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.