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NBC (ended 2015)

Parenthood S05E22: "The Pontiac"


After spending most of Season 5 in what seemed like Parenthood's darkest timeline, it was s bit of a reprieve to end with such a sunny episode. Julia and Joel's separation, Max's school burdens, Victor getting left back, Amber getting left behind, and, to a certain extent, Zeek dealing with his mortality were just a few of the character crises that made this go-round feel like a bit more of a downer than the others. The way things were going, I was half-expecting Kristina's cancer to return. But the season ended on an upbeat note, and it was a relief. The cold open alone included something going right for Victor, Amber laughing with Ryan, and the triumphant return of Haddie.

Haddie feels like a distant memory for Parenthood. Aside from Hulu featuring her and Victor in its pre-show scheduling clip obligation, it's been so easy to forget that there's another Braverman daughter. She went off to Cornell, seemingly never to be heard from again unless Adam wanted to remind his family that he was paying blood money to the Ivy League. But she's back now, ready to shake things up in the Bay Area for the summer.

Warm and fuzzy as Parenthood is, the show isn't exactly known for its diversity. If Jasmine and Jabbar aren't part of any given episode (and they didn't appear in "The Pontiac" unless you count the final dinner montage), Victor stands alone against a sea of whitewash. Haddie returning with the blondest hair didn't really help matters. But she did bring home a lady-friend. A dear, dear lady-friend.


It would've been hard to milk melodrama out of introducing an element like Haddie's sexuality and her coming out to her parents within the same 45 minutes, even for someone as expert at making his audience weep madly like Jason Katims. I've learned to trust his instincts and the collective instincts of the people creating this show, since they've very rarely led us astray, outside of maybe the weird decline of Joel this season. But I couldn't help but worry about the theatrical "coming-out" that could've come to pass. The temptation seemed too great to make Haddie sob about whether her parents would still love her, or to have Kristina sob that she just wants Haddie to follow her heart while making the comparative handful of people watching Parenthood bawl into the sad air of their living rooms.

But my trust in Katims was validated. Maybe it's because this development can be regarded as Haddie experimenting (we've seen her fall hard for young men like Michael B. Jordan), maybe it's because the point being made is that sexuality is fluid and coming out shouldn't be a big deal, or maybe because, as Haddie put it, Adam and Kristina are so "Berkeley," but Haddie admitting that she's dating her friend Lauren was almost quotidian. The same things that normally would've been revealed over some wan, folksy song that'd swell into the emotional climax and eventual catharsis were stated more matter-of-factly and without any of the typical Parenthood pretense. It's also worth pointing out that Haddie never said that she's "gay" or a "lesbian," just that she's dating a girl. That she's non-committal by omission might've also sapped the potential power from any kind of dramatic dinner-table announcements.

Haddie has come a long way from being scorned by that boy Amber ended up sleeping with in a gazebo in high school. But not as far as Amber has come. There may be no single person on this show who people want to see happy more than Amber Holt, and we got a glimpse of that as she nursed Ryan back to health. That is until Cruella de Vil (a.k.a. Ryan's mom, played by Annabeth Gish) slithered into the room.


Parenthood isn't typically prone to stereotypes and cliches (I would venture to say that a major part of the show is constantly reminding us that books can't be judged by covers) but Ryan's mother showed up in the typical costume of Bad Mom: fake fur, chunky rings, and a smoking habit—even inside buildings! She clashed with Amber immediately, what with Bad Mom being the beacon of Ryan's terrible childhood and Amber being all that is good in the world.

Their hotel restaurant confrontation was the climax of that classic battle between woman and almost-monster-in-law where I was happy to see Amber stay strong and not meekly let Ryan's mother run her over. Everything that happened after that scene could've still happened if Amber had backed down from Bad Mom's withering glare (Amber finding Ryan alone in the hospital room to cry and then cry-sex him right in the bed), but she held firm, and that's a trueness to character that deserves mention. She was also responsible for the episode's big moment of heartstring-plucking as she processed the news that Ryan was going back to Wyoming with his mother (in a scene that was like the worst product placement ever for Wyoming tourism—Parenthood made that place sound like a nightmare), followed by the aforementioned cry-sexing and the quickest lovemaking-to-am-I-pregnant? turnaround I've ever seen. A woman knows, I suppose.

Honestly, the stuff with Ryan was probably the only darkness left to deal with this season. Victor won an essay contest (?), Camille and Zeek moved out of the old compound, Drew got the GTO (??), and Joel and Julia made up. Well, sort of. Joel put his hand on Julia's hand, which is more than he's done since trying to thrill his family with his sad bachelor pad. If this sounds sum-uppy, it's because the end of this episode sure felt that way.


Parenthood hasn't yet been picked up for a sixth season and, with the show limping from year to year, there's always the fear that this will be the one in which NBC finally drops the ax. This is an enormous cast full of some of the brightest (and probably most expensive) actors on television. It's not like this show ever needs a lot of special effects or exotic locations, but it must be hard to keep all these people together for little pay-off, ratings-wise.

So the last scene of the episode—which kicked off with a montage of everyone in the Braverman clan preparing the yard for a dinner party and whispering "lesbian lesbian lesbian" to each other—bookended the series, just in case. The series began with a long-table dinner scene that was incorporated into the opening, and it may have ended with a very similar scene, Adam at the head of the table this time, and everyone toasting to something. "Togetherness" probably. Or six seasons and a movie. I don't know.

The point is, if "The Pontiac" turns out to be a series finale, that would be fine. Parenthood doesn't need a giant climax or all of its loose ends to be wrapped up. The show is about humans who will just go on with their lives even when we're not spying on them. That's what this show kind of feels like. We dropped in, started watching from afar, and when we go, we can absolutely imagine these characters still carrying on without us. There is no end with them. It'll be sad to see this show go, either now or in the future. But if it ends just like it did here, that'll be all right.


NOTES


– Hank really had a solid season. The "sticking around" phrase that was tossed out over and over again was clearly a way to contrast him with Seth, even though both of Sarah's children are grown, so that when you think about it for a couple more seconds, it kind of falls flat. But Hank as a character developed so much that the hug from Amber was heartwarming, and the conversation in the car about the "tomato" in the room was heartbreaking. Sarah making the decision to go for it with Hank was almost anticlimactic because, yeah, of course you should try again with this guy. I mean, he's seeing a children's therapist for crying out loud just to make himself better for you. The only problem is that there's a humanitarian, award-winning doctor who's got to come home eventually. It's better for Hank if NBC just ends the series now.

– Adam and Crosby sliding down the stairs on cookie sheets and mattresses with football helmets. That could've been longer. Like 10 minutes longer. If NBC could produce a Jackass-style behind-the-scenes featurette of that scene, I'd appreciate it.

– Competing with Adam and Crosby was the scene with Max trying on suits. Kristina was funny ("Can you explain … me … buddy"), but I'm definitely going to start calling a person who tailors a "tailor-person." Because he's a tailor. And a person. Don't prick me.


– With his comments about the lucky dollar, did Drew just compare Zeek to Scrooge McDuck?

– Adam taking a moment to piece it all together that this girl in his kitchen who "loves" his daughter is also "loving" on his daughter: priceless.

– How does Natalie come running out of her house in Portland and not want to at least take a look at the amazing car that Drew just rolled up in?


What'd you think of Parenthood's Season 5 finale?


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