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

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!

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