Thursday, November 21, 2013

REVIEW: 'Parenthood' Holds 'Election Day' but the Amber-Ryan & Julia-Joel Stories are the Best Things Happening RIght Now

NBC's Parenthood - Episode 5.09 Election Day

Kristina and Adam keep hopes high during election day; Jasmine and Crosby use the event as a teaching moment for Jabbar; Julia and Joel deal with Victor's reservations; Amber is unsure when the band asks her to sing guide vocals; and Sarah helps Hank with a family affair.

The moment we have been waiting for all season has finally arrived - its Election Day! With this episode, hopefully Parenthood is finally putting to bed this entire mayoral campaign story. It simply has not worked in the context of this show. It only existed to give something "big" for Kristina to do that would feel more upbeat than the emotional turmoil she went through last season. But for nine episodes, it felt like the show was just phoning it in with this story - while offering much better gems for the rest of the Braverman clan. No one really wants to see Kristina as the mayor of Berkeley. So understandably, she ultimately loses in the race to the jerk Bob Little.

The mayoral race has only produced two somewhat decent moments - when Gwen told her to do it in the premiere and her answer to the woman at the debate. Those were not stellar moments but in the context of this story arc, they were ultimately the better ones. So I appreciate the thematic way the story ends in "Election Day" by welcoming those characters back. That felt like payoff that was earned. But now, I really just wanna see what Kristina is going to do next. I'm hoping it can't get much worse.

The election also pulled in Crosby and Jasmine - as they have just been relegated to small episodic stories for much of the season. But I've enjoyed their stuff this year because of how small-stakes it is and the way they simply talk about the normal day-to-day stuff of parenthood. However, I hated this story. It was so unpleasant. I do believe the characters would act that way but that doesn't mean I need to see Crosby bribe a guy to go vote for Kristina. God, I hope that never comes up again in later episodes.

But elsewhere, Max was free to roam about and not get sucked into campaigning for his mom. Instead he got to ask a girl out for the first time. That girl was Hank's daughter, Ruby. She shot him down pretty quickly but it was still a pleasant progression for Max, who is slowly getting older. And Hank being Hank awkwardly fumbles dealing with that - telling Ruby just to pretend and not understanding why she would be upset by that. It did bring Hank and Sarah back together but Sarah's advice was pretty astute and accurate. And that led to a great scene between Hank and Max about what it truly means to have a relationship.

Relationship issues were a big deal in "Election Day" - especially in the two other stories of the episode that have become the best things about the fifth season right now. Amber's relationship with Ryan ebbs and flows so much. After starting the year with too much stability, I'm glad the show is once again tackling the question of just how much these two will have to deal with if they want to be together for the rest of their lives. Ryan has his problems and understandably the best thing about his life right now is Amber. He wants to be with her and have fun and be romantic with her. He loves her so much but he also feels so lost in her creative world. He works 9-5 construction and it's a job to him. Amber has a much more freeing schedule. She loves working at The Luncheonette and loves being creative in the music business. She has many things in her life that she loves. She's in her early 20s so she just wants to have fun with everything in her life. But that also means she can often forget about her plans with Ryan. She believes that he will be understanding because it's never seemed like he's gotten that upset at her for breaking plans. That is until he just snaps tonight. Stuff has been festering in him for awhile now and it was bound to come out at some point. And that led him to beating the crap out of the drummer guy and landing himself in the police station. This isn't something the two will be able to overcome quickly and I'm interested to see how the show will deal with the aftermath.

Finally, Julia and Joel's issues has stealthily become the best thing on the show right now. Because so much of this story has been told from Julia's point-of-view, it would be so easy to side with her. But I love how whenever they do bring Joel back to argue, he points out many things that you're hard pressed to disagree with. He supported her when she was working and handled the kids even though they were dealing with stuff. The role reversal on who is working and who is not is the only thing that has changed. Is Victor being moved to the fourth grade bigger than anything else the two have had to deal with? Not really. But also Julia is ill-equipped to handle it emotionally right now. She needs support and doesn't feel it from Joel because he's working so much. Does that give her enough reasoning to say he's not there for them? Not at all. But that argument in the hallway is going to be such a turning point for that relationship. I want the two to work things out but I'm glad that this story is coming from a place of emotional reality and not some plot contrivance. 

Some more thoughts:
  • Hey, Natalie popped up again for a minute and no one called her the Joni Mitchell girl. Progress!
  • Sarah really should lock her door. This is not Amber's apartment and everyone is not welcomed inside.
  • So, Zeek was watching Sydney and Victor and then had to go hug Amber. Did Julia have enough time to pick the kids up after her scene at Joel's office? Maybe.
  • But if Zeek, Julia and Joel were at campaign headquarters and Sydney and Victor weren't, then who was watching them!
  • Amber has a lovely voice though.
  • Did someone mention Haddie? Nope.