Parenthood’s Season 4 premiere, “Family Portrait” opened five months following last Spring’s finale and we quickly learned Sarah accepted Mark’s cliff-hanger proposal. And with that, another year with The Bravermans began. Below is a list of what worked great in the premiere episode (YAY); and what sort of missed the mark (NAY).
While Mark and Sarah are indeed officially engaged, I smell trouble. First, Braverman matriarch Camille decreed non-married partners couldn’t pose for the family portrait being planned for Haddie’s going-away-to-Cornell party. Sarah put up a token protest when she heard the news, but mostly meekly accepted her mom’s edict. What gives with that? Apparently, Mark wondered the same thing, because when he heard that only legally wed spouses can pose, he looked at Sarah with those soulful Jason Ritter eyes and asked, “Did you fight for me?”
Uh-Oh. Knife to the heart. And that one brief moment left me wondering if this couple doesn’t have more serious underlying issues than just an age difference. (Not to mention Jason Ritter has competing shooting schedules elsewhere.) In any event, leave it to earnest, decent Mark to fix the issue as he confronted Camille and Zeek all on his own and told Camille that since he already feels a part of the family , he would be honored to be included in the family photo. It was a sweet moment and illustrated the goodness of the character. It also was a wonderful contrast to the much more acerbic introduction we got of Hank, Sarah’s new boss.
When I first heard Ray Romano was being added to the cast, I wasn’t impressed. “Stunt Casting” was my first thought. But within seconds of his opening scene with Lauren Graham, I was convinced that this was a very good move. Photographer Hank is grumpy, decidedly middle-aged and already a fine foil to Sarah’s idealism. And as an added bonus, he’s also an interesting mix with other cast members. When first meeting Max (who has Aspergers Syndrome), he tells the boy, “You’re weird. I like you.” Five words that spoke volumes to a character’s personality and depth. Great writing and acting in a very brief scene.
Unfortunately, not every moment was so golden. Which leads me to:
At the end of last season, Crosby and Jasmine tied the knot. It was a lovely way to end Season 3. But as Season 4 opened, we saw that the newlyweds still need to learn a few things about each other, like their views on religion. Crosby found Jabar praying at his bedside one night and that discovery led the parents to question their own views on God and Religion and how they wanted to discuss such issues with Jabar. It was sweet, in its own way, but also felt a little contrived, almost as if it was a ‘filler’ for the episode.
I didn’t have as much ambivalence for what came next. That was mainly just a:
Apparently, the summer hiatus wasn’t enough to cure Amber’s unfortunate habit of sleeping with colleagues. At least this time, it’s with one of The Luncheonette’s clients (American Idol’s Paul McDonald) and not her boss. But still, it blew up in Amber’s face when the musician’s girlfriend showed up at the studio with gifts and kisses. I’m over the Angst of Amber and would appreciate seeing something good happen to her or just see less of her altogether. I love actress Mae Whitman but I believe it’s time for Amber to evolve.
Even less satisfying was the continuation of the Julia and Joel’s adopted son storyline. Victor, at least in the season premiere, embodied almost every “disadvantaged youth” cliché ever seen on network TV. And when Max’s lizard went missing after the newest Braverman visited him, the outcome could be seen a mile away. OF COURSE he took the lizard; because he’s the troubled youngster that the privileged, upper middle-class white couple are desperately trying to help; and making him a thief who lies about it isn’t a stereotype at all.
But, then again, I have been mostly disappointed with the Joel/Julia storylines for three seasons running, so it’s hardly a surprise this latest one is proving to be just another disappointment. Maybe Julia can join Haddie at Cornell.
Fortunately, Haddie leaving for Cornell actually proved to be another:
Haddie’s moodiness in the week before she leaves for college was spot-on. Here was a young woman, ready to move forward with the next phase of her life, feeling the constraints of her parents as they try to hold on to her childhood just a bit longer. The tension and edginess that Haddie, Kristina and Adam all felt was poignant and genuine. But best of all was the funny, and entirely normal, goodbye between big-sister Haddie and little brother Max.
This is what Parenthood does best–the slices of life moments that leave a viewer saying, “Yes. That’s how it happens in my life, too.” So while it’s always a little sad to see the end of another summer, it is good to welcome Parenthood back for the fall.