Editor’s Note: Parenthood Season 5 premieres tonight 10PM ET.
Crosby, Jasmine, Jabbar: Moving onto the other “screw-up” of the 4 Braverman siblings, Crosby is the one adult character of the series that has gone through the biggest transformation. Starting off as a man child who worked as a recording engineer while living on a houseboat, this is a guy who was still doing his laundry at his parents place and sleeping through a parade of women. In the pilot, one of his ex-girlfriend’s, a black dancer named Jasmine (Joy Bryant) comes to him and tells him that he has a five year old son named Jabbar (Tyree Brown). This completely up-ends Crosby life, and since then he has gone from the irresponsible free spirit of the siblings to a married businessman with another child on the way. But this path to maturity was not easy. Far from it. While season 1 focused on Crosby learning how to be a responsible parent, Season 2 was when the shit hit the fan. Where the relationship problems he had with Jasmine culminated in him sleeping with Gabby, Max’s behaviour therapist, and nearly losing everything. Season 3 was a more tempered Crosby who had brokered a peace with Jasmine so that he could still be in his son’s life, while he also went into business with Adam in restoring The Luncheonette, a legendary recording studio in the San Francisco Bay area. By the end of the season, not only were Jasmine and him on good terms, they actually got married in the season finale. And by Season 4, they had settled into married life, while still coming up against issues that were out of his depth. One of these episodes was “The Talk”, where after Jabbar hears the term “nigga” in the recording studio, Jasmine has to finally sit down and tell him where the word comes from and by extension African American history and racism. And while its emotional power comes from the direct nature of the scene’s dialogue, it also comes from Crosby’s painful realization that as a white dude, there are things that his son will go through that he just simply can’t relate to.
Between the surprising nuance that Dax brings to the role of Crosby to the dynamic between him, Jasmine and Jabbar, as well as between him and Adam, one of the key relationships of the series, this branch of the Braverman tree is one that consistently bears delicious fruit.
Julia, Joel, Sydney, Victor: And finally, we get to the youngest sibling of the Braverman clan, Julia Braverman-Graham (Erika Christensen). If Adam was the prodigal son, then Julia was the Type-A, good girl of the quartet. And given her past roles in Traffic and another highly underrated family ensemble The Upside of Anger, there’s no reason not to have high expectations for her and her character. Already a successful corporate lawyer by the time she and her contractor husband Joel (Sam Jaeger) had their daughter Sydney (Savannah Paige Rae), their family dynamic was that of Julia being the breadwinner as Joel, put out of work by the recession, became the stay-at-home dad taking care of their little girl. Of the 4 different family units on the show, this was the one early on that was the most problematic. Probably the weakest storyline in the 1st season was Julia’s “rivalry” with another mom at Sydney’s school who seemed to be putting the moves on her husband. And while that development was mercifully short, the dramatic stakes that Julia and Joel dealt with in raising Sydney seemed pretty low key in comparison to Max’s Aspbergers, Amber’s snotty, rebellious nature and Crosby’s sudden role reversal to a responsible parent. But it wasn’t until season 3 that their corner of the show began to shine. After they decided in the previous season that they wanted another child, but found out that Julia can’t get pregnant, they decide to go the adoption route. This lead to Julia striking up a relationship with Zoe (Rosa Salazar), the coffee girl working at Julia’s law firm who was planning on giving up her baby for adoption. While this plotline started off a bit rocky, it ended up being one of the best ones of an already stellar season 3. Where the relationship between Julia and Zoe moved beyond that of adopting/birth mother to a genuine love and friendship as well as some tension as Julia pushed to better Zoe’s life and education even though she never asked for that help. This culminates beautifully in “Remember Me, I’m The One Who Loves You” when after Zoe tells Julia she loves her during labor, a completely silent exchange of looks between the two women, followed by a sobbing breakdown in an empty hospital room conveys the sadly inevitable outcome of that scenario.
After signing up for the “sky baby” option at the adoption agency, this lead to the introduction of Victor (Xolo Mariduena), a nine year old Latino kid whose mom got incarcerated and who waved her parental rights so that he wouldn’t end up in the foster system. This lead to a role reversal in the family as Joel became the foreman of a construction crew and Julia finally buckled under the pressure and became the stay at home parent. And while Victor at first enjoyed being a part of the Graham family, when it dawned on him that this wasn’t a vacation to the good side of town courtesy of a well off white family but a new life without his mom, he pushed back, going so far as to actually call the cops on Julia and Joel. This lead to a rare scene between Julia and Crosby as she finally confessed her concerns about not being a good enough person to accept Victor as her own son to the person with an unexpectedly insightful perspective for the situation.
Hopefully, now that Victor is officially by law a member of the Graham household, we can see him become a more integrated part of the family. Where he and Sydney aren’t rivals but partners in crime. And that the introduction of Sonya Walger (aka. Penny from Lost) as an architect working alongside Joel on a two year project won’t be a rehash of the aforementioned season 1 plotline of “Julia feels insecure about a woman next to Joel”. These characters have grown a lot in the last 2 years. It would be a shame for them to regress.
Zeek, Camille: And finally, we get to the grandparents of the show, Zeek and Camille Braverman, played by Craig T. Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia. These are often the most thankless roles of an ensemble family drama, since they are truly supporting roles. Very rarely do they get their own subplots, and when they do it’s usually Zeek getting the meatier stuff since he’s the more dynamic of the characters, being an odd hybrid of aged hippie and angry Vietnam vet. And of course when you have Craig T. Nelson in the role, there is no holding back. Ranging from essentially playing himself in his daughter’s play to barking orders and inserting himself into his children’s lives, Nelson goes at it with gusto. And just like how Orson Welles own the phrase “old man”, no one says the word “Granddaughter” with the same sense of ownership like Nelson.
While most of the plotlines that Zeek and Camille were given was in season 1 when there was a temporary rift between the two, the biggest stand-out episode for Zeek was in the season 3 episode “Road Trip”. Just as the road trip episode in Big Love was generally considered to be the best episode of the entire series, this episode (directed by Oscar winner Jessica Yu who brought her documentary filmmaking background to give the episode a more intimate feel to it) is also considered to be the best episode of the series, despite having practically next to no connection with any of the season long story arcs. The focus was on Zeek getting everyone to drop everything and to make a 2 day drive north to Bakersfield to see Blanche, Zeek’s mom, on her 86th birthday. Thus in one episode we actually see 4 generations of Braverman all together. And given the horror stories we hear from the various family members of how difficult a woman she was to all of them and especially to Zeek (as well as the inevitable friction and conflict that comes with organizing a 4 vehicle caravan of a dozen semi-coerced family members), you half expect the episode to play out like a similar episode in season 3 of Louie where the elderly person they visit reveals themselves to be horribly racist. Thankfully Parenthood doesn’t play that card but focuses on Zeek and how even as a retired patriarch with four kids and at the time seven grandchildren, he still longs for the approval of his mother.
For the rest of the time, Zeek and Camille are supporting roles who sometimes intertwine with other characters journeys. Such as in season 4 where Amber’s boyfriend Ryan was introduced via Zeek as a new member of the local veterans center looking for a job. This lead to Zeek taking Ryan under his wing after he helps Zeek with his sprinkler system.
While they are the grandparents, the show has done a fantastic job at portraying them as actual people. Of a couple who have spent their lives together, but who are still working on their relationship. While I don’t think we’ll be getting into Amour territory with them anytime soon, it’s still nice to see these small intimate moments between the two of them and to see that they do exist outside of their relevance to whatever is going on in their children’s and grandchildren’s lives.
And that in a nutshell is Parenthood so far. I hope this recap is enough for you to check out season 5 while also getting you interested in binge watching the previous 4 seasons. Season 1 is a little shaky since it was the show trying to establish its juggling act of tone and character. But by the latter half of the 2nd season onwards, there is a gradual increase in quality, culminating in Kristina’s breast cancer story arc that puts it on the same level as anything on Mad Men, Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. And while it does get a tad bit cheesy at times (particularly during some of the season finales with the entire extended family rallying around a single member’s accomplishment), you’re OK with it since the show had worked its hardest to earn those moments. Which is another in a long list of reasons why this show deserves your attention and respect. I hope to see you guys get involved as much as I do as I recap season 5 of this incredible series.