'Parenthood' Review: "Keep On Rowing"

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Parenthood’s return after the winter break was worth the wait, with the exception of Julia’s asinine storyline and even, dare I say it, the Kristina cancer storyline.

I’m probably going to create some controversy with this opinion, but I’m tired of the cancer/chemo story. Don’t misunderstand me; I believe I DO understand cancer. I lived through it, twice, with my mother. I even shaved her head when she started chemo the second go-round. So, yes, I have some knowledge of just how gut-wrenching chemo hair loss is. But watching Kristina shaving her head and agonizing over wigs just left me cold.  I’m not sure I can even pinpoint why; except to venture a guess this storyline is getting dangerously close to clichéd territory.  It did begin exceptionally well, but seems to be veering off the rails as we get farther into it.  Is it even possible to do a fresh take on the cancer story? If the Parenthood crew can’t manage it, maybe not.

If Kristina’s storyline is hovering near the edge of the dreaded  ‘formula writing’ cliff, then the Julia/Victor plotline went over the edge months ago. Please, for the love of everything holy, make this one just go away. It’s moved past stereotypical into just plain painful.  Last night, we saw Victor finally ace a math test. And he asked Julia if he could tell his “real” Mom.  When Julia and Joel told Victor that he wasn’t able to do that, due to her substance abuse issues, Victor was upset and confused. (I get that. Why don’t they?)  Anyway, then Sydney, being a rather typical younger sister, taunted Victor about it.  And he threw an aluminum baseball bat at her, smashing the living room window in the process.  Julia, of course, went ballistic and decided her new son was a potential violent offender and maybe they should re-think the whole arrangement, because clearly Victor was a threat to the whole family’s safety.  Are. You. Kidding. Me? I have so many issues with this; I’m not even sure where to begin. First, as the youngest of four children, I can safely say siblings fight. Sometimes even violently. And then they lie about it to their parents.  Secondly, Julia’s extreme overreaction just solidified my loathing of her as a completely justified opinion. She’s useless to the show.  It’s way past time to give Joel, who isn’t so useless, something better to do than prop that character up.

A smaller subplot (but infinitely more entertaining) occurred when Crosby faced down every husband’s worst nightmare: his Mother-in-Law came to live with them.  It was cute and funny and on a side note: this episode was directed, very ably, by Crosby himself, Dax Shepard. 

Of course, I’m saving the best for last, which was the entire Hank/Sarah interlude. First, Sarah asked Hank to take her on a real date.  Hank even promised to buy new clothes for it. (Adorable.) So they ended  up at this fancy-schmancy restaurant and both were awkwardly miserable. They both decided to blow that pop stand and instead, ended up at his place, with Sarah teaching Hank how to play War. It was sweet and fun and damnit, romantic. 

Hank’s character progression is, in a word, lovely.  He’s still grumpy, sure, but he’s also sweet and wise and funny. And with each episode, we see more layers revealed.  When Sarah confessed that she saw Facebook photos of Mark at a New Year’s party with another woman, Hank told her it was okay to feel hurt and a little jealous at that, because it’s simply human nature. He admitted that 10 years after his own divorce, he still gets irritated to see his wife with another guy. I loved that moment. That’s what makes Parenthood special. The little slices of, “Yes! I feel that way, too!”

The next morning, Sarah was hurriedly dressing to escape Hank’s empty apartment. Apparently, he had snuck out extra-early to surprise her with just-baked croissants and coffee.  When she realized the sweetness of his gesture, and her mistaken assumption that he had left his own apartment to avoid her….it was just an awww-how-cute scene.  Because their growing relationship IS sweet and real, and I adore how the writers are slowly revealing exactly who Hank is….. and it’s making me look at Ray Romano in a whole new way-sexy light.

That said, I don’t think Sarah’s resolved her feelings for Mark. She jumped into this with her photog boss way too quickly after Mark dumped her.  I’m on the lookout for some trouble in Hank paradise.  (But she’d better pick Hank, in the end, if she knows what’s really good for her!)

All in all, it was really nice to welcome Parenthood back for 2013. For the most part, with a few jarring exceptions, the show is comfort food and it’s missed when not on.  Just dump Julia and all will be well.

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