Parenthood 3.12 “Road Trip” Review

Parenthood Road TripShows with a large supporting cast and no central figure (like Parenthood) tend to break their players into smaller, isolated groups more often than not. It may be practical, both from a financial and structural sense, but it can also lead to not much time being spent with the ensemble as a whole. Not many extended, blended families in the year 2012 are tethered together during all non-working hours, but it seems that bringing all types of subplots and heightening dynamics together to crash in on one another tends to result in some primo episodes of television.

In Parenthood‘s return from hiatus, titled “Road Trip”, the Bravermans are doing just that, as it’s Grandma Blanche’s 86th birthday and that means it’s time to go on a, you guessed it, road trip to see her. It’s the first time in the show’s 40+ episodes that the entire Braverman clan has been crammed together for an entire episode and that worked really well in its favor; of course, there were still subplots going on, from Drew walking in on some sexytime betweeen Sarah and Mr. Cyr to Adam’s quest to get Haddie to engage with him, but having this many people focusing on the same goal made the episode feel more cohesive than typical. There’s never a truly disjointed episode of Parenthood (there have been awful plots in it, though), but shifting the subplots toward the back and allowing “Road Trip” to laser in on Grandma Blanche made it feel simpler. More streamlined, even, at least from a storytelling perspective. In a good way, of course, as it avoided the sometimes overpowering dialogue that Parenthood can possess in favor of quieter moments and interesting character choices.

While the first two thirds was beautifully dysfunctional and some of the most enjoyable material that the show has given us this season, “Road Trip” stumbled a bit in the last 20 minutes or so, letting both Max and Zeek off for pretty bad behavior all in the name of “togetherness”. Having Kristina finally follow through on a punishment after countless empty threats was welcome and Monica Potter did such a good job portraying the inner turmoil of a mom wanting to do the best thing for her son (while aching for him missing the trip), so much so that I was genuinely disappointed when she caved in. Max may have understood what he did was wrong, but if he doesn’t realize there are consequences to his actions/words, how is he supposed to make it in the world when he gets older? Kristina has been devastated by how Max hasn’t been able to socially adapt to public school, but he’s being done no favors by being taught that you can say/do whatever you want to people as long as you know what you’re doing is wrong.

Parenthood Road TripZeek may have finally got stood up to for how selfish and controlling he can be, but like Max, he didn’t have to face any consequences for his behavior. After having a (touching) talk with Haddie that put his father’s obnoxiousness about the birthday in another perspective, he leads the Bravermans to Blanche’s house to surprise Zeek. I was genuinely impressed that the show went against the grain and had the siblings start on their way home following a blow-up with their father, but it’s not even that they changed their mind that’s the problem. It’s that when they got back, they’re too busy tongue-bathing Zeek to hold him accountable for how much of a blowhard he is. He doesn’t apologize, he doesn’t regret anything, he simply tells Adam that he’s a good son and boom, problem solved? I know some people have a hard time expressing their feelings and exposing their vulnerabilities, but it felt like more of a band aid solution than something real and tangible. This isn’t the first time that Zeek has acted controlling and immature toward his children and if they don’t do anything about it, he’s going to continue to be the same way. On a serialized show, change is often incremental and more readily noticeable when looking at a block of episodes, but the characters have to change some and Zeek’s getting a little static.

 

For how bothered I was by these two aspects of “Road Trip”, there was more than enough to make up for them in an episode of moments that felt both too real and well-earned. In the former category, look no further than Kristina’s reaction to being called by Max and Sarah’s awkward talk with Drew about what he say. While Sarah’s stammering, aimless sort-of apology to Drew was an uncomfortable mother-son moment at its finest, Kristina’s stunned expression upon hearing Max’s insult was real in a different sense, a more painful sense. It resonated with me from seeing how she’s been put through the emotional wringer by his Asperger’s and tried to do everything for him to feel normal all series long. She can be shrill and histrionic, but Kristina Braverman loves her children more than anything and to see her receive that kind of body blow was a tough (but fascinating) watch. On the other side go things like Zeek’s past being illuminated a little. I’m not, nor will I ever be, a Zeek Braverman fan, but being let in on the root of why he is the way he is has been a long time coming. He doesn’t get excused for having a poor mother that devalued and overly critiqued him, which made him overcompensate once he had his own family, but I feel like his behavior makes more sense. Zeek Braverman is a bull in an emotional china shop, but I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for him when he picked up the childhood pictures of him on the piano and, presumably, wonder why Blanche couldn’t give him the kind of love that she was giving to her great grandchildren then. It was a quick moment, but it said more about Zeek the man that just about any storyline could.

“Road Trip” ended up being a (mostly) wonderful wallow in the Braverman Family Dysfunction Junction that brought a little levity to things before wielding the Drama Sledgehammer like a champion. It felt nice to take a breather from baby issues, money troubles, and the struggles of being a co-parent and just spend time with the Bravermans again; as intriguing as the show can be when it world builds through significant others, bosses, and co-workers, Parenthood can really crank out a good episode by going more insular and exploring the family relationships. As much as the TV-ized “epiphany/reunion” scene bugged me to death, I think that everything else in “Road Trip” was so strong (and so realistic) that I can look over it. Last season, Parenthood hit a creative stride following winter break and if they keep the level of “Road Trip” going during the final six weeks of this season, they may be able to outdo it.

Thoughts, Quotes, & Observations:
-“Is this like a paper GPS or…?”
-“I don’t have my flak jacket. We’re going into a combat zone.”
-On Julia trying to work on a legal brief: “Doesn’t look very brief.”
-“He didn’t have the kind of parents that you kids have.” “Smokin’ hot?”
-“It’s cute. It’s like a sitcom.”
-“You’ve got us all piled in the car like sharecroppers.”
-“It’s her hips, you know, could be sold for parts, but she can hear.”
-“Moms don’t have sex.” “On the other hand, here you are.”
-The (admittedly sweet) ending made me think of the Parks & Rec episode “End of the World”. Anybody else?
-I loved the opening sequence that gave us a glimpse at how every family was having a rough go at getting ready.
-Did anybody else think Adam’s juvenile little tantrum in the store mirrored Zeek’s “you suck” moment? I think Adam’s more like his dad than even he understands, which could be another reason he was the main leader in the movement to forgive Zeek.
-In the Braverman universe, it’s the first post-holiday week, too. Spooky.
-Do you think we’ll hear from Grandma Blanche again? I’m leaning toward no. I also didn’t understand the timeline of her familial involvement. If they hadn’t been to see her in at least 10 years (she turned 86 tonight and Camille mentioned that they hadn’t celebrated her 85th, 84th, or 76th), how could Max vividly remember that the last time she saw him, she mentioned she liked bugs, too? Had he always been into bugs?
-If you missed my recent article on Parenthood that gave some spoilers for the rest of season 3, you can check that out here.
-Next week on Parenthood: A newspaper piece on the Luncheonette leaves Crosby jealous of Adam, Amber gets acquainted with her new job, and The Season of the Baby continues.

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