Parenthood's Season 4 Premiere: Who Will Survive and What Will Be Left of Them?

By Nick Campbell

Sep 12, 2012

Parenthood S04E01: "Family Portrait"

"Family only. That's the policy."

Sometimes you watch Parenthood and you wonder how different the Bravermans really are from, say, the Manson Family or that close-knit brood from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

You could see that horror in Haddie's eyes as she sat within the chaos of ordering food at the diner. The scene perfectly demonstrated how everything we like best about the show can be the worst to actually suffer, as realized through a/the person trying to create space for herself in a clan that only respects invasion and coerced candor.

If you were to ask me what I like best about Parenthood, my answer would begin with what I've come to affectionately call the "Sibling Scenes," which usually occur between the elder siblings (Adam, Sarah, Julia, and Crosby) in a Robert Altman-inspired, outlined-but-not-scripted dialogue that includes people talking over each other, actually laughing at things that are funny, and the convincing performance of bonds that feel like they've taken decades to build. Then I would have to bring up the warm familial feel of the show that so many series attempt but never really achieve, particularly daunting with a cast this large. Finally, I'd bring it home with Max, who is the man.

But the diner scene, where Haddie's family tried to take her out to one last dinner before she left for Cornell (all the way on the East Coast), showed how all of those elements can go terribly wrong. The talking over each other went from cute to bitter chaos and Max's being "the man" became a Bridezillas-scale tantrum. And all of this, the shouting, the not listening, the baby crying, the demands for a thing called a Torpedo Burger, was supposed to be in celebration of Haddie but was actually just another obligation she had to submit to on behalf of being a Braverman.

It's a wonder that anyone not born into it could want to be a Braverman and, yet, so many people in this episode just wanted to be part of this melange of clan-minded crazy. Victor was in by circumstances beyond his control, as he was provided to Joel and Julia as a Plan C after their attempts to have their own baby and then force the conveniently pregnant coffee girl to surrender her child to the Braverman cause both failed. And while he sticks out like a sore thumb in this group (is there any clearer indication of the breadth between the haves and the have-nots as homemade brunch and a breakfast of squeezy cheese applied directly to the mouth?), this is a kid who just needs a home and now has one.

Mark, however, has no excuse. I'm sure he has a very nice family somewhere he can return home to. And, yet, he's ready to swear his allegiance to the Bravermans, even demanding he be allowed to skip the mandatory waiting period to be part of an important family-bonding ritual, the annual family portrait, where family membership is recorded to the annals of Braverman history. Even Joel had to wait and that man is nothing but pure, raw, textbook commitment.

This was an episode where Crosby and Jasmine also discussed belief systems and the religious superstructure in respect to how to broach those subjects with Jabbar. "I don't want my son to be part of a club I'm not part of," Crosby said with no sense of irony about how the Bravermans are, like, the most exclusive club in the Bay Area. No one gets accepted unless without a sponsor, and there's a token minority so they can claim diversity.

Everyone who comes in contact with the family wants to be a part of it. See Seth (Daddy the Recovering Alcoholic), Zoe (the conveniently employed pregnant coffee girl), and, now, Hank (the surly family portrait photographer trying to get in on that Lorelai action). "Not you, too, Ray Romano!" Yes, him, too. No one is immune to the draw of the Bravermans. If any one of them had a chainsaw in their hand, this would be a horror series. And, let's go ahead and award the superlative now: Most Likely to Go on a Chainsaw Massacre and Dress in Found Skin goes to Adam Braverman. His niece sleeps with a horndog musician and he sees red. Imagine if something important actually happened.

The thing is, the reason we believe all these people want to be part of this clannish, codependent society is the Bravermans are a beacon of warmth and the modern family (more, I would argue, than the actual Modern Family). They may be dysfunctional and steeped in a theatrical chaos, but this is a family that loves each other and is there for each other and, when non-Braverman families fail (including our own), we can see how the Bravermans pick up the pieces together. When we think of having our own families, we think of the Bravermans on a good day, eating dinner at a giant table, talking and laughing, with a folksy soundtrack underneath. And that's enough to prevent Jonestown comparisons anyday.


– Dear Nick the Singer, you should probably know that men who get involved with Amber are soon to suffer universal consequences. Everything you hold dear is about to be threatened. That's just the Amber Curse. You don't care, you say? Oh, well. Amber: quick! To bed!

– Mark posing for Sarah's pictures was about 1,000 times less creepy than when Ezra posed for Aria's pictures in Pretty Little Liars. Then again, Mark and Sarah's relationship doesn't toe the line of statutory rape laws, either.

– Romano was great in this, as he has been in everything lately. I never liked Everybody Loves Raymond but it turns out I do kind of love him. He plays quick-witted and surly better than anyone on TV.

– Good episode for Max, letting Victor know he can't touch his lizard because he's adopted and responding to Haddie's heartfelt goodbye and "I love you" with a "thanks." Max is like that boyfriend who's just not into you except he's everyone's boyfriend and he's not into anyone.

– Big hand to whoever fixed Haddie's hair over the last five months of storyworld time. You're doing God's work.

– Good thing: Zeke's bestial grunting at the mention of tantric. Crushing thing: Drew reading the signs correctly about Amy and then, when Amy finally showed up on screen, he was proven right with her disinterest. Weird thing: Amber telling her uncle that she was "very willing" to sleep with Nick the Singer on her own recognisance.

– But the crushingest thing: Julia's revelation in bed one night, telling Joel, "I feel like I'm waiting to fall in love with our son." Just. Heartbreaking.

– With that, you get the sense that a couple of the people in the photo who won't be in there next year are Mark and Victor. See you at the reunion, suckers!

  • Comments (14)
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  • dandush33 Sep 29, 2012

    Victor will stay. Mark- awaiting his farewell.

  • EChid Sep 15, 2012

    I think Victor might last. The thing is, what this episode showed is that they are not treating him like their son at all...they are treating him like a guest. How is he supposed to respond to them as parents if they treat him like that, and how is she supposed to love him like a son if they don't treat him like one? Joel and Julia are my favourite couple on the show, and they are pretty damn close to perfect, but they aren't perfect and they will figure this thing out. Right now, they are messing it up a bit but not irreparably.

  • Yaspaa Sep 14, 2012

    Great to see Ray after his awesomeness in Men of a Certain. He's a really multifaceted actor. I thought ELR was a great sitcom too, some real talent in the cast.

  • 134sc Sep 14, 2012

    I really like Parenthood, but I gotta say I found this episode kinda boring. That's not to say there weren't any good moments cuz there were, just overall it didn't really do it for me.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed last season, so hopefully this season can deliver like the last. Looking forward to the next episode.

    Ps. Ray Ramano was very good. Pleasantly surprised by him.

    O and of course Mark won't last, seeing as Ramano is clearly being set up as the new love interest

  • bluemystique Sep 14, 2012

    This show makes me smile because very few shows currently on Tv truly nail the familial bond and dynamic like this show does. The Bravermans are dysfunction at its finest. Anyone who watches either wants to be a part of a family like that or have their own Braverman experiences. For me its both. LOVED the premiere.

    - it wasn't until he smiled that blindingly white smile that I realized that he is Paul Mcdowella former America Idol contestant. Amber isn't so bad but she has a knack for sleeping with inappropriate men and letting her personal and professional life collide.

    -Mark is desperate. I think he knows that their relationship is holding on by a thread. I still wouldn't have broken tradition for him though.

    -Ray Romano was awesome. He fit right in. Instantly enjoyed his character.

    -I heart Max. Always will. Anyone who has dealt with a kid with even the mildest cases of Aspergers can appreciate Max and his character.

    -yes on the haddie hair.

    -Zeke is the best grandfather on Tv and arguably my favorite Braverman. I always feel bad for Drew. Poor kid just never stands a chance half the time.

    - That was super crushing. I don't know if Victor will last but I'm glad Joel urged Julia to start treating the kid like family and set some boundaries.

  • janbay37 Sep 14, 2012

    I stopped watching this last season and decided to give it another try. Sometimes the characters are really annoying but I guess that's true in any family. First show of the season was pretty good so will keep watching it for awhile anyway.

  • karenmmoy Sep 13, 2012

    Pretty good episode. Would love to be in rehearsal when they practice talking over each other. I think something "bad" is going to happen to Haddie. Yes, I did like her hair.

  • rishabhpb Sep 13, 2012

    I don't watch this show but I just found out that Egg was part of it.

    Well done, Plant!

  • emmairis Sep 13, 2012

    Perfect! Perfect review!!! Finally! I loved it! Thank you so much for it, thank you! And Victor will be in next year's portrait, trust me he will, but Mark... not so sure.... xoxo

  • pcsjunior002 Sep 13, 2012

    How I love and have missed this show. And my family is VERY Bravermanish.

    -I didn't like Nick that much anyway.

    -Don't watch "Pretty Little Liars", but sure.

    -I hated "Everybody Loves Raymond". But he certainly did a fantastic job in this one.

    -Max is awesome. Enough said.

    -I like her hair now. I don't recall where it was last time.

    -Zeke can be pretty hilarious. Man I feel for Drew. It is so obvious she's pretty much done with him. Ouch. And I would never tell my Aunt/Uncle that I'm "very willing" to sleep with anyone. Because yes, that's kind of weird.

    -OUCH! Just pain there.

    -I'm pulling for Victor. But I seriously doubt Mark will remain by the next one.

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