1/2/14, 10 PM, NBC
The episodes the show comes back with after the holidays are some of the best episodes of the season. Two years ago, we had “Road Trip” a stand-alone episode that became one of the most beloved episodes of the series. And this time last year, we had “Keep on Rowing”, which had one of the most memorable openings for an episode in which a girls night out ended with Kristina shaving her head due to the chemotherapy. For whatever reason, the show always feels that they need to burst out of the gate with their best stuff in the New Year. And while “Promises” doesn’t quite hit that dramatic high of the previously mentioned episodes, it’s still an incredibly strong episode that hints at what this season will achieve now that the election plotline is in the past, never to be mentioned again.
We pick up exactly where we left off in the last episode with Amy reconnecting with Drew over a card game until Natalie walks in on them. This is actually the most minor plotline of the episode, so I might as well get it out of the way. While Amy is visiting from her university, she and Natalie hang out with Drew caught in the middle. Later on Amy admits to Drew that she misses him and then after an awkward talk in the co-ed bathroom, Amy decides that she wants to stay a bit longer. What this means for Drew, I’m not exactly sure, so I’m holding off judgement on this new development.
Moving onto one of the two big plotlines for this episode, we return to the most unlikely of pairings we’ve seen so far this season, Hank and Max. After Hank tells Max that he can’t develop his pictures due to an important last minute shoot, Max has one of his meltdowns since he thinks that Hank broke a promise to him. After following Max all the way back to Adam and Kristina’s (“Son of a bitch, he’s fast!”), Adam comes by to the studio to give Hank a book on Asperger’s to help him deal with Max in the future. But Hank’s involvement with the book goes from casual to obsessive as, to paraphrase Hank, he’s reading less about Max and more about himself. The scene in which he barges in on Sarah to confess his concern about whether or not he himself has Asperger’s and if that’s the reason why his life is in such a mess is not only my favorite Hank moment, but probably the best bit of acting from Ray Romano. I have never seen an episode of either Everybody Loves Raymond or Men of A Certain Age, so I have nothing to compare Romano’s acting against, but in this episode, the Henchman 24 jokes faded away and all that remains was a middle aged man having an epiphany that scares him. And while Sarah assures him that’s he’s not that much like Max, and Hank and Max do make up by the end of the ep, this is something that will probably stay with Hank for a long time and hopefully make a character that some viewers see with distain gain some actual sympathy with.
The other big plotline is the continuing saga of Julia and Joel’s marriage coming apart, which now has Adam and Crosby in the mix as well. After avoiding Ed’s e-mails and phone calls after the kiss they shared in the previous episode, Julia goes to Adam for advice on what to do. After telling Julia about the former assistant that kissed him two seasons ago, he tells her that what she’s feeling for Ed is only in relation to how bad things are with her and Joel and that she needs to focus on their marriage. But then after the commercial break, Adam tells Crosby about Julia and Joel and asks him to keep an eye on her during a silent auction fundraiser that they are going to. At said silent auction, Julia tries her best to avoid Ed, but he drunkenly confronts her about her avoiding him. Joel steps in and after a heated argument, he pushes Ed down, telling him to stay away from his wife. And after Joel point blank asks Julia if she’s having an affair with him, he tells her to drive herself home as he leaves to get a cab. And with next week’s episode showing Julia telling Joel about the kiss, this episode is mere set-up for the devastation that is surely to come.
As for the remaining plotlines, we have Sarah being invited by Carl, the tenant she slept with last week asking her to be his plus one at a $1000/plate social function he was invited to. And after trying out Jasmine’s dresses (in another scene this season that has two side characters having more dialogue with each other in one scene than in the previous 4 seasons combined), Sarah finds out that Carl is in fact a doctor (a neonatologist to be exact) and is the chairman of a big medical charity and not the middle aged loser he makes himself out to be. It’s nice, but I’m still waiting on Sarah dealing with Amber, who was surprisingly M.I.A. this episode after the previous episodes bombshell. But finally, we get back to Zeek who is in full About Schmidt mode. I’m guessing whoever is on the rotation of kids coming to check in on him missed out. But he at least is smart enough to shave, comb his hair and put on a clean shirt when he Skype’s with Camille, who wants to stay another week so that she could paint at a villa. And after going to a local diner, he strikes up a friendship with Glenn Rockford aka. “Rocky” played by veteran character actor Paul Dooley. After a cantankerous start, what with Zeek a 49’ers Army guy and Rocky a Cowboy’s fan and former Navy man, they end up as new friends. And after finding out about Camille in Italy, Rocky tells Zeek that as a widower who would’ve booked two 1st class tickets and gotten to the airport ahead of his wife if he was in that situation. This leads to a reluctant Zeek e-mailing Camille to let her know that she can stay for another week. While it may not have the emotional fireworks of Julia and Joel’s marriage coming apart or Amber getting engaged, this is still my favorite plotline of the season so far. And for a character that’s usually so loud and boisterous, seeing Craig T. Nelson at the computer internalizing his loneliness and regret is a thing of beauty.
- Best Line(s) of the Episode: “Typical Army. Can’t see the forest for the trees.” Rocky giving his version of marriage advice to Zeek.
- “Hey. Look at that. London pumps.” ; “Yeah. It’s weird that you know that.” Hank to Adam after Adam notices what Hank is taking pictures of. Since Adam is so straight-laced, if he did have a fetish it would probably be the least kinky of them all.