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TV Review: Parenthood – “Hard Times Come Again No More”

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NBC’s Parenthood kicked off season early last night as its second season came to an end with “Hard Times Comes Again No More.” The episode picks up with Sarah (Lauren Graham) getting a late night phone call telling her that her daughter, Amber (Mae Whitman), has been in a car wreck, as seen at the end of last week’s episode. The entire Braverman clan gathers at the hospital to support each other in a scene reminiscent of the movie with the same title. But that resolves quickly, and Amber goes home, mostly fine. A number of other threads tie themselves up over the next hour, leaving only a handful of unanswered questions for viewers awaiting a fall return.

A synopsis of the episode may make the car wreck seem trivial, as Amber is deemed fine fairly quickly. However, just because she survives the event does not mean it will not have lasting effects. Sarah tries to get through to Amber, but her daughter is unreceptive, far from rock bottom. Luckily, grandfather Zeke (Craig T. Nelson) steps up, chewing Amber out, but also letting her know that his concern comes from a place of love. Tough grandpa makes Amber realize what her mother cannot, and she pledges to behave from here on out.

It’s an age old story that children just will not listen to their parents. For whatever reason, even though parents have the most influence and control over kids as they grow up, a life lesson coming from another respected source, such as a grandfather, just hits home a lot more than from a parent. Perhaps this is because parents teach so much that kids grow numb to the lessons, while, when someone else steps up, it’s a unique occurrence, and they take more notice. Either way, it’s nice that the Amber problem is dealt with, and not left hanging for next season. By the time the episode ends, it appears Amber will be returning to the good girl she has been for most of the year.

Somehow, Sarah still handles her play, despite what is happening with her daughter. Sarah attends rehearsal, where she snaps at actors during a read through, and then before you know it, the show opens up. The actors apologize, by the way, because Blount (Richard Dreyfuss) tells them Sarah’s daughter has died and they feel bad. None mention that they see her daughter at the show and are angry at being lied to. That would only have taken a few seconds, and should have happened.

The play is the most out of place part of the episode. While it is understandable that the writers would want to wrap up Sarah’s play plot by the season finale, a full performance does not happen days after a read through. It seems inconsistent, and time frame is confusing. Sarah can be forgiven for not dropping out of the program, because Amber is all right, but it still feels like too much happened too soon. This should have carried into next year.

The actors playing the family members are brilliantly cast, each looking quite a bit like the characters they represent. The father figure is the most similar, of course, because Zeke plays a version of himself. Yet, the other five people on stage look remarkably like their counterparts. Did looks factor more into casting than talent? Because that has not been my experience with theater.

Max (Max Burkholder) has a very hard time dealing with the Amber situation because of his Asperger’s, so he cannot show empathy. His father, Adam (Peter Krause), tries talking to him about it, but like many things, it is unclear if the words hit home with Max or not. He obviously has some small grasp, as he does apologize to Sarah for his insensitivity, albeit blaming his syndrome. She takes the apology with the grace of an understanding aunt, even though Graham’s expression and demeanor uncharacteristically do not back up the words. Strange.

While it is laudable that Adam is working with Max on connecting with people, it should also be noted that letting Max blame his Asperger’s is not a good way to go about it. If Max lets himself believe in his limitations, he will not grow. If he uses the disorder as an excuse, he will not learn to behave. Since his knowing about the syndrome is new, and this is his first lesson with such a serious event, it can be overlooked, as long as it does not become a pattern in season three. Given the excellent writing shown thus far, it likely won’t.

At the same time, Adam is also dealing with his other child, Haddie (Sarah Ramos), who recently started having sex with her boyfriend, Alex (Michael B. Jordan). Things between Adam and Haddie have been strained, but are recovering. Adam’s wife, Kristina (Monica Potter), handles communicating about this tricky issue a bit better. Kristina tells Haddie she will be visiting the doctor and going on birth control, and then makes her an appointment. Adam tells Alex to wear a condom. It’s awkward, but then, what parent isn’t awkward when dealing with their children becoming sexually active?

A small subplot where Adam searches for Max’s lost retainer feels out of place and forced. While it is an expensive item, Adam obsessing over it, as he does, feels out of character. The pressures Adam is dealing with in the episode make it a bit more understandable, but the whole thing feels concocted when Adam discovers the positive pregnancy test in the trash. Given that that twist is spoiled in previews for the episode, the whole story feels contrived and false, which is not the norm for the series. Thank goodness the baby isn’t Haddie’s, or it would deserve even more derision.

Kristina being pregnant comes out of the blue, but is not entirely unrealistic. The question is, what does this mean for Adam and Kristina? Their kids are pretty far apart, age wise. Just as one will soon be leaving the house, a new one will be entering it. There actually are no complaints about this, because Potter handles the revelation so well. The question now is, will the baby be like Max?

Things will surely be complicated because Adam no longer has a job. It isn’t surprise, as once his new boss came into the picture, it seemed like only a matter of time before Adam would have to find other employment. In this economy, he could be out of work for quite awhile, but because this is TV, his family will not suffer any undue hardship because of it. The writers should go the opposite way, and really make it a serious struggle for at least the next year. It would be a very relatable plot, and while some people use television as escapism, others would appreciate the realism.

It’s a shame Kristina gets pregnant without even trying, since Julia (Erika Christensen) has been trying so hard and failing. Julia’s plot is the weirdest this week, as she comforts her daughter’s former teacher through labor. It’s a totally random happenstance, bringing back a forgotten guest star, who only did one episode over a year ago. The story is there just for Julia to try to come to terms with not being able to have a baby, and then decide to adopt one.

Crosby (Dax Shepard) is finally giving up trying to win Jasmine (Joy Bryant) back when Joel (Sam Jaeger) brings her to him at the end of the episode. Poor Crosby! He works so hard to get her attention, and she keeps dissing him, but then Joel is able to talk her into coming, a scene that should have not been cut, or if it was never filmed, should have been. If Bryant was not a main character, she would likely disappear after this episode, perhaps to pop up again briefly down the road. Since she’s in the theme song, despite her numerous rejections, there is never any real doubt they won’t be trying to work things out next year.

This is a very odd episode of Parenthood because the overall arcs are wonderful, and some scenes are very emotionally moving. Yet, there are lots of odd details that don’t quite add up when looked at too closely. The most logical conclusion that can be drawn, from an overall truly delightful series, is that the finale is rushed, and should have been given another hour to play out.

One last note: the exterior of the hospital featured in the show Scrubs is extremely recognizable, no matter how different series have lately tried to redress it, as Parenthood does this week. It’s time to retire that particular location, as it will always invoke Scrubs for a lot of people, and takes viewers out of the moment when it is tried to be passed off as something else.

Parenthood has not yet been renewed, but its season finale ratings were great, and it’s very likely it will be picked up soon for another season on NBC.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com