Review of “Left Field”- Aired 9/18/12

Some Hard Times Ahead for the Bravermans

Last night’s episode of Parenthood, the second in the series’ fourth season, solidified for me how much I love that show. Really, there is no other show on television right now that so intimately and accurately captures the life of a regular, all-American family. Jason Katims and crew manage to keep the plot lines and characters grounded and safe from soap operatic melodrama. Sure, there’s some cheating, some heartbreak, some outbursts, and some life-threatening situations, but the writers avoid the sensationalism and over-the-top scenarios that often plague(d) shows like 90210, One Tree Hill, Desperate Housewives, and Parenthood’s most comparable series (and, admittedly, one of my favorites), Brothers & Sisters.

In “Left Field,” we saw the Bravermans working their way through some rough times. Kristina (Monica Potter) and Adam (Peter Krause) were really feeling Haddie’s (Sara Ramos) absence with her having gone off to college, and Kristina thought she might find some comfort and less “downtime” in raising a brand new puppy. Word of this got out to Max (Max Burkholder, who never ceases to amaze me with his incredible talent), who  quickly became dead-set on turning that “maybe” into a “yes”—with no ifs, ands, or buts. Meanwhile, Drew (Miles Heizer) got a little taste (well, a big one) of heartbreak when his first love, Amy, broke up with him on the very first day of senior year (ouch!), and Sarah (Lauren Graham) sought advice on how to console him from new photographer boss, Hank (Ray Romano, excellent in this role), whose brutal honesty put some things into perspective for Drew. Over in Crosby (Dax Shepard) and Jasmine’s (Joy Bryant) world, the newlyweds struggled with Crosby’s penchant for spontaneity and Jasmine’s way of running life on a schedule. Finally, Julia (Erika Christensen) and Joel (Sam Jaeger) continued to painstakingly make newly-adopted son Victor feel a part of the family.

As is characteristic to every episode, the best part of the night was hands-down the performances. Ray Romano, in particular, shines in a quiet, reserved role as Sarah’s seemingly curmudgeony boss. I hope they give his character more to do than just constantly bicker with Sarah. Monica Potter, as always, shined. Even Miles Heizer handled Drew’s passive reaction to heartbreak with ease.

From a plotline perspective, for a second, I thought we were going to see déjà vu with a trouble-in-paradise story for Jasmine and Crosby. I was glad that was quickly squelched (I think). They’ve been through enough trouble already, and it’ll be a long season if we’re forced to watch the couple battle their way in and out of episodes. I know that they’re opposites, but can we have some attracting going on this season? Plus, Joy Bryant is underused and underrated (I fell in love with her years ago in her supporting role in the movie The Skeleton Key), and the writers ought to give her some real meaty material to work with. I’m curious to see how Sarah’s story is going to blossom. I think she’s really found something she loves and could be good at. The writer’s should be careful of falling into a rut here, too, because we’ve seen Sarah feel like a failure before (What ever happened to the interesting playwright plot, by the way? She has a major success, and then we never hear about it again?) Also, I bet Ray Romano wasn’t cheap to get, so I expect that they have some solid ideas on how to grow that relationship. Again, Julia’s story has a lot of potential, but it looks like they’re going to have an easier time than we first thought getting Victor acclimated; so, it’ll be interesting to see what lies in store next for her and Joel. Personally, I think she should get unexpectedly pregnant and have to deal with the possibility of having three young kids and reconciling that with Victor .

Props to the writers for scene where Adam and Kristina take Max to look at puppies. I bet no one expected that the breeders would be two lesbians! This is the first time that I can remember that Parenthood has incorporated anything gay into the story. Frankly, for a family so big, I’m very surprised that NBC has yet to include a major gay character (still holding out hope that Drew could be gay). Other  big-family dramas, such as Brothers & Sisters, did it successfully, and I think it could help the show’s audience and make it seem more 2012.

Props, as well, for choosing not to follow Haddie at Cornell. I think you really feel her absence as a viewer, and it allows you to empathize with Adam and Kristina.

In the end, last night’s episode was about sacrifices. Julia sacrificed a full day of work to sit outside Victor’s school just to ease his worries about starting in a new class. Crosby sacrificed his independence and synced his calendar with Jasmine’s to help ease her insecurities and cater to her OCD. Adam sacrificed his reservations of owning a dog so that Kristina and Max could get something they both wanted and needed. And finally—the biggest shock of the night that truly came out of left field (hence the title of the episode)—Kristina learned that she may have to make the biggest sacrifice of all when doctors diagnosed her with breast cancer. The scene was very effective, too, with a haunting song drowning out any dialogue that we’ve surely heard in hundreds of other shows before as Kristina got the news from her doctor and then proceeded to tell Adam as they met at a park to welcome the family’s new puppy. With this plotline, there’s a lot of room for Parenthood to be truly great this season (and perhaps for Monica Potter to finally get an Emmy nomination!). We’re in for quite the ride this season, as hard times definitely lie ahead for the Bravermans.

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