, and was a case of "Parenthood" reaching for a feel-good ending rather than earning it in the way it usually does. Yes, Joel is a good guy and something of a soft touch, but I thought the earlier scene with him and Ryan felt honest about how Joel would react to this guy — whom he didn't want to hire in the first place — coming back after the way they left things. A bag of Amber-suggested donuts and a few compliments don't seem like the kind of things that would so easily change his mind.

Meanwhile, Sarah Braverman's position as the Kelly Taylor of "Parenthood" continues as we go round and round and round again on the corners of this love triangle. At this point, I just want it to be over, preferably with Sarah pulling the "I choose me" move — not because I'm tired of either Ray Romano or Jason Ritter on their own, but because I would just love for the show to go through an extended period of Sarah stories that had nothing to do with her finding and keeping a boyfriend.

The episode's best scene involved a Braverman combo the show doesn't go to as often as it probably should, in younger siblings Crosby and Julia. Crosby and Adam work together and are the boys, so that's a natural pairing, and the writers like using Sarah as a sound board for all of the other three, but we know that Crosby and Julia viewed themselves as a team growing up in the shadows of Adam and Sarah. A scene like the one outside the restaurant, where Crosby found a way to make Julia feel better about the adoption and her relationship with Victor was excellent, and also a reminder of how well those two characters can work together.

As for Crosby's own family issues, this is another situation of "Parenthood" struggling to build anything on the rotten foundation that is Crosby and Jasmine's relationship. Even when you factor in what an untrustworthy man-child Crosby was back in the pilot, there's just no getting around the fact that Jasmine hid Jabbar's existence from his father for years, and that virtually every parenting conflict those two have boils down to, "Well, we have one way of doing it that we did for years while we weren't telling you that you had a son." And as a result, even a conflict that's supposed to be complicated and nuanced winds up making Jasmine (and to a lesser extent, Renee, who didn't know that Jasmine had never told Crosby) come across as the clear bad guy.

Not such a great hour overall, but some nice individual moments. Looking forward to the finale. Not looking forward to no more "Parenthood" for the forseeable future (but hopefully not forever).

What did everybody else think?

Alan-sepinwall-sm
Alan Sepinwall
Sr. Editor, What's Alan Watching
Alan Sepinwall has been reviewing television since the mid-'90s, first for Tony Soprano's hometown paper, The Star-Ledger, and now for HitFix. His new book, "The Revolution Was Televised," about the last 15 years of TV drama, is for sale at Amazon. He can be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com
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