Aptly titled “The Waiting Room”, tonight’s episode of Parenthood had an uneasy feel of anticipation and dread. Anticipation for what could happen and dread over what to do when the time comes.
Despite literally picking up where the last episode left off with Sarah and Amber processing the news of Amber’s pregnancy, “Happy Birthday, Zeek” (directed again by Trilling, but written by one of the star writers of the show Sarah Watson) was a breather of an episode.
Wow. What a difference it makes to know that the next season you’re going into is the last. Whereas other seasons of Parenthood start off casually and spend their time getting into the groove of things, this time around the show just bursts out of the gate with an extreme close-up of Amber as she sees the ultrasound of her nearly 3 month baby.
After much deliberation and some intense, behind-the-scenes negotiations for the cast and crew (it was the last scripted show of the previous season to get renewed), Parenthood is coming back for a sixth and final 13 episode season.
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.
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.