"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?"