Parenthood 3.05 “Nora” Review

“Even when he’s not great, he’s still family.”

Even though Sarah Braverman was referring to the re-emergence of her alcoholic ex-husband with this quote, she could have also been referring to Parenthood as a whole. The NBC family drama is often very, very good and sometimes great, but even when the show doesn’t hit the highest of highs, these are people you enjoy spending time with. Just as there’s always a kernel or two of goodness in every batch of family gatherings, no matter how high the dysfunction meter is turned up, every episode of Parenthood contains little moments and big emotion that make the series an extremely worthwhile time investment.

Luckily, the season’s fifth episode, “Nora”, was a whole lot of the good stuff with very little bad, as the show got to showcase why it’s been so buzzed about online. For one, Adam Braverman has proven to be the show’s most reliable source of comedy. I don’t know if it’s where he’s normally so surly and barely keeping his anger covered, thus seeing him in an uncomfortable/silly situation has that much more impact, but some of the biggest laughs in the series have come from Adam and “Nora” was no different. I fully bought the fact that he got insecure about his “cool factor” and overcompensated by visiting the Haus of Eminem circa 2003, though I’m doubting that Slim Shady was big on bulldog chains in his day. Adam’s pretty accepting of his role as a “square”, but he’s never been that comfortable in new situations and he’s such a perfectionist that his new ensemble made total sense. I especially loved the little strut he had walking down the street; Adam may be responsible for some of the show’s more histrionic tendencies, but it’s stuff like this (and the episode he got high) that keep the character down-to-earth and adorably dorky.

Adam’s venture into hip hop, complete with him trying to pull his pants up and a run that needs to be turned into a gif ASAP, was especially welcome tonight because of how heavy the rest of the episode was. My favorite of the trio of storylines had to be Amber and Max, a pairing that you wouldn’t think would work but the two provided enlightening, grounded work concerning Max’s disorder. The show has done an admirable job of spreading information about Asperger’s and getting the disorder out into the mainstream, but as many tantrums as we’ve seen Max throw and as much as we’ve heard what’s different about him, we’ve not gotten to see it as much. That all changed when Max was forced to write Jabbar an apology letter for their fight last week, but he didn’t know how to do it and sound sincere. Enter Amber, sort of the stand-in for the average viewer who may not be familiar with Asperger’s. You could tell that she knew, intellectually, what Max had, but it’s a whole other animal to see it in person and experience the frustration that he goes through everyday. It felt like we got to witness the disorder in its rawest form in addition to personally witness the bonding of two characters that had hardly shared the screen before Tuesday night. It was a truly special story capped off by a tiny bit of levity in Jabbar’s quick forgiveness, one that may be the first step toward self-discovery (Amber) and self-acceptance (Max).

On the other side of the spectrum is the Julia storyline, which was brought back after a week hiatus. Try as I might to rationalize Ms. Braverman’s trip to the baby black market, I still can’t latch hold of anything relating to the adoption. It’s sad that Julia can’t have any more children, but she has a beautiful, healthy, happy little girl just sitting at home giving her daddy sparkly purple nails and ready to be loved. I’m not saying that Julia doesn’t love Sydney, but it strikes me funny that she’s got some serious tunnel-vision about getting another baby when she’s, y’know, not paying a whole lot of attention to the one she’s got. That’s one of the things that made Zoe’s revelation at the end of the episode not as emotionally impactful as it could have been. This should have been one of the many watershed moments of the episode, where the tears flowed and my notes turned into a damp series of scribbles and “OMG”s, but it was all I could to keep from side eyeing the screen. I get why they “got their baby” the same episode that Kristina gave birth to baby Nora (in a powerhouse of a sequence, capped off by a subtle, well-done, dialogue-less reaction from Adam), as they found out their baby news in the same episode last season, but I just…didn’t care. I think it’s silly to keep the plot going (wouldn’t control freak Julia want to research the person she’s getting a baby from?) and wastes a potentially good friendship that Zoe and Julia have formed over the past few weeks.

However, that’s not enough to sour me on “Nora”, as it was an episode that brought together the melodrama, pathos, and comedy that form together the ultimate warm and fuzzy Transformer known as Parenthood in a way that the show hadn’t done this season. Watching “Nora”, you get a sense of how layered and complex Parenthood is and it’s the little moments that the show hits so well so often. Sarah raising her hand in Mark’s classroom asking if he wanted to run away, Amber and Jabbar watching videos of politicians making “I’m sorry” speeches in order to learn how to read people, Kristina and Crosby sharing a look in the delivery room that was worth a thousand apologies – it’s all so sublime that even when parts of an episode aren’t great, Parenthood is still one of the best hours of television on right now.

Thoughts, Quotes, & Observations:

  • “Do I look like I watch Cupcake Wars?”
  • “Hey, Captain Morgan, why don’t you give us a minute here, huh?”
  • “It’s a little dim sum, but it’s clean.”
  • “You’re the strangest white man I ever met.”
  • I made it through most of the episode without shedding a tear, but when Sarah found Mark by the dumpster and all he said was “you came”, I might have needed a moment. Just sayin’.
  • Zoe’s baby daddy has been cast and if you like your dramas full of CW goodness, you may recognize him.
  • Not much Sarah and Mark the past two weeks, but I think next week will be a pivotal episode for them. Their scenes together still make me smile.
  • Adam gets the vibe, dammit.
  • As grating as she can be, I really liked that Kristina went to somebody else for help regarding Max. I don’t know if season one Kristina would have been so immediate and thoughtful, so good for her for growing.
  • Speaking of grating, Zeek’s still a bull in the china shop of life. Craig T. Nelson and Monica Potter are killing it, though, so I’ll take grating if I can watch them be awesome at it.
  • Crosby’s date was named Tuf. Ahem.
  • Next week: Drew wants to kiss Amy, Sarah gives Seth an ultimatum, Nora comes home, and Cee Lo Green guest stars.

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