“Lost and Found”
May 25th, 2010
When Parenthood began a few months ago, what struck me about the series was how it felt unbalanced. There were some parts of the show I really enjoyed, but there were other parts of the show that simply weren’t working. It’s not that I expected it to be perfectly balanced, as the late recasting necessitated by Maura Tierney’s cancer meant that the entire tone of the show shifted in an instant, but the combination of the series’ sappy scenes of the family spending time with one another felt at odds with the somewhat incongruous elements of the ensemble. Those scenes made it feel like the show was pretending it was something it wasn’t, that this family unit was actually cohesive despite conflict which seemed to exist within the scripts (and to some degree the casting) more than in the characters themselves.
I understood from the beginning that this show, like Modern Family, is about the family unit and its complexities, but while Modern Family leaned comfortably on broad stereotypes to immediately jump into the series’ structure Parenthood didn’t have the same luxury. Sure, we could look to Lorelai Gilmore to understand Sarah, working mother isn’t exactly rocket science, and newly discovered son has some forebears, but we had to spend time with these characters in order to understand how they are responding to these situations. Modern Family gets to reset itself each week, but Parenthood’s characters need to grow into these situations, which means we need to understand what’s changing and how it’s evolving in more of a nuanced fashion.
Jason Katims’ Friday Night Lights was about community, which meant that the show was “setup” from the very beginning: the show’s pilot clearly defined Dillon, Texas as a place where high school football is king, and the show was then able to go further into investigating how the series’ characters relate to that central theme so honestly portrayed in the first episode. With Parenthood, however, Katims is dealing with something far more variable, as every family is different and the impact of the series is dependent on our knowledge of how this family works or compares with our own. Throughout the first season, the show has done some fine work defining each individual family, showing us Adam and Kristina confronting Max’s autism or Crosby connecting with his son in a way he had never imagined. Sure, Sarah is still Lorelai by a different name in many ways, and Julia still remains the series’ weak link, but we now understand these different families to the point that we can see the ways in which they’d come together, their differences now points of difference more than points of incongruity.
“Lost and Found,” scripted by Katims, asks the same question that I was asking after the pilot: is this, in fact, a show about one happy family? I compared the show to Brothers & Sisters when it first aired, but that show very clearly prioritizes the sibling relationship over the individual families within it. Parenthood has yet to make its final decision, and each wing of the family faces that balance between “your” family and “the” family in the finale – and while there’s another one of those sappy scenes at the end, one of those wings is missing, and one of them remains pieced together with some ukelele and some emotional duct tape.
And there’s a realism to that which Katims really nicely captures in a finale that seems a fitting end to the season and creates a strong foundation for the show to hit the ground running in the fall so long as no Swedish lifeguards or serial rapists come out of the woodwork.
I just spent a lot of time talking about Parenthood as a whole, and that’s a good thing: it means that the show has created enough of a journey in a short first season that I want to talk about the big picture. With a 13-episode season, it would be easy to just sort of coast through, and I think the show did rest on its laurels early on. However, when you look at how far Crosby has come as a character through his transformation from slacker to the heart of the series, you have to show a lot of respect for the work of Dax Shepard and the show’s writers. Crosby hasn’t had the “big moments” that we’ve seen with Sarah and Amber, or Adam and Kristina, but the subtle evolution of the character counts amongst its highest accomplishments. It’s fitting, then, that he would be the one person who is willing to be “reckless” and abandon the nest, impulsively hopping on a plane with Jasmine and Jabbar to start a new family in New York. Crosby was the one person who didn’t have a family of his own, so it’s only fitting that he’d be the one to leave (as Sarah once did, let’s remember) to find a family of his own.
Everyone else is wondering whether things would be better if the extended family didn’t have a strong connection: Zeke is too proud to accept the deal his daughter helped organize for him and seems unwilling to take his kids’ advice about his marital troubles, Kristina feels that Sarah’s return is responsible for Haddie’s unhappiness and hair styling decisions, and Sarah wonders if the whole family wouldn’t have been better off if she had of just let her family’s chaos remain in Fresno isolated from the Bravermans as a whole. Amber’s disappearance is the convenient catalyst which forces the family to come together, as Haddie helps convince her mother that her desire for change is normal teenage behaviour and Adam and Sarah work out how their connection makes their families stronger. Zeke, meanwhile, pulls out a ukelele and strums a little tune, bringing the whole family together to cheer at baseball tryouts. It’s a sappy conclusion, and something that no one in their right mind would ever do (they’re tryouts, for pete’s sake), but Drew got to show his embarrassment at their behaviour, so there’s a sense of self-awareness there that I can appreciate.
“Lost and Found” works, perhaps, because Julia isn’t really in it at all. There’s a couple of sibling scenes, and Erika Christensen had a nice moment with Craig T. Nelson in her kitchen, but Julia’s family was not amongst those involved in the central conflicts of the episode. I really like Joel (his look when Zeke started tearing into Timm was great stuff), but Julia’s problems have never really integrated with the other families. There was some nice stuff with Crosby a few episodes back which I thought worked pretty well, but Adam and Sarah’s families have become so intertwined and Crosby’s has remained self-sufficient enough that Julia just has nowhere to go. I think Christensen remains a bit miscast, and my one expectation for next season in terms of changes is that the Julia character is brought closer to the central themes and narratives of the show. She’s gotten better as an individual character over time, but she still doesn’t fit into the show like she could, so there’s one “note” for the show moving forward.
In some ways, Parenthood leaned on its strengths here: there was plenty of Lauren Graham getting emotional, and plenty of Peter Krause getting to lose his shit (the scene with both of them taking it out in Steve with his parents standing in between them was a thing of beauty), and lots of Graham and Mae Whitman bawling their eyes out. Combine with the emotional core of the show remaining with Crosby (the “daddy” stuff was just heartbreaking here), and this was a very carefully designed finale. However, it didn’t do much with Max (arguably the show’s most distinctive dramatic storyline), and it also didn’t ratchet up the drama towards some sort of huge cliffhanger or anything of the sort. Instead, it presented some complex family dynamics, tested how each family would respond to them, and now carries the momentum of those answers into a second season. I don’t know if I’d call the show subtle, but it has managed to present a nuanced take on some pretty standard stories, and exceeded my initially lowered expectations at the end of the day, so I’m curious to see how things come together in the fall.
- Seriously, Katims, if anyone gets murdered at the start of the second season I will honestly hunt you down.
- Nice to see one finally scene with Jason Ritter’s Mr. Cyr – there’s not zero chance of the character returning in the future (as Ritter’s new show, The Event, is at least on NBC), but he’s definitely going to be booked, so any sense of a reconnection was a red herring at the end of the day.
- Loved the scene of Crosby and Zeke knocking them back and singing around the piano: the editing of the scene was jarring, but in a way that nicely captures the spontaneity of their interaction, a spontaneity which keeps the show from feeling too laidback or sterile.
- I had forgotten that Amber and Drew have their father’s last name, and thus never put together that if he was feeling particularly progressive Steve could become Steve Holt. Thus is the impact of the legacy of Arrested Development on my television watching.
- Add Drew to the list of television characters wearing the same GAP Henley that I commented on with a few shows earlier in the season: I was, in fact, wearing mine during tonight’s episode.