Parenthood "The Talk" Review: Kids Hear the Darndest Things

By Nick Campbell

Oct 03, 2012

Parenthood S04E04: "The Talk"

"That word is nothing like Voldemort."

We don't have a lot of Norman Lear-like television anymore and our current sitcom overlord (Chuck Lorre) isn't so much into doing "very special episodes" as he is into doing broad comedy and sticking $100 bills in his ears. So shows that explore social problems in an honest and empathetic way (as opposed to a painfully dramatic, borderline exploitative way) are few and far between.

Parenthood to the rescue. Which is not to say Parenthood isn't dramatic or exploitative at times, but with Kristina's cancer and this week's treatment of a boy learning about how awful we've always been to each other, Parenthood really could've milked it. Like the entire episode soundtracked by a Nick Drake wannabe milked it.

Instead, "the talk" between Crosby, Jasmine, and Jabbar was a relatively sober and honest discussion of how to approach the subject of racial slurs without sounding like anyone standing on a soapbox or treading trepidatiously so as to not offend a sponsor. It was classy.

Crosby really set it up nicely with the Voldemort discussion. It perfectly identified what "nigger" means to anyone who doesn't fully understand the raw and negative power of the word. Voldemort was his closest association, a pop-culture reference for a word that everyone knows but convention demands that no one says. The word is essentially meaningless to Crosby except for the learned history of the phrase and its forbidden quality. All he really understands is that you don't say it, it's offensive to people who aren't him, and it carries a weight to it that could rock the Jabbar's fragile, innocent world. He seemed to understand this anecdotally, not personally, and the show did a good job of making sure we saw Crosby as ignorant but not intentionally harmful.

So with the episode title and numerous scenes building up to the talk at the kitchen table, I expected a discussion that would put Jabbar in the background while we endured a heavy, dramatic discussion of the issue, toeing the pedantic line with only a minimal amount of grace. My first pass through Jasmine's discussion of race relations in the United States, however, made me feel very little. For a show that can be "grief porn," Parenthood took a more subtle route, and I was a little surprised. But then I thought about how this was a kid, how Jabbar is supposed to be young still and maybe hitting him with a an entire race's grievances followed by a marathon viewing of Roots isn't necessary.

Instead, "The Talk" was more akin to the ways '80s family sitcoms ended. Think of how every Full House, particularly in the early seasons, ended with those violins and Danny Tanner telling his girls how it was. Don't torture each other. It's okay to ask for help. Don't get addicted to meth and then host a show where dancing with your pants off is not only a requirement but is mentioned in the title.

It's that instructive way television can be sometimes, where by representing a situation and how the characters handle it, we, as an audience, are supposed to understand that as a suggestion for how to deal with it in our own lives. Whether or not you want the dude who used to be on Punk'd to give you pointers on talking to your kids, this week Parenthood offered a bit of advice on how to deal with your child coming home with racially charged words on the brain.

The rest of the episode didn't necessarily focus on the dramas that fill the Braverman houses as much as it did the actual parenting. Crosby and Jasmine parented the heck out of Jabbar at the table. Joel got more assertive (finally) and tried to bond with his new child. Zeek took an interest in a just-returned soldier (Matt Lauria, to continue the parade of FNL stars on this show). The only father, actually, who didn't take strong pride in his son this episode was beleaguered Adam Braverman.

His daughter has gone to college, he has a newish baby in the house, his son is an autistic diva, and now his partner and strongest ally on this earth has been diagnosed with cancer. But, to be fair, he was really busy trying to avoid the surely devastating student council pit of despair, regressed behavior, and more opportunities for Max to shirk his responsibilities (even those simple ones for society) and demand self-centered justice. Ah, to be a male Braverman.

The episode itself was only okay with the exception of a rationalized "talk" on racial relations. Even Kristina's cancer seemed like an afterthought to Jabbar's education. You know you're dealing with heady stuff when cancer loses. Is it one of those episodes you should watch with your kids? Only if you want them to learn "pimptacular."


– Has Julia mentioned her swimming in every episode this season? Nobody cares, Swimfan.

– As the week's progress, Hank is confiding in Sarah more and more. Some might say this is just the natural progression of a character slowly opening up. I say it's the Braverman Effect and we're watching Hank's coolness erode.

– Kristina's proud mama reaction to Max getting all 25 signatures: even in an episode where she is part of the sub-A plot, she still kills it. Taking Mae Whitman lessons, I see.

– I kind of wish the sprinklers thing would've been drawn out a little more where Zeek brought in a new son or daughter to listen for the sound until Matt Lauria showed up to finally let the old man know he's not crazy. As it happened, though, minorly funny I guess.

– Lots of poor arguing from the Braverman men this week. Adam simultaneously opposed the silver lining of Max's inevitable defeat (maybe he'll learn how to lose?) while supporting the method that spared his son humiliation. Meanwhile, Max (in the ensuing fit after being told he couldn't run) immediately jumped into Godwin's Law by calling his parents fascist, then threatened to report them to the House Committee on Unamerican Activities—which was trying to root out communists. Get your extremist political affiliations together, Max.

– I kind of like Sarah Braverman flouting the natural kniship Lorelai Gilmore has with teenage girls. Lorelai would have Ruby tied around her finger instantly with nothing more than a platter of Pop Tarts.


– The show made a big deal of Kristina moving around the date of her mastectomy. Do you think we'll see any repercussions from her putting it off?

– Will Jesse Plemmons make his way through the show? Will he shoot anyone?

– Is there anything more out-of-touch in this world than someone over the age of 40 saying the words "Justin Bieber?"

– How do you feel Jasmine and Crosby handled "the talk?"

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  • wingsabre Oct 05, 2012

    It's probably a Peabody award level episode.

  • Meba Oct 04, 2012

    I really liked this episode, even if I don't get "The Talk" much. I live in Italy, we don't have an heavy past of racial battles, we have a tough present of racism but against everyone who is not Italian, also towards a lot of "white" people, and the italian word for N isn't in itself a bad word. But an episode like this helped me understand how deep are the roots in the US for some problems, the veterans, the racial problems. I think parenthood better that any show helps "get in" the US culture, without stereotypes or (too) cheesy parts. It's really good to see from the "outside" and I hope that is cathartic seen from someone who lives in the us.

  • pcsjunior002 Oct 04, 2012

    My how I love this show. Is this the best episode of this show ever? No. But it was still great. As a white male, I have in particular always been cautious of that word, and while I think that I might understand it a little better than Crosby's Voldemort comment, I'm not sure that this is a concept that I can ever truly get unless something like the history of how that word was used would happen to me.

    I view this in the same light as the sympathy vs. empathy situation. We all (well, those who are not psychopaths) have sympathy for things. Tell me your wife was murdered, your child was seriously and irrevocably injured in a car crash, you lost your job for completely unfair reasons and there's nothing you can do about and I will be sad for and with you. It sucks, and with those first two, I'm not entirely sure what else out there could really suck too much more than that. I can even cry with you. But these things have never happened to me. I can try and say that "I get it", but let's be honest, I don't. I haven't had it happen to me; I don't have empathy. I just have as much sympathy as I can possibly manage. Excellent job by Jasmine to illustrate, and indeed it was done very much in a way appropriate to a child, especially one for whom this could very well come into effect in the future. I first heard that word at age 8 and repeated it much in the same way Jabbar did with absolutely zero understanding of it, merely repeating sounds that I had heard and wondering what they were about. My parents did well with me (I have few complaints about my parents), but I think that even they could have learned something from that chat. Excellent job, and if I need to explain this in the future, I may just find a transcript from this episode and use it as a starting point.

    Kristina killed it here, as you said. The sheer pride in her voice that her son, the autistic and very social misunderstanding kid, walked up to 28 people he didn't know (maybe 27, if one of the signatures was from his friend from the last episode) to get them to sign his form (even though some were horrible about it) was almost heartbreaking. This is parenthood, and why we love this show. Amazing.

    I am in my mid-20s and tried to use Justin Bieber in a sentence with a teenager last week and the look I got, wow. So it's not just people in their 40s. I think you either get it or you don't (I don't).

  • bluemystique Oct 04, 2012

    -Julia has mentioned it practically every time she gets a chance. She holds onto the glory days. Swimfan...ugh that was a sucky movie.

    - Yeah, it's almost official. Hank has been Braverized. I like him being the curmudgeon that he is and I'm dreading the future Hank/Sara hookup. But I'm loving Ray Romano in this role.

    - I thought the sprinkler worked. I kind of just wish that the Patriarch and Matriarch of the Braverman family actually get a decent storyline of their own. I miss them having more to do and playing a bigger role. Zeek is awesome though and I adored watching him connect with the War really got to me more than usual after a relative of mine who just returned from Afghanistan visited the day before. It's rough. If they squeeze in a nice story arc for Zeek and the vet (s) I'd be pleased.

    -I think we will see repercussions from her pushing back the date. I think it was one of those things to remind us of how selfless Kristina is said to be and it was a sign of her not taking care of herself because she's putting people ahead of herself. I think there could be repercussions but not in the obvious way.

    - The Talk. That was the most compelling story line of the night. I remember seeing the previews and getting all ferklempted because I thought someone called Jabar that. I love that adorable little kid. I knew the moment he stepped into that studio where it was going, but it still was a wonderful exploration of a tricky topic. They handled it beautifully. Dax Shepard doesn't get enough credit and his talent is seriously underrated because he gave a superb performance all the way through. He really nailed that "White Guilt" that truly good people tend to harbor in sticky situations like that, where they're apologetic for their entire race and for the past and for things that are completely out of their hands. You could just feel his discomfort, alienation, guilt...and helplessness over wanting to protect and shield his kid from something even he doesn't understand. I thought his explanation to Jabar was a great attempt, real and effective enough. I thought Jasmine (who I typically am not a fan of) handled the discussion beauituflly, she was strong and yet vulnerable and as honest as she could be but in an age appropriate fashion and in a way where she tried to preserve his innocence. It wasn't cliche, it was subtle, and they weren't beating you over the head in that "very special episode" way. What I love about Parenthood is how REAL it is as a show, every little nuance screams realistic portrayal of a close yet dysfunctional family, and even when they're tackling all of these issues they do it in this realistic way that feels more like watching your own family in front of your eyes rather than a fictional family on tv. The scenes afterwards with Crosby staring teary eyed at his sleeping son and admitting how irrelevant he feels...and presumably helpless...and Jasmine being more vulnerable and honest than she ever has been. Such a beautiful scene. Loved it. I can't recall the first time my Mom had "the talk" with me, and some of the other similar talks afterwards are a bit fuzzy. There is no right way to really handle's tough. But it was one of the best scenes on the show to date to me.

    -I also loved Joel with Victor. Joel is one of those characters who really needs more time. He comes across as too passive at times, which I don't always mind, but it was great seeing him take the reins and have such a connection with Victor. I swear..the fact that NBC wavers when it comes to renewing this show every season is ridiculous. It's easily the best show they have on their network and one of the best shows (and most underrated) on tv currently.

  • torontogirl98 Oct 04, 2012

    I loved the Joel/Victor plot-line, the ending with them just playing catch just warmed my heart and I am not usually the type to feel like that

  • docspector Oct 04, 2012

    "I kind of like Sarah Braverman flouting the natural kniship Lorelai Gilmore has with teenage girls. Lorelai would have Ruby tied around her finger instantly with nothing more than a platter of Pop Tarts. "

    There's a new Lorelei in town, and the show is "Bunheads". Watch it and see.

  • NicholasCampb Oct 04, 2012

    Amy Sherman-Palladino certainly has a type, doesn't she? What I like about Michelle from Bunheads, though, is that she's like what might've happened to Lorelai had she not found a town as embracing as Stars Hollow. Michelle is quirky like Lorelai but struggles in a town that isn't quick to accept strangers, especially fast-talking, entitled, elitist strangers.

    Both Lorelai and Michelle are whirlwinds of chaos except one found a town to just about kneel down in front of her and the other finds herself in a town trying to reject her like a baboon heart. As an unapologetic Gilmore Girls fan, I like seeing the flip side of the coin: Lorelai minus the charmed life.

  • DrSpongejr Oct 04, 2012

    Really good episode. I thought it was really well done the way they handled the "N" word controversy with the son, and the mom did a great job. It was cool how Hank's daughter was finally able to open up to Sarah, as was Hank, and I really hope they don't rush that relationship too fast. About Max, I say go ahead and let him run; that really irrirated me that they would consider smashing one of his dreams just because he has the potential to get "hurt," even though that ship has already sailed. They also shouldn't be naive enough to believe (as many parents do) that they should "shelter" their kid from any potential hardship, especially if that kid has a drive (as Max clearly does.) Really well done episode, though.

  • LiseLotteDive Oct 04, 2012

    I thought this episode was fantastic and don't agree with the negativity. This season of Parenthood is by far the best one. The bantering has lessened, thank god, and the tone of the show is more comfortable. Yes, it would be great with a cross over with Breaking Bad. Just imagine Heisenberg and Todd invading something in the show, maybe in the recording studio (irony).

  • CarlyChristen Oct 04, 2012

    I thought this episode was really well done, and was really eye opening for me. As a parent of very young children, I've thought a lot about the kinds of difficult conversations I will one day have with my kids. But as a white parent with white kids, this one had not really occurred to me. I thought about conversations explaining why people are different and about respecting those differences, and even specifically about racial issues, but it's definitely not the same thing. And that's what got me about the episode. The conversation was just so real. I can only imagine how hard it must be for parents to explain to their beautiful children not only what hateful words like that mean, but that those words and attitudes could be directed at them. It's heartbreaking.

  • bendylegsnick Oct 04, 2012

    You meant Jesse Plemons right?

  • NicholasCampb Oct 04, 2012

    UGH. Yes. Thank you. That's the worst.

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