Parenthood – “Wassup”


March 23rd, 2010

I’m curious what Jason Katims and Co. want us to take away from watching Parenthood. There are times, for example, I think it’s a subconscious argument for group parenting, as any one of the Braverman siblings, on their own, seems to be a legitimately terrible parent to the point where calling in a favour from another part of the family is like second nature to them. There are other times, however, where it tries to serve as a reminder to why parents go through the struggle of raising children, able to have those moments of maturity or peaceful sleep in which parents can awkwardly try to be funny or simply stand there creepily watching their child sleep.

I don’t necessarily think that these are two incongruous ideas, but the problem is that I don’t believe the characters on the show are actually benefitting from any of them. Rather than these stories emerging from who these characters are, “Wassup” was dominated by stories that emerge because the writers wanted to talk about them, and the lack of any sort of build-up or history to the events made it seem like the writers wanted to know how Lorelai Gilmore would deal with the “masturbation” question and what would happen if Nate Fisher had a teenage daughter who started dating.

While there are some fine moments in the episode which indicate that the writers know how to make these storylines resonate, there was nothing to make it feel consistent with the show’s trajectory thus far, making its “everyone learned a lesson” conclusion feel more problematic than in weeks past – I’m not giving up on the show, but I think that they need to find a way to merge story and character in a way which feels less like one big cliche.

Adam Braverman is legitimately a terrible father. I don’t know if Peter Krause just wasn’t given the “you should be scared and angry, not invasive and creepy” memo, but the character’s response to his daughter’s cell phone bill seemed so sudden, and so ignorant to parental dynamics, that I just don’t buy it. I get that the show is new, which means that they want to create situations out of thin air to suit their dramatic needs, but they did nothing to show how Haddie’s previous behaviour would lead to this reaction even though they had a perfect example (the marijuana) that was in the previous episode. While some might argue that it’s okay for the marijuana to appear in the “Previously on” montage, I needed to hear Adam use the marijuana was an argument for me to believe that any father, even an overprotective one, would break into his daughter’s computer instead of simply confronting her about the situation at hand. Throw in a few complete misunderstandings of how Facebook works, and a few too many sarcastic readings of “Facebook Official,” and you have the kind of story that has me pausing the television so I can confer with my mother (huzzah, living at home between degrees) about how ridiculous he’s being.

It’s frustrating because we feel he should have learned some lessons dealing with Max that would make him more grounded, that would make him more keenly aware of his children and their needs. And yet again, you could argue that he misses Haddie’s feelings because he’s focused on Max, or that he freaks out because he feels like he’s losing one child (to a diagnosis) and doesn’t want to lose another one, but the show doesn’t actually do any of that. The show isn’t old enough for it to take these kinds of things for granted, so the entire story with Haddie missed pretty much every mark.

By comparison, I thought that the other three stories (note to Parenthood: too many stories) all worked a bit better because they came from places that we could understand long term or which are logically short term. Yes, Jabar’s first sleepover isn’t that different from his first unsupervised visit, and Sarah’s anxieties over Julia’s opinion of Amber aren’t particularly deep, but both stories nonetheless felt like extensions of previous concerns and I think Crosby and Sarah are by far the show’s most grounded characters right now, as strange as that sounds talking about a character played by Dax Shephard. And while I still think Julia, as a character, is a bit of a misstep, and not showing her and Joel’s logic makes them out to be faceless villains, but let Lauren Graham and Mae Whitman have a moment of mother/daughter bonding over paper turtles and it works. Similarly, while I’m not on board with Julia as a whole, her being there for Crosby when no one else was and being both supportive and cautious with the whole Jabar thing was the sort of sibling interaction that the show does (or overdoes, but it’s still early) well.

And I’ll be honest: I thought the masturbation storyline worked. It wasn’t something that needed a lot of buildup, being that it’s a fact of life and all, and it would be something that would come up anew in their new living arrangement. And while Adam’s bungling was damaging to the seriousness of the Haddie storyline, it made perfect sense in this context as Sarah struggles with how to deal with this question, and Zeke’s horrifying pep talk kept this comfortably in the awkward comedy stage of things. This is something that is legitimately awkward, and thus the storyline had a ring of truth to it; sure, things are a bit wackier than they maybe needed to be, but this is television, and I don’t think the show needs to pretend otherwise.

It’s clear from episodes like “Wassup” that this isn’t Friday Night Lights, which with Katims as producer was perhaps the expectation. Things are a bit too light to have that sort of gravity, and there is a tendency to overdo the sentimentality in an effort to iron out the comic hijinks, to the point where parts of episodes just don’t work, full stop. However, I feel like the cast is better than the material, and at times the material is better than the execution: in other words, I found myself rewriting the episode in the above thoughts rather than simply tearing it apart, which makes me interested in seeing how the writers course correct (especially since they had to adjust their original plans to deal with the major cast change). So, despite writing two really scathing paragraphs about the episode’s A-Story above, I’m still along for the ride for now.

Cultural Observations

  • Watching this show with my Mother is really interesting – the show is so often a treatise on parenting that it raises some fun hypotheticals, so I suggest trying to watch it with a parent at some point if at all possible.
  • Had a major continuity moment when Crosby asked Jabar what kind of pizza he wanted: isn’t he lactose intolerant, making cheese pizza an emphatically bad idea? And then why were they cooking hot dogs later? (Yes, I worry about these things).
  • Craig T. Nelson had a lot of fun in this episode – I particularly liked the detail that he, like Crosby, enjoys using lighter fluid to entertain children. The little details are something the show is still getting right, another sign of hope.


Filed under Parenthood

3 responses to “Parenthood – “Wassup”

  1. Craig T fan

    Really liked Craig T Nelson in this episode. Very good episode and I also loved Lauren and Amber and Sydney’s scene with the paper turtles. This show is really done well.

  2. “[S]ure, things are a bit wackier than they maybe needed to be, but this is television…”

    that’s what she said.

  3. cathy51

    It’s “Jabbar” not “Jabar,” after the basketball player Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

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