Parenthood "Left Field" Review: Two Minutes Can Change Everything

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Parenthood S04E02: "Left Field"

"For the next 12 months, I want you to behold the breast of knowledge, thrust yourself upon it, and SUCK."

This episode was dirrrrrrrrrrty.

After reading (and agreeing) with Cory Barker's assessment of Parenthood in his feature on shows that deserve better timeslots, this week I couldn't help but notice the characters taking advantage of being on at 10pm by sexing it up a little. And a little on this show means a lot.

It all started with that quote from Zeek about leaping onto breasts and sucking. Without context, it's a statement that could be more maternal than sexual and maybe I just have a mind descended from pilgrims who think breasts are dirty. But, starting with the last year's season finale, Drew is a sexual being, as we saw with his awkward-but-effective moves to bed Amy. Combine that with the Now-Distant Amy issue hanging over him like a dark cloud, the episode opening with Crosby and Jasmine doing it on the kitchen floor, and the creepy old man tone in which Zeek delivered that line (Sarah even addressed it as gross); everything points to it being sexual. And, therefore, out of place.

In fact, a lot of the innuendo (and not so subtle mentioning of sex) was weirdly out of place in the episode. It wasn't terribly explicit, but this is not a show that deals flippantly with sex. Unless it's "lovemaking" between consensual, married adults, it's usually a big deal and often leads to drama/catastrophe. Let's review:

– Sarah sleeps with an old high school boyfriend (Drew is crushed)
– Sarah sleeps with Amber's high school teacher (Amber is crushed)
– Haddie (eventually) sleeps with the slightly older, African-American counselor at the homeless shelter (Adam and Kristina are crushed)
– Crosby sleeps with Max's behavior therapist (essentially a Braverman apocalypse)
– Adam gets kissed by a hot receptionist (Kristina is crushed—you have to grade them on a curve)
– Adam and Kristina sleep together (a child is born)

But this season has made it a point to bring up sex as a less destructive force. In the premiere, Amber slept with that guy from American Idol and Adam went into freak-out mode. That was business as usual. But Amber spun sex differently for him later, saying that she's mature enough to handle it and that not every dalliance with grown-up naked time needs to end in emotional destruction. It was an awkward conversation where she dropped the phrase "very willing" but important all the same.

I applaud the show for being more open and realistic about sex, particularly among the kids that are becoming all growns up. It's one of the show's strengths that we actually see the teenagers grow into adults (sometimes maturing faster than their parents) and become fuller, more realized characters.

That being said, sex brought up by a Braverman seems dirtier than sex brought up by anyone else. Drew said he got a spam text about penis enlargement and I was like WHOA. Did Drew just say penis? PENIS? In front of God and everyone? It's a word that would be pedestrian on any other show but, because we deal so infrequently with Parenthood working blue, smaller forays into even the most banal adult situations feel racy.

Another example is the deal Adam and Kristina struck when agreeing to get the purebreed retriever. (I want to note here that I'm not often on Adam's side, but I was squarely with him on the matter of getting a $1,200 dog from those psychopaths; that would never be a good idea or investment, particularly when the dog would be for an autistic prima donna and a soon-to-be toddler. Toddlers are world-renowned as adorable dog torturers.) Kristina made the rookie mistake of saying "anything" was on the table for her end of the bargain, which Adam quickly related to Funkytown (their unsubtle name for scheduled doing-it). She agreed to his demand, but with the condition that "anything" does not include that "thing you like to do." What thing is so offensive that Kristina can't even bring herself to perform it? What kind of fetish is Adam into? Is it feet? Is that why he worked at the shoe place? It's all coming together.

Maybe Crosby and Jasmine having sex everywhere isn't a big deal (though his randiness seems to be turned up to 11 in this episode), and Amber saying she really likes "Funkytown" isn't weird (it's a catchy song), but Adam being into something so kinky, so depraved, that Kristina not only can't name it but also refuses to do it—you have to admit that it's a pretty smutty in a series dealing mostly with principle, loyalty, family, and modern morality.

But here's where things gets interesting. The entire episode was, more or less, lighthearted. While the dog thing caused some drama and Drew's break-up was sad, both were rather small in the long run (Hank made sure that Drew was okay—because he's the best). Julia and Joel's storyline was sweet but filler. Crosby's storyline was like a drawn-out episode of King of Queens except the characters were better looking. But the lighthearted fare was a red herring. In what could have been just a breather episode after the season premiere, Kristina got a breast exam and, like you would expect from a mammogram that happens two minutes before the end of an episode, received some bad news.

From such a light installment that literally had "Funkytown" in its soundtrack, this episode ended with some surprising darkness that came out of left field (OMG that's the title!). Just like how blue language on this show is shocking, an episode where everything is nonchalant and wraps up so neatly has the making of a story arc that could be long-running and emotionally devastating. It's jarring.

I'm not sure if I think this is an interesting place to take Kristina or if this is just Emmy bait, but how it arrived is at least interesting, no?


NOTES


– The whole Victor storyline is sweet. It's good to humanize Julia in a way that she isn't a sadsack. I was a little disappointed with her during the Zoe saga. I very much enjoyed her finding the right solution as a mother instead of relying on Joel's vagina to figure it out for her. Julia's face when Joel told her she was amazing: priceless reaction.

– Along those same lines, Victor obviously has no respect for Joel. Kid is straight-up playing video games all day, not even lying down with his poor tummy, and then gets on the phone with Julia like she's a shift boss at the factory, fake sick voice and everything. Joel is supposed to be his dad, right? Where's his control in that situation?

– So Amy went away to summer camp and hooked up with another dude in a "nothing serious" kind of way. I feel bad for Drew since that's pretty slutacious behavior. Mostly because I'm not entirely sure what that would mean on this show (specifically this episode). Between The CW and ABC Family, I understand that "nothing serious" could be anything from chaste pining to BDSM.

– Hank continues to be the best thing that ever happened to this show. He's like a logical voice that has been mistakenly cast on The Real World. In this world of chaos, he's the only person who has any kind of perspective. "It's okay to be sad." How great is that for Drew? What troubles me is that his advice throughout, particularly with respect to sleeping with Amy's best friend to do it to her before she does it to him, means that there are cracks starting to form. Cracks of sensitivity. Cracks of being a sadsack. Remember how Zoe used to be awesome before she started hanging out with a Braverman? They're going to ruin Hank, too. But until then, we're going to get gold like when Hank tries the brownies and denies Sarah's Lorelai-like eyebrow flicks with an, "Honestly? Mediocre. Almost. But the thought, you had the thought in there." It's gold, you guys. GOLD.

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