Review: PARENTHOOD - The Big 'O' - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

Review: PARENTHOOD – The Big ‘O’

April 8, 2010 by  

True love, be it romantic or familial, is difficult to demonstrate within the confines of your HDTV. As viewers, we have been conditioned to anticipate big moments, cliffhangers, and provocative twists to keep us engaged with our favorite shows. If Parenthood followed the norm, Max would have already been miraculously cured of his Asperger’s, Joel and Racquel’s flirtation would have led to infidelity, and Jabbar would have been revealed as the love child of Tiger Woods.

Parenthood is a marvelous addition to the TV landscape because of its unwavering commitment to the mundane. I have other outlets on my DVR for feeling whimsical, but I enjoy this program because it simply makes me FEEL. I root for the Bravermans. Their stories are not an escape for me, but a way to face up to feelings about my own family, friends, and not-so-loved ones.

This episode was all about Kristina Braverman, brought to life in a gut-wrenching performance by Monica Potter. Until this week, Kristina’s most memorable contributions were as a reactive mother, handling situations as they popped up. In a powerful change of pace, we saw her crack under the powerful strains of self-doubt and anxiety.

Though I am not a parent myself, my heart absolutely went out to Kristina as she was introduced to Max’s behavioral aide Gaby, played by “Friday Night Lights” veteran Minka Kelly. How must a mother feel to see a young, attractive woman, unaware of Max’s day-to-day routine, exhibit such immediate influence over his behavior? If you saved this episode on your DVR, watch Monica Potter’s face when Gaby convinces Max to put his toy lizard away and then asks little Jessica to play Four Square. Can you even count the number of emotions that are elicited from Potter’s expressions? It is astounding to see someone simultaneously joyful, jealous, proud, and inadequate, and that’s just the beginning of my list…

Oh, and the line, “Max doesn’t really have any friends” just killed me. Instant tears…

Kristina’s turning point, as she opens up to Gaby about her constant worrying, was perfectly written and poignantly delivered, injecting a much needed comedic break for both the actors and the audience. Hearty laughs and uncomfortable grins aside, this scene reminded me that Kristina is a sister-in-law to Adam’s siblings, not a sister. With Adam’s role as the wise and sage-like older brother firmly established, would his wife, no matter how beloved to her in-laws, feel comfortable confiding in Julia or Sarah? Was Kristina’s frustration worsened by the pressure to keep up appearances to the rest of the family? Since the show is a mirror to the evolving landscape of American families, I hope that subject matter is explored in upcoming episodes.

Julia’s relationship ran into another yoga-sculpted speed bump, as we learned that Racquel had propositioned Joel while their daughters were napping. I thought it was clever to fuse this story with Crosby’s attempts to get Jabbar into the Wednesday play group. Erika Christensen is rarely a part of Parenthood’s comedic moments, so interacting with Dax Shepard injected levity to an otherwise stuffy day at the office. Julia was steady and measured while interrogating her brother about Racquel’s behavior, but she came across as a concerned wife, rather than a controlling, Kate Gosselin-type. I love the untraditional nature of Julia & Joel’s marriage, and the subtle displays of affection that they share, from holding hands to knowing glances.

I do not want to dwell on the negatives, since the Internet has enough of that to go around. Instead, I will say this. As a real-life educator, I spend time working with high school students. To me, the responsibility for nurturing their intellectual and emotional development is paramount. There is something troubling about Sarah’s involvement with Amber’s teacher, and though I enjoy Lauren Graham’s performance, I am hopeful that the creative team wraps up the Mr. Cyr storyline ASAP. It’s a personal preference, not a professional criticism.

There’s more to talk about, including the poignant introduction of Jabbar to his grandparents, but I want to know what you think. Let’s get the conversation started!

How did you feel about this episode? Did the various plotlines ring true to you? Was Minka Kelly a positive addition, in order to move Max’s story forward? Which of the siblings would you like to learn more about in the weeks to come?


22 Responses to “Review: PARENTHOOD – The Big ‘O’”

  1. Bonnie on April 8th, 2010 9:12 am

    Very well written, Erik! I wholeheartedly agree. The acting and writing on this show is really well done – as is the pace. I am a mother of an 8 year old with Asperger’s and I can’t believe how well done they are handling that storyline. My new favorite show. I have loved Peter Krause since “Sports Night” and liked Joel in “Eli Stone”. I haven’t seen Monica Potter in many things but she is good. The rest of the cast as well. Thanks for posting about this show!

  2. Emily on April 8th, 2010 10:07 am

    I love your comment that the show makes you FEEL…what a great way to put it. I’m loving this show! I started watching for Lauren Graham, I keep watching for the entire Braverman family. The biggest surprise for me is how much I care for Crosby. I wasn’t too sure about Dax Shepard at first, but he’s great! I guess I can see what Kristen Bell sees in him now. 😉 The show is so well-written and well-acted. I’m excited to see what journey the writers take us on.

  3. Rachel on April 8th, 2010 11:39 am

    I just love this show. I am a fan of the fact that each episode has a positive ending even though everyone’s problems were not magically fixed. No you can’t cure Max’s Aspergers but you can still have a blast at the pool with the whole family. I LOVE that! I’m so impressed that a show can be both realistic and uplifting at the same time 🙂

  4. Lisa on April 8th, 2010 11:51 am

    Thanks for this, Erik. I too like this show and have read several scathing reviews recently elsewhere on the web. I think the acting is sublime.

  5. Julie on April 8th, 2010 12:15 pm

    I also have a son with Aspergers and so this show is one that makes me feel also.

    I was a huge Gilmore Girls fan and so my issue with Lauren Graham’s character on this show is that it’s too much like the one she played on GG. Both single Moms. And both dating their daughters teacher. I know she came late to this project and don’t know how much of her characters story was already mapped out when she got there, but I also hope the teacher storyline ends soon.

  6. Maggie on April 10th, 2010 9:56 am

    Agree, agree, agree!

    One thing that I love about this show is that the spouses of the Braverman siblings, Kristina and Joel, aren’t afterthoughts who will ultimately remain in the background. The fact that this episode paid such loving attention to what Kristina is going through is amazing.

    Also, did anyone else tear up at the end when Jabbar was riding his dad’s old bike? It was great to see Crosby and his parents throughout this episode.

  7. Erik on April 10th, 2010 2:18 pm

    Bonnie: You have a unique perspective to evaluate the show from, and I am delighted that Max’s story has been to your liking. Though I have no inside knowledge to draw from, Jason Katims seems to place a huge emphasis on forging compelling characters out of authentic situations. Both Parenthood and FNL are grounded in moments that are familiar to everyday people, and I have been surprised how quickly this show has become a personal favorite.

    Monica Potter’s career has prepared her well for the role of Kristina. As the love interest in 1997’s “Con Air” and 1998’s “Patch Adams”, Potter appeared to be on the fast track to playing the wife/girlfriend to Hollywood’s full lineup of leading men. That is no slight to her, as young actresses have often parlayed those opportunities to be seen by large audiences into more personal roles later. In 2001, Potter co-starred in “Along Came A Spider” with Morgan Freeman, and that film did not perform as well as the previous movie based on Detective Alex Cross, “Kiss the Girls.”

    Since movie studios are loathe to blame their male stars for underwhelming box office receipts, it seems that Ms. Potter was burdened with the blame for that movie’s failure. She has worked hard to develop a solid resume of performances on other movies and TV shows over the past nine years. Parenthood might be the ultimate reward for sticking with her guns and developing her talents!

  8. Erik on April 10th, 2010 2:30 pm

    Emily: Thanks for your kind words. As a kid, I watched The Cosby Show, Family Ties, and Full House with my Mom. I’m sure the silly punch lines of those shows kept me laughing, but they stand out in my memory because I got to share those programs with her. To the degree that an 8-11 year old can be emotionally affected by television, the characters moved me. I am grateful that Parenthood has performed well (by NBC’s standards) in the ratings, and that a second season appears inevitable, because it is a show that families can watch together.

  9. Erik on April 10th, 2010 2:40 pm

    Rachel: You are 100% correct about the family swimming scene, which closed out Episode 3, “The Deep End of the Pool.” Even though it contains a Hollywood-style happy ending, viewers were brought down some difficult paths before the Bravermans got to celebrate Max’s big dive. Julia & Joel quibbled over the right approach to Sydney’s swim lessons, Adam & Kristina stressed over Max’s application to join a new school, and Crosby failed to come clean about Jabbar to his girlfriend. Hardly the stuff of cupcakes and rainbows!

  10. Erik on April 10th, 2010 2:54 pm

    Lisa: Thanks for mentioning the negative reviews that the show has received, because I think they are symbolic of a bigger problem.

    Too many TV critics have lost their enthusiasm for the medium. They rail against any new show that appears to be treading on familiar territory, despite the fact that broadcast networks are loathe to put anything on the air that doesn’t follow a formula that has brought large numbers of viewers in the past.

    The fact that we enjoy a show like Parenthood does not mean that we have to apologize for not watching Arrested Development. Setting your TiVo to record Grey’s Anatomy (which has been hugely entertaining this season) does not require a permission slip from the writers of Pushing Daisies. The two cancelled shows I mentioned were amazing artistic achievements, but they did not appeal to a large, mainstream audience.

    With such a diverse cast of characters, Parenthood has a shot at growing into something special. It’s too bad some critics don’t equate happy endings with smart TV.

  11. Erik on April 10th, 2010 3:02 pm

    Julie: Thanks for including the link to your web site. It looks like your family is responsible for the nicest hand-crafted wood furniture in Arlington, Texas!

    I only saw a handful of scenes from the Gilmore Girls run, but Lauren Graham has to be aware of viewers who will compare Sarah to Lorelai. It is unfortunate that the Mr. Cyr storyline treaded on some familiar GG territory, but I’m sure that story was part of the creative team’s plan prior to Graham’s casting.

    Which stories are you most interested in thus far? Is there a character that stands out to you in the family? I’d love to read more of your thoughts…

  12. Erik on April 10th, 2010 3:08 pm

    Maggie: I tried to write a paragraph about Crosby’s efforts to tell his parents about Jabbar, but I couldn’t find a 10th or 11th way to say, “Wasn’t that adorable?” It was an instant goosebump kind of story, and I mean that in the best way. Dax Shepard has even started to win over Kath and Dan, based on their feedback in the latest TV Talk Podcast.

    Do you have a favorite storyline thus far, or a character that you would like to see more of?

  13. Maggie on April 10th, 2010 11:01 pm

    I see what you mean! 🙂

    You know, I really like the character of Julia more than I was expecting to and I’m looking forward to seeing how the storyline with Raquel plays out.

  14. Erik on April 11th, 2010 7:20 pm

    Maggie: I understand how tricky it must have been to create Julia’s character, and for Erika Christensen to lend credibility to her as both a serious career woman and loving wife/mother. If viewers got the sense that Julia was somehow distant or cold, we would not fret as Sydney asks for Daddy to cut her food or sing her to sleep. It’s another one of the crazy balancing acts that Parenthood has, thus far, pulled off with flying colors.

  15. Phyllis on April 11th, 2010 7:34 pm

    I really love this show. I find myself really looking forward to each episode even though it can be so sappy and I normally avoid sappy, tear soaked melodrama. The humor in this show really creates a balance. I love and dislike something about every member of the bravermen family. I think Julia dating the teacher is something her charater would do because she seems to lead with her heart. Their courtship is really sweet. I don’t personally like it but I don’t expect to like everything each of the characters does. I think the story line of Jabbar and Crosby is adorable but I dont’ like his wishy washy ways. There is something very normal about their family that makes them very appealing and not boring.

  16. Erik on April 12th, 2010 5:13 pm

    Phyllis: The creative team has taken great pains to avoid a “holier than thou” aura around any one character, resulting in a more compelling family dynamic. From week to week, I think viewers will find themselves reacting to storylines based on their own values, rather than a “rooting interest” for one sibling over another. That balanced approach lends itself to a show that can build over the long haul, rather than burning out on a trendy character or story arc.

  17. seels on May 26th, 2010 6:41 pm

    I loved the kristina and gaby convo, because it felt so true to life. K strikes me as the kind of woman who rolls her eyes at women who go on and on about sex and she was mildly horrified when she blurted to gabs about it. That she kept going and giggled made me smile big time. I also liked the julia and crosby scenes because it is so true that relationshiips between each of my siblings is different yet sort of the same. Hard to explain, but the show gets it, so I’m good with that.

    I laughed at joel being a rockstar because it is so true that no matter where or who, a hierarchy will form. Joel is great, but mostly normal. But in mom world he is the sex apparently.

    also, as a former educator, I agree about the cyr&sarah storyline being uncomfortable. There is just no way that is going to end well.

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