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TV Review: Parenthood – “I Don’t Want to Do This Without You”

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NBC’s Parenthood is back for a third season, beginning with “I Don’t Want to Do This Without You.” Life is never boring for the Bravermans. Adam (Peter Krause) is discouraged by the job market, and is tempted by Crosby’s (Dax Shepard) pitch to run a music studio together. But financial concerns make him hesitate. Sarah (Lauren Graham) is hurt when her daughter, Amber (Mae Whitman), moves into her own apartment, and only stops by Sarah’s 40th birthday party. Luckily, Sarah reconnects with Mark (Jason Ritter, returning now that The Event is kaput), who makes her feel better. Julia (Erika Christensen) grows desperate for a baby. Alex (Michael B. Jordan) is arrested.

Adam is undergoing an incredibly relatable plot in today’s economy. Out of work, almost out of savings, he begins to grow frustrated at the lack of career opportunities. He starts applying for terrible jobs, well  below his skill level and pay grade, just to have some income coming in. But he is tempted by a dream. For most of us, this would never work out. Because this is television, often an escapist medium, Adam will probably accept Crosby’s offer, and they will do well. Even as the rest of the music industry implodes. I don’t know if Parenthood is making viewers feel better with the fantasy, or encouraging people to make irrational decisions. Let’s hope nobody sues the series.

For Crosby, who has a steady income, it’s also a risk. Being a homeowner now, and with a son, Jabbar (Tyree Brown) to take care of, can he really afford to go out on a limb? True, Crosby already works in the music industry, and may have enough contacts to make a serious go of things. But should he try when the payoff is so uncertain, and staying put guarantees much needed stability? His decision is a little tricky, although if the idea does fail, seeing Adam ruined may hurt Crosby far more than it hurts himself. Which might give him incentive to work even harder at the job.

Then again, Crosby is dating another woman he isn’t serious about (Wilfred‘s Fiona Gubelmann), so maybe he hasn’t grown up very much.

Julia has a dream of a different kind. Unable to conceive, she begins looking at other options. But like Adam, she finds her prospects bleaker than she would like. So she starts looking for an easy solution. One scheme she has is to ask to buy her coffee vendor’s kid. It’s an insane idea, as everyone, including her husband, Joel (Sam Jaeger), tells her. Yet, in true Julia fashion, she will not let go of it. Again, because this is television, it will probably work out for her, unlike it would in real life. This is both heartening and depressing at the same time.

As Parenthood moves into season three, it needs to be careful not to fall under the Brothers & Sisters curse. Both series start as wonderful shows about close, extended families. But as Brothers & Sisters made season after season, five in total, the writers turned to less and less believable plots, forcing drama just to keep the show going. Parenthood needs to remember what makes a family drama magical and special in its early days, and not allow it to show its age. All three siblings in the above paragraphs are treading dangerous ground here, and it could go either way.

In life, everyone has to grow up. Amber is out of high school, and after making the decision to put college on hold for awhile, she seeks to begin her adult life. This involves getting a new haircut and finding a small, in-need-of-work apartment in a soon-to-be-trendy area of town. Seriously, the place doesn’t even have a kitchen! But Amber falls in love with it instantly, and soon signs the lease.

While Amber is in a dreamer phase of her life, like her uncles and aunt previously discussed, for her, the stakes are much lower. She is just starting out and doesn’t have the ties or responsibilities to worry about that the older family members do. If Amber lands on her face because of lack of employment or inability to pay the rent, she still has a safety net: she can move back in with her mother and grandparents. For her, there are few reasons not to take the chance.

Sarah doesn’t see it that way, though. She sees it as Amber abandoning her. Sarah’s milestone 40th birthday might have something to do with the increased neurosis, but part of the worrying is also just who she is. Sarah is shocked that Amber would want to move into such a dump, and can’t believe her daughter doesn’t even care if she picks up her high school diploma or not. Thank goodness Sarah’s mom, Camille (Bonnie Bedelia), is there to speak some sense to her.

While Ritter’s Mark re-enters Sarah’s life now almost entirely for behind the scenes, practical reasons, it’s perfect, story-wise. Sarah needs a pick me up, a distraction, something to make her feel good about herself. She is aging, and while she has accomplished a few things, she has much more that she wants to do. Having the younger Mark around to shower her with affection, and steal Amber’s diploma from the school, should give her a needed boost… as long as he doesn’t get caught and fired for the theft.

Alex’s arrest is dumb. He goes to a party to pick up Haddie (Sarah Ramos), who is drunk, and ends up hitting a guy who won’t let them out the door. Alex makes the smart choice by not hanging around, and the other guy is being a jerk. Hitting isn’t so intelligent, but under the circumstance, can be forgiven. Why the police are called on such a minor matter is a puzzle. Also, why the police are not concerned about the underage drinking going on all around them also seems suspicious. Instead, all the blame is tossed on this guy who works so hard to make something good out of his life, after having far fewer opportunities than most people. While this story may showcase the type of man Alex is, and allow some meaty dramatic material for the terrific Jordan to work with, it’s weak sauce for the fans, and in the authenticity department.

Still, love that Max (Max Burkholder) references Friday Night Lights with Michael B. Jordan, former star of that series, in the car! Both FNL and Parenthood share producer Jason Katims, which may be the reason for the shout out.

Parenthood also stars Craig T. Nelson, Monica Potter, Joy Bryant, Miles Heizer, and Savannah Paige Rae. Tune in Tuesdays nights at 10 p.m. ET on NBC to see what happens to the Braverman clan next.

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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