Parenthood – “The Big ‘O'”

“The Big ‘O'”

April 6th, 2010

I am well aware that Parenthood is not a perfect show, oscillating between moments of quiet complication and moments of tidy resolution without really earning the latter, but here I am reviewing it despite being a day “late.”

Part of that is due to the show’s ratings success: settling in at a solid demo rating that actually saw the show best both ABC’s highly-promoted V and CBS’ hit The Good Wife (which skews old), all signs point to the show receiving a second season, which means that any time I invest now will help me chart the show’s growth in the future.

However, most of it is due to the fact that as the show goes along, it continues to become more confident: it isn’t necessarily that much more consistent, but its inconsistencies are sort of moving around. Criticizing the show is in many ways like trying to hit a moving target: it isn’t that a single story is causing all of the show’s problems, but rather there’s always one story that just doesn’t quite add up, or which feels like it’s unfolding in a fashion too beholden to the unavoidable clichés the show’s premise creates. But because that’s never the same story, with the same characters, there’s always something new to talk about both good (in that past problem stories manage to pull off something quite subtle) and bad (in that some other stories take a wrong turn).

“The Big ‘O'” is certainly one of the stronger hours of the series, managing two fairly “big” moments in the show’s serialized narrative in a nice subtle fashion while going a tad bit off the rails with some of the other developments – next week, I’m sure, things will switch all over again, but let’s stick to what we’ve got for now.

I think we can all sort of agree that none of expected for “Crosby has a son” to turn into one of the show’s most consistent storylines. Dax Shepard is not an actor I would ever consider to be someone I would purposefully place on my television screen, his comic work never quite connecting with anything approaching high quality. But he has really impressed me as Crosby, making me believe that he has actually changed. His relationships with his siblings are amongst the show’s most effortless, his awkward transition period with Jabbar has been really charmingly played, and the show nailed the scenes with Crosby introducing his parents to their grandson. There was a nice subtle handling of the race issue (a small moment of surprise from Bedelia/Nelson, quickly overwhelmed by Jabbar’s charms), there was a complete lack of “drama,” and I thought the show earned the heartwarming bike moment at the end even if the slow motion was a little bit over the top.

And maybe I’m crazy, but I thought the Julia storyline was handled with a similar dose of subtlety for a change. Julia wasn’t overreacting to be concerned about Racquel, and Joel had a logical reason to avoid turning it into a whole thing before that point: there was no awkward “Julia confronts Racquel” scene, nor was there some sort of huge fight between Joel and Julia about how to handle the situation. Rather, the characters sat back and observed the situation at hand, and eventually Julia came to the conclusion that her daughter’s happiness was worth more than her own jealousy even when that jealousy was perfectly warranted. Plus, I think Shepard brings out some of the best in Christensen, so I think seeing more of that pairing helps the character immensely. I still think the character has been ill-positioned at certain points in these early episodes, but there was a rational core to her story this week which really helped ground the character.

Now, in terms of the other two stories, it becomes more of a mixed bag. On the Adam/Kristina side of things, I really liked Minka Kelly’s arrival as a behavioural aid both in terms of getting to see the struggle of working with a child with Asperger’s and watching Kristina come to terms with the fact that in some ways they’ve been doing it all wrong for years. Sure, the show didn’t go too far beyond basic psychology (using bribes like cookies or lizards in order to promote good behaviour as opposed to stopping bad behaviour), but I thought Monica Potter did a great job of capturing Kristina’s struggle to come to terms with the fact that she could never make that play date happen. Where the story went off the rails, though, was in the titular subject – the orgasm story felt like part of a different story entirely, and while they wanted to show the impact that the stress of raising Max was having on Kristina it made Adam seem petty to be so concerned about the orgasm thing when his son was having a major breakthrough.

As for Sarah’s story, I think it’s a problem of predictability: we can very clearly see that Amber has a huge, ginormous crush on Mr. Cyr, and we can very clearly see that he has a thing for Sarah, and we can very clearly see that Sarah sees both of these things and is choosing to give into “Hot for Teacher” as opposed to “Sensitive to Daughter’s Feelings.” We know where the story is going, and we know that it’s eventually going to blow up in Sarah’s face, so we’re at that stage in the story where our built-up appreciation of Lauren Graham (which, just so we’re clear, isn’t running out anytime soon) is all we’re running on.

But I fully expect the show to turn around next week and give me a crummy Julia storyline, only to have the inevitable Sarah/Amber showdown turn into something powerful and amazing thanks to the collective acting talents of Graham and Mae Whitman. It’s like there’s only so much good material to go around each week, and while they work out the kinks behind the scenes they’re moving stuff around to keep us guessing. The show has yet to put together one of the all-around great episodes that Friday Night Lights managed, but I think they’re getting to the point where they might be able to put something together eventually. The fact that they’re likely going to have a Season Two in which to try it out is, in my view, quite a good thing, and I’m hopeful the season continues to show this potential…although, maybe all at once for a change.

Cultural Observations

  • I’m convinced that girl at the park was a plant – any normal kid would have been all “No, four square is a dumb game,” especially when she has a frisbee in her hand, which is infinitely more fun.
  • The whole “Sibling Advice” scene is something that the show needs to avoid using too often, but I prefer it to the huge collective scenes the show tends to do. I also though throwing Crosby in with Joel was a nice, inspired piece, and the idea of Crosby picking up some parenting skills from him was “unique” enough to feel like something the show hasn’t done before.
  • Minka Kelly is one of those actresses that got a lot of flack early in Friday Night Lights’ run, but who really grew on me as time went on: when she came back in the show’s fourth season, I was surprised at how much I missed Lyla. Accordingly, I really enjoyed seeing her here, and hope she sticks around (and that she doesn’t end up like Grandma Saracen’s nurse or anything. I’m warning you, Katims).
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4 Comments

Filed under Parenthood

4 responses to “Parenthood – “The Big ‘O'”

  1. renton

    My favorite wink-wink of the episode was the song playing during the final sex scene:

    It was Blind Pilot’s “I Buried a Bone.”

  2. Tausif Khan

    Do you find the shows that have three different story lines but then tie it together by having the protagonists in each story line learn a similar lesson through a unified theme a la Scrubs more satisfying?

  3. This is a show that, to me, runs around the same area of the comedy/drama spectrum as “How to Make It in America” and, like “How to Make It”, seems to be gaining confidence week after week. I’m very happy that it seems to also be gaining momentum in the ratings.

  4. Eric

    Admittedly the Adam plotline was played for laughs (both the acting & music) however I thought it was meant to show Adam fixating on being able to ensure his wife’s happiness when he couldn’t do anything for his son.

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