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TV Review: Parenthood – “Qualities and Difficulties”

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How do you tell a child that he or she has Asperger’s Syndrome? That is the question NBC’s Parenthood is clearly attempting to answer this week (the last new episode for awhile, based on their promos). Did they accomplish that feat? It’s debatable, but we get both a good example and a bad example of how to tell a child, and the emotional journey of the parents involved is heart wrenching. So whether or not the episode is educational, at least we get good TV. Which, after all, is the cynical goal of all television production, right? I wish tone transferred better to text…

If you watch Parenthood, you already know the child at the center of this conundrum is Max (Max Burkholder), young son of Adam (Peter Krause) and Kristina (Monica Potter) Braverman. Shortly after the series began a year ago, Adam and Kristina found out that Max had Asperger’s. They also decided he was too young to be told, even as they began making accommodations for him in all areas of their lives. Adam is clearly not ready to tell Max when, last week, Max overheard Peter blurt it out in a fit of anger at his brother Crosby (Dax Shepard), who through his infidelity had driven away Max’s special tutor. This week, we pick up as Adam and Kristina sit Max down and try to explain to him what he has.

The first attempt is a disaster. Kristina cries, Adam calls it a ‘disability’, and both clearly send the signal to Max that he has something bad wrong with him. Dr. Pelikan (Tom Amandes) recommends they try a do-over and gives them a script to follow. Adam hates the script, which is a listing of “Qualities and Difficulties,” as the episode title suggests. He thinks Pelikan is just trying to put a positive spin on something not positive. Instead, Adam pulls Max out of school and takes him to a theme park, where Max has a meltdown after his favorite roller coaster breaks. Chastised, Adam goes back to the script and he and Kristina try again.

It is impossible to tell what is going on in Max’s head. As part of his syndrome, his face gives away less than most people’s. As such, I cannot say for sure if they were successful in making Max feel OK about things. But his behavior suggests that they did at least a decent job. I cannot imagine the struggle a parent in that situation goes through, and I’m sure it is hard to unless you experience it yourself. However, I feel the actors do a superb job making a difficult situation very relatable to an audience. I felt their pain. It is a fantastic, moving episode for this branch of the Braverman family.

Elsewhere, Crosby continues to try to make things up to Jasmine (Joy Bryant) for the aforementioned indiscretion. She will have none of it, refusing to talk at him, and moving his things out of her house. Should she forgive him? All the time on television couples get past being cheated on. It happens in real life, too, I’m sure, but I consider that one of those nearly unforgivable sins. That could be because of my age and inexperience in the matter, but surely Parenthood is smarter than to allow a quick, easy resolution. So far, it has only been a couple of episodes, but I think they’re going for the long haul. If Crosby will ever reunite with Jasmine, it will probably be in at least the May season finale, if not longer.

Luckily, Crosby’s family are making sure Jasmine still feels welcome. She is the mother of Crosby’s son, Jabbar (Tyree Brown), after all, so she has a deep connection to Crosby’s kin. Several of the Braverman characters berate Crosby. Crosby knows he screwed up, and while his family still loves him, they agree with that. Julia (Erika Christensen) and Joel (Sam Jaeger) even give up their anniversary date to comfort her.

Again, I love how realistic this show is. Of course Crosby’s family isn’t going to cut him off, but this is a delicate, complicated situation. Every one of them handles it a little differently, per their personalities, and all hold no ill will towards Jasmine for what happened. Their support for her, as evidenced by Julia and Joel’s actions, is sweet. I look forward to Jasmine’s continued presence on the show, rather than just being dumped from the cast as some series would do.

The final story this week saw Sarah (Lauren Graham) becoming a playwright. It seems she is a Renaissance woman, with music, poetry, and shoe design already under her belt. We do not yet get a glimpse of Sarah’s passionate writing project, but judging from ex-boyfriend Mark’s (Jason Ritter, The Event) reaction, she may finally have found her calling. He is an English teacher, after all, so he should know.

By the way, is anyone still called an English teacher? Haven’t they all become Language Arts teachers by now? The show’s writers are letting their age slip in. Or, more likely, they are just putting it in terms the audience, many of them older, can understand. Plus, English teacher just has a better ring to it. But still…

I can’t wait to see Sarah’s work performed, hoping that is where the show is going. She is in definite need of a break in her life, and this may be it. When Parenthood returns, it will resume its time slot Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. ET 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
  • Christi

    I am the parent of a 17 year old daughter with Asperger’s. My experience was a little different because my daughter was diagnosed as “autistic” at the age of 2. The diagnosis was not changed to Asperger’s until she was around 12 years old. I told my daughter about Asperger’s in small pieces, more as different issues came up. She now says that she was relieved to find out that her feelings of being different had a name and she has since spent a great deal of time researching the syndrome. She does not feel that she has a disability and gets angry when it is described as a disorder. She says she is “different just like everyone else.” When she was first diagnosed with autism another mother gave me a poem that helped me a great deal through the years. It’s called, “Welcome to Holland” by Emily Perl Kingsley. We both love this poem.

    Since they first mentioned Asperger’s on Parenthood I have been a loyal viewer. Many times crying right along with the Bravermans. I especially related to their dilemmas when Max was first diagnosed and they had issues with getting him into another school. I feel the writers have done an excellent job portraying and educating about Asperger’s. The only criticism I have is that sometimes Max’s behavior seems to be a little over the top. But maybe that’s the point?