Parenthood: You Can’t Always Get What You Want

PARENTHOOD: 4.09 “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”

Even though I don’t write about Parenthood on a regular basis, the show is actually one of my favorites on TV right now. I’ve never been a huge fan of family dramas, but for whatever reason (probably because of the all-around excellent acting and usually great writing), I eagerly look forward to the show every week. In this particular week, there were three stories that really stood out for me.

First, Adam and Kristina. The actors and writers have been handling the cancer storyline perfectly, keeping it sad and poignant without it becoming maudlin; they’ve even been able to slip some comedy into such a dark subject, as evidenced by the pot storyline last week. In the latest development, Kristina fears that Max’s refusal to go his first school dance might mean that she’ll never be able to see her son hit that milestone. In a really wonderful scene, Adam sits down with Max and in a careful, logical progression, explains why going to the dance, which is so hard for Max, would really mean so much to his mother. I also appreciate that the writers refuse to temper Max’s condition or behavior. Even the concession to attend that Adam wins from Max is highly conditional; he’ll only go for 15 minutes, and Dad will be waiting in the car to take him home. As I watched the look on Adam’s face as he stood in the doorway, watching Kristina and Max practice dancing, I suddenly wondered if the writers were going to let the cancer run its course and kill her. I hope they don’t, because she’s a valuable addition to the cast, but it would be interesting to see Adam attempt to navigate life as a widower. On top of that, Parenthood is one of the only shows that I can think of that would be able to properly handle such a profoundly sad event. Yes, there would be a tidal wave of tears, but I don’t think that the show would manipulate our emotions.

I also really liked Joel and Julia’s story, which dealt with Julia trying to accept and deal with her life now that she’s no longer a high powered lawyer. Joel and Julia have always been the inverse of the traditional family; here, for so long, Dad has taken care of the kids and the home, while Mom has been ambitious and driven in her career. Now, unfortunate circumstances have reversed these roles, and Julia’s at home, where she’s finding herself extremely bored and unfulfilled; as a result, she takes her frustration out on Joel for failing to consult her a second time before accepting a full-time job and blaming him for putting his job ahead of their kids. Joel is justifiably angry, responding that he never stood in the way of her professional ambitions and never told her to put away her work on a family vacation because he respected her too much. Once she realizes she was wrong, things get patched up pretty easily, but I liked seeing the shoe on the other foot here, and the incident was a reminder that their relationship really needs to be an equal partnership in order to work.

Finally, a brief word on Amber and Ryan, a relationship that I think has really been one of the standout stories in this season so far. We don’t see much of them in this episode, but the little that we do see tells us that Ryan is still dealing with some heavy issues after his time in Afghanistan. Amber confides in her grandfather, hoping that as a war veteran himself, he’ll have some insight on how to help. The scene where she describes how scared she is for Ryan, and how she wishes she could help, was just so wonderfully done. Zeke had his back turned to Amber when she said this, but you could see by the grave and serious look on his face that he knows exactly where Ryan is coming from because he was there himself at one time. It was a small but significant moment that made you really feel for all three characters at once. I think there will be some rough parts ahead for these two kids, but I really want to see them continue to grow together. Ryan is a great addition to this cast and I hope he stays around for a while.

I suppose I should mention Sarah’s swiftly disintegrating relationship with Mark, something that frankly I could see coming from a mile away. She seems to constantly make such bad decisions with very little thought for the consequences or how they might affect other people. At this point, Crosby is more mature than she is. A few commenters over at Alan Sepinwall’s post on this episode suggested that she’s acting as an enabler for the potentially alcoholic Hank, which would fit with her history given that she used to be married to an alcoholic. This would be a really interesting angle to explore, especially if the consequences of this upcoming three person relationship car crash force her to question her co-dependent nature. Unfortunately, I don’t think the writers have something this much in-depth in mind; I think they’re just intent on blowing up Sarah and Mark’s relationship for dramatic effect and judging by the previews for the next episode, that’s probably going to happen in gory detail next week.

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