As an avid film geek (and occasional critic), it is always best to go into a film with zero expectations. Going in expecting either the best or the worst the filmmakers involved have to offer can sometimes come back to bite you in the ass. This isn’t necessarily the case here, but if you go in expecting one thing but getting something else that’s done fairly well, you …
Author Luke Annand
Even though this is from Victor’s prize winning essay (titled “The Pontiac”, which is where the finale gets its title from) about him working on Zeke’s GTO in relation to Joel and Julia’s marriage falling apart, this quote could be easily talking about season 5 of Parenthood as a whole. It’s an unfortunate trend that happens especially on network TV where a show’s best season is often followed by its worst. And as both a fan of the show and as someone who volunteered to recap the episodes this season, this was a tough one to sit through. Between the boondoggle that was Kristina running for mayor for half the season followed by her starting a charter school (which in comparison was less awful, but no less outlandish), Joel’s unwillingness to fight to keep his and Julia’s marriage together and the back and forth between Sarah and Hank as well as Drew’s love life in college, you could sense that after two seasons of smaller and more contained runs, the 22 episode order (along with Katims working on the About a Boy series) ended up being a burden rather than a blessing for the writing staff. But even amidst this rough year, there were some good moments and great plotlines. If last year was Kristina’s year, then this year was Zeke and Camille’s. But we’ll get to them later.
Heading towards the finish line of what was the uneven season 5 of Parenthood, tonight’s episode “I’m Still Here”, written by newcomers Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson, gave Zeke and Camille their first break for the season and gave everyone else the opportunity to pair off and resolve most of the season long plotlines as well as bring some much needed laughs and self-reflection. After last week’s episode whose title was literal, this was a nice ramp up to the season finale.
After three stellar episodes in a row, this week’s episode, “Cold Feet,” not only does the double meaning of the title better than last week’s episode, but was also a literal interpretation of where the season is at before the big finale. The episodes revisits a bunch of the more problematic plotlines of the season while giving the tiniest of lip service to the season long plotlines that actually do work. Thus it gives the episode a feeling of hesitation, which is disappointing given the emotional roller coaster of the last three weeks.
Noah is a difficult film to talk about. But then again, Darren Aronofsky has never taken the easy route with any of his films. Whether it be tackling math equations, drug addiction, eternal recurrence across the cosmos, a washed up wrestler seeking redemption or a mentally fragile ballerina obsessed with perfection, every single one of these films is a passion project that have taken very long times to get made. In every cut with his editors (in this case with Andrew Weisblum), every shot framed by frequent collaborator Matthew Libatique, every note composed by Clint Mansell and every performance he’s gotten out of his incredible casts, you can always tell that he’s going for broke. That he is determined to push the medium of film as far as possible to tell his stories of broken souls who push their obsession to the brink (and in some cases over) of their demises. And it shows. Whereas the works of equally popular auteur filmmakers like P.T. Anderson and Christopher Nolan more often leave me with a sense of alienated respect, Aronofsky’s films make me feel like I need a cigarette afterwards. And I don’t smoke.
I’ve always liked it when shows give their episode titles double meanings. That rather than just be generic placeholders or puns/inside jokes for the writers, that they actually mean something in relation to the plot, as well as any subtle themes that are going on in the episode. Parenthood straddles that. Most often the episode titles are either a phrase uttered in the episode or in one case in season 2 a flat out spoiler, but often we get a title that plays as a tip to the subtle themes in play. Tonight’s episode, written by Katims himself, is one of those. “Fraud Alert” not only plays into the ongoing crumbling of Julia and Joel’s marriage, but also to the rest of the plotlines as the various characters deal with fraudulence in one way or another.
Like the mysterious buyer wanting to buy Zeke and Camille’s house, tonight’s episode “The Offer” upped the ante in terms of the stakes of each of the plots that have been going on in the latter half of the season. As we head toward the final four episodes of the season, we see the various storylines if not reach a climax, then at least get close to a boiling point. One climax in particular actually accomplishes something the show hasn’t done since Adam watched Kristina’s video to the kids on her laptop in the ICU back in season 4, but we’ll get to that later.
After last week’s middle of the road episode, “Limbo” is an episode that points the remainder of the season back in the right direction. We see the tensions from the individual plotlines that have been running through the latter half of the season start to coalesce, or at least bump up against each other, as well as a turning point in one of the bigger plotlines of this season that would have been powerful if the NBC promo department didn’t feel the need to spoil it. Tonight’s episode was written by Jessica Goldberg, a playwright who is one of the new writers who joined this season. Between this episode, as well as “Let’s Be Mad Together” and “Jump Ball”, it’s clear that she’s the best new addition to the writing staff and a key writer should the series get a sixth season.
Despite the episode’s title (“The Enchanting Mr. Knight”) and the NBC promotional department declaring this a “special episode”, this is an episode that I would describe as more “blah” than amazing. After last week’s episode that dealt with Julia on her own and the siblings coming to her emotional rescue, tonight’s episode felt more like the series was spinning its wheels. Or at least inching ahead ever so slightly as it set up for the final six episodes of the season in which a lot has to go down. We only have two really noteworthy scenes that makes the episode stand out, one of which was just a more intense repeat of a scene from last week.
After little over a month on hiatus due to the Sochi Winter Olympics, as well as almost 4 years to the day since the show debuted, Parenthood returns with the episode “Just Like At Home”. After Julia’s heartbreaking admission ending the previous episode, this week’s episode deals with the idea of home and what qualifies as one. We open with a scene that any child of divorce will recognize. Of the one parent who had moved out coming to pick up the kids for the weekend, the fleeting awkward interaction between the estranged couple and then the almost deafening silence of Julia alone in a cavernous house with nothing but time on her hands. Over at Joel’s apartment (which is surprisingly not as pathetic as you’d imagine it would be), the situation isn’t much better. Victor keeps hearing the grind and whirring of the elevator, and Sydney is not impressed with Joel’s purchase of a rainbow loom. “I don’t play with that anymore. I’m 10 now.” And even with Adam and Sarah calling Julia to make her feel better, Julia is up all night and has to lay in Sydney’s bed in order to get some sleep. This then leads into two scenes that have the feeling of being bathed in warm sunlight. The first one being first Sarah, then Crosby and then finally Adam coming over to boost Julia’s spirits, complete with Adam and Crosby, two 40-something brothers, break dancing to Talking Heads’ “Burning Down The House”. The second being the final scene of the episode as Victor wakes up due to the elevator, swipes Joel’s phone, calls Julia and asks her to talk to him. As she tells him about how the creaks in the stairs scared her and Crosby and a childhood trap involving dental floss across the top of the stairs and Zeek breaking his nose, she goes to check on Sarah, Crosby and Adam who are sleeping over and actually tucks them in. Seeing the Braverman siblings together is one of the most joyous things to see on network TV now. And after the emotional turmoil of the season on Julia’s part, it’s these moments that remind us why we love the show in the first place.