"The bad thing is already happening."
So we're all in agreement that Mae Whitman just played another character who convinced a kid without a chance in hell of winning to run for student body president, right? Way to go, Egg!
Do you feel like Max is starting to become a caricature? As this season progresses, it's been getting harder to tell if his tantrums are the results of his autistic perspective or if he's just a big baby. Obviously, I don't need every week to be a very special episode where Max is the center of attention, but freaking out about the vending machine (and, specifically, Skittles) sounds more like a diva who didn't get everything on her rider. I love Max to pieces, but with the focus shifted away from him to Kristina in that household, Parenthood is quick to turn to the fits for either comic relief or just plain relief.
I say relief because the current A-story is so terribly painful (in a good way) and Monica Potter is killing it right now. Last week I wasn't sure if this storyline was a good idea. This show exhibits what my buddy Noel calls "grief porn"—that is, Parenthood is a perfect blend of serious obstacles mixed with melodrama and characters that earn our empathy. So that's why you feel like you have dust in your eye every week. Or that you're cutting onions. Whatever you tell yourself.
The point is, I was a little afraid this would be too much. The family has brushed so often with emotional disasters in three years and cancer is almost like one of those topics people throw out there when they can't think of anything else. "We've done autism and homelessness and alcoholism. We've done engagements and splitting up and the Braverman Apocalypse. What's next?" "Well, there's always cancer." And everyone throws garbage at that writer.
That's what I felt. What I feel now is that Kristina, who has really ramped up in the last half-season or so, has been given a chance to take center stage, and she has done so beautifully. The scene where she pulled down her robe and looked at herself in the mirror, eyes welling up? I must have had an inflammation in my tear gland right then. Powerful stuff.
Plus, we can trust Parenthood with all the facets of the issue. It's not just going to be Kristina scared for an episode or two and then, pop, the cancer comes out and we move onto the next thing. Bravermans can't deal with things that way; everything they do has to be infected. I bash Adam a lot because I think he's the worst Braverman, but this week really identified the nuance of Adam's desire to simultaneously fix everything and do the right thing. It's a common issue of television marriages, "I don't want a solution, I just want you to listen," but it fits with Adam, who is Mr. Protector McFix-It, to only want to quickly find a solution and whisk his wife through the process rather than actually seeing that, in the time it takes to get into the process, she's understandably flooded with emotions and thoughts of mortality. Adam has to learn that not everyone takes solace in knowing they're doing something the right way and that everything else is out of their control. This is scary.
Which is what made the rest of the episode so interesting. Much in the same way that last week's episode was a little jokey, a little superficial, this week's episode was rife with sitcom fodder, too. From Max's vending-machine tirades to Zeek getting his old man license to Sarah constantly mentioning her annoying boss to Amber trying to clean up the burned coffee smell. They all had their Braverman twist (Max's obsession pushed his only friend away; Zeek's run-in with the law made him face his own age and mortality; Hank is clearly always on Sarah's mind, to Mark's chagrin; and Amber trying to please Adam came with a side of insecurity and feelings of inadequacy) but they are not nearly as heavy as what Adam and Kristina are going through. Or maybe that's just the Cancer Effect.
Of the four other stories, Sarah's was the most intruiging to me. The writers are slow-playing that hand despite the fact that everyone watching knows what's going on. Mark insisting on being in the picture was nothing but doom for him. We've already seen that Hank is at least attracted to Sarah (from his awesome conversation with Max) and she can't do anything but talk about him, so how long are we going to wait for Hank to make a move and for Sarah to have to make a decision? Granted, it's only been three episodes but he's also already been vulnerable in front of her (a little, about his failed marriage). It's only a matter of time before Sarah worms her way in and converts him to a Braverman. Like a virus.
So while Sarah wandered toward inevitable philandering, Max decided to run for student body president (find a blank tape to record your campaign video on, Max), and Zeek crushed the driving exam, they also all faced distractions they'll have to shrug off in order to move on. Sarah needs to put the Hank thoughts away for suspicious Mark. Max needs to cool it on the vending machines in order to keep his friend. And Zeek has to take solace in his good test score to distract him from feeling old.
Zeek dealing with his mortality provided one of the best shots in the episode that wasn't on Monica Potter or Mae Whitman. When Adam called him out on his heart flutter, Zeek turned to Adam and said, "I'm gonna be all right." Then, turning to look out into the night, he continued, "Then again you never know what's going to happen, do you?" Peter Krause has never looked more like a frightened child than he did standing next to a stone-faced Craig T. Nelson staring into the dark and considering the rest of his life. Adam is the kind of character who would bury himself in the minutiae of the cancer-curing process rather than actually face the real possibility of losing his wife. And possibly having to become Max's sole Skittles dealer.
– Max needs a reality check on what's fair. He really had to jump through some logistical hoops to find injustice regarding a hypothetical vending machine that no one in his present had access to.
– Also: who knew Max Braverman and Marshawn Lynch had so much in common?
– Gypsy (from Gilmore Girls) and Woody (from Psych) in the same episode? Two of my favorite side characters coming by for a visit. Now we just need Kirk.
– Micah is in a wheelchair AND he's Max's best friend? What'd this kid do to deserve such a crappy hand dealt to him?
– It makes perfect sense that Amber is the first family member to know about Kristina. She's the most trustworthy, emotionally stable, understanding person in the Braverman bunch. It's a wonder that she's not adopted (Season 5 storyline: switched at birth?). Also: Mae Whitman put in another amazing performance. This kid consistently makes my eyes sweaty every week.
– Yes, every way of explaining away crying I've used is from "I'm Not Crying" by Flight of the Conchords. Ha. Ha. Ha-ha. Haaaaaaaaa.
– If Kristina did stay with Dr Hariana, how long do you think it would take before Crosby created Braverman Apocalypse II: Oncologist Boogaloo?
– What's the over/under on the number of episodes before Sarah has to make that "important decision?"
– Will Emmy voters remember Monica Potter next summer? They seem to forget all about Mae Whitman.
– How involved in Max's campaign will Kristina be after being restricted by Haddie for hers?
– Do you think the Braverman siblings were blowing the Zeek situation out of proportion?