'Parenthood' Kicks Off Its Final Season
Parenthood is a diversionary show about an upper middle class family whose problems are sometimes diminished because so many of them end up getting solved fairly quickly. There is a kind of triteness to it, but I’ve watched Parenthood since the pilot, so the question is why watch: it’s the characters over the plot. They are, across the board, ostensibly alive. Their reactions to things are almost uniformly human and that’s what has made the show work for six seasons.
“Vegas” begins the final thirteen episodes of the Braverman family and things are moving very quickly. The title stems from the A-plot, which involves Sarah (Lauren Graham), the family screw up, taking dad Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) to Las Vegas for his birthday. Zeek’s heart condition kicks in and he passes out at the blackjack table. The long and the short of it is clear: Zeek and Camille (Bonnie Bedelia) are getting older, and despite typical Braverman stubbornness, they will both be going on their last decline sooner than later. I’ll put money on Zeek having a hardening of the arteries leading to his condition, and that it will be Camille who passes away by series’ end, not Zeek.
The trip to Vegas turned out to be fun despite Zeek’s hospitalization (if only for the fact he dressed like DB Cooper on vacation), but didn’t have enough exploration of Zeek and Sarah’s difficult relationship. Zeek and Camille are earthy baby boomers, and Sarah is such a result of that parenting style that she’s often clashed with her parents, particularly Zeek. While it was hysterical to see Adam (Peter Krause), Crosby (Dax Shepard) and Sarah all come around to Zeek’s perspective, it would have been nice to have more on Sarah and Zeek. That said, the highlight of the episode is seeing three of the Braverman kids slowly get drawn into their father’s blackjack game, becoming more interested in the cards than in his health. It was a fun bonding moment, as well as a strange indication of a family-wide gambling obsession.
The Braverman family as a whole, tends to be an all-encompassing storm. They can be inviting and frustrating, and are often a tractor beam for others to get pulled in to. Joel (Sam Jaeger), a long embattled son-in-law, is still separated from wife Julia (Erika Christensen) due to her semi-cheating last season. This story has been particularly glaring for its ups and downs. Originally, it was nice to see Joel stand up for himself for once (Julia is a Braverman and therefore very pushy) but now Joel is simply wishy-washy and lovelorn, and I was actually glad to see Julia moving on with someone who better compliments her energy.
The best part of this being the final season is that Haddie (Sarah Ramos) has returned. She was almost always the voice of reason and ends up being the mediator between the teenaged grandkids. It was great seeing her and Amber (Mae Whitman) catch up and bond again — even recalling old humiliations only to confide in each other again. Season six has the potential to be Amber’s season. We’ve known forever that she’s truly her mother’s daughter — prone to repeated mistakes and a poor taste in men — and her pregnancy seals the deal here. While Amber will almost certainly not have an abortion (the series played that card a few seasons back; also, the Braverman clan will never accept losing one of their own). Sarah and Amber’s arcs have always informed on the other, and now all of what makes them similar has come home to roost. Amber’s revelation to her mother about the pregnancy stands up as one of the most emotional moments of the series, which is already well known for its emotional moments. Whitman plays it all perfectly, shaking and near tears as she waits for her mother to shut up for a second so she could finally say her peace. In a cast full of talented actors, last night’s “Vegas” belonged to Whitman. She said she was pregnant and dropped the mike.
Special note needs to be made of Drew (Miles Heizer). He’s Sarah’s son and Amber’s younger brother. He’s the forgotten member of the family (and symmetrically the writers often forget about him too). The last season and a half have been great for his character — dealing with the end of his high school relationship and the beginning of college — and he does manage to sneak into the camera’s light briefly, to let us know he’s still alive and still dating Natalie (Lyndon Smith). Drew’s arc, despite its starts and stops, has been one of the most organic in the series. He’s the shy, fragile kid from the broken home. He’s dealt with abortion and cheating and the difficulty coming out of his shell and figuring out who he is. I’m hoping that there’s still some room left for him in these thirteen episodes that’ll further chart his development into manhood.
There is a feeling of nostalgia in the episode, likely because we know this is the final run (though having Haddie back and seeing her and Amber walk the football field and talk about yesteryear probably had something to do with that too). While the show can be drippy at times, it’s the addictive nature of the Braverman family — the little gestures and the stubbornness — that has always made the series an enjoyable one, and it’ll be sad to see it go.
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