Tonight’s season four premiere of Parenthood was a lovely way for us to say “Hello” to the Bravermans for another year, but the episode mostly focused on saying goodbye to Haddie as she took off for college on the East coast. I thought it was a fantastic, emotional, well-written premiere that picked up storylines that had been set up last season and set up some really good new ones.
Alright, there was a lot going on in the premiere and I really want to touch on it all, so let’s talk.
Sarah – Lights, Camera, Action
A lot of the buzz surrounding the return of the show had to do with Ray Romano joining the cast for at least several episodes as Hank, a new person (and likely love interest) in Sarah’s life. Romano’s work on Everyone Loves Raymond was pretty far from what Parenthood does – the former depicting a family dynamic of at best curmudgeonly tolerance and at worst downright hatred, and the latter depicting a family dynamic of almost impossibly close bonds, and love through good and bad.
But from what I’ve read about and seen briefly of Romano’s work on the short-lived, critically acclaimed dramedy Men of a Certain Age, he’s capable of being way more than Ray Barone and that’s what he’s doing here. I really liked him in the pilot.
Romano is playing Hank Rizzoli, a portrait photographer who hires Sarah to be his assistant on a whim. He’s socially awkward, cranky and gives off a vibe of being the kind of guy who’s incredibly disappointed in himself. I look forward to delving more into his character. He obviously had higher aspirations at one point and is now taking pictures of people, and he hates people. It’s interesting, and he’s a great foil to friendly, lovably quirky Sarah. The scene where she completely botches the photography job was great, but even better was their final scene together where he hired her back. Turns out she’s “good at the schmoozing”. The banter about Mark’s age was funny, and showcased what kind of relationship they could have if he does end up being a love interest.
Oh Mark. Poor Mark. They’re engaged! Yet this relationship is so filled with doom. His successful campaign to be included in the family portrait despite a No Girlfriends/Boyfriends/Fiancees rule enforced by Camille could only mean one thing – Mark and Sarah are all but over.
We also saw Drew realize that his girlfriend probably cheated on him while she was away for the summer, and Amber is working at The Luncheonette. So let’s talk about that now.
The Luncheonette – Someone Got a Side Order
First things first – Paul McDonald! Don’t know who he is? Well, he was on American Idol, but don’t judge him too harshly for that. He was really unique and cool on the show. My favorite performance he did was “Maggie May”. More importantly, he’s in a fantastic band called The Grand Magnolias. “Sing Out” is one of many of their songs I love, check it out. Suffice to say, I was thrilled to see the band on the show and even more excited to see him actually playing a character. (Real Paul McDonald would never sleep with Amber because he’s married to real actress Nikki Reed.)
So. Amber is working at The Luncheonette. She hooks up with the incredibly cute lead singer of the band, and they are adorable in bed together and we’re all reminded of what a great musician Mae Whitman is. Then Amber finds out that Band Guy is actually celebrating his “half-year anniversary” (barf) with his girlfriend, so she’s mad. Crosby knows, he tells Adam, and Adam kicks the band out of the studio.
Had we not just seen Kristina get involved in Amber’s love life last season with the cute politician (did he win? can we get an update on that at some point?), this storyline would have resonated before. It was the one weakness in the episode, that these notes of “I’m an adult” and “I was only looking out for you” and “Treat me like a regular employee” had all been hit before. Like, hey guys, if this keeps being an issue, maybe you should stop employing family members? That said, the scene with Amber and Adam was very sweet, and I liked seeing two characters that don’t often interact get a chance to do so.
Crosby – Are You There, God? It’s Jabbar.
I liked Crosby’s storyline a lot, because I thought it sort of touched on similar themes to a storyline I once liked with Julia, Joel and Sydney. After Jasmine’s mom talked to Jabbar about church and God and praying, Crosby wanted to have his own talk with his son. It reminded me of when Julia and Joel had to talk to Sydney about death and what they believe, and both kids were at similar ages, when kids start asking a lot of questions.
I think having kids really makes people think about what they believe in, because you need to know what you’re going to say if your kids asks you about it. That meant Crosby had to put some thought into how to explain his beliefs, or lack of, to Jabbar. I loved the chat with Camille and Zeek, and the revelation that Camille once worked on a commune and they tried Buddhism for a while. When Parenthood ends its run, can we have a spinoff with Camille and Zeek in the 60s? The conversation Crosby ended up having with Jabbar was very sweet, and I’m glad that branch of the family got a lighter storyline to start the season after the ups and downs of last year.
Julia – Holy Guacamole
On to Julia and Joel. This season starts five months after where we left off, with the arrival of Victor. They’re slowly figuring out that this is really hard. All my opinions should come with a mountain of salt since I don’t have children, but I think adopting an older child has to be one of the hardest parenting jobs. It’s just so different than bringing a baby into your home. Victor already has a personality, and life experiences that have shaped him. He still doesn’t feel like a part of the family because, well, who would? It’s only been five months. I don’t think there was time to really deal with Max’s stolen lizard, but it was a way to show what challenges Julia and Joel will be facing this season. They need to start treating Victor like their son and apply the same household rules to him as they do to Sydney. I’m still disappointed that the show didn’t go the open adoption route with Zoe last season, but I’m looking forward to seeing where this new development goes.
Adam – Haddie Goes To College
As I mentioned at the beginning of the review (way back when – this is a long one!), a lot of the episode centered on Haddie leaving for college. It made for a lot of emotional stuff, and I thought it was all done really well. Sarah Ramos has really done a great job on the show, and if she appears less frequently I will miss her. Haddie had finally become a layered, imperfect but likable character. And she’d finally figured out her hair.
Several scenes really stood out to me. Haddie’s frustration with her whole family boiling over when Max threw a tantrum at the burger place. I think the best scene was when Haddie tried to have a heartfelt goodbye with Max, giving him a gift, telling him why she’ll miss him and that she loves him, and getting absolutely nothing in return. The show has done a really good job of exemplifying how difficult it is to be a sibling to a child with Asperger’s.
Haddie tearing up when looking at the timeline her family made her, and the final goodbye scene with her parents at the airport, were perfect and subdued. You could see in Haddie’s face and her movements how badly she wanted to have a cool, casual goodbye because she was so close to completely breaking down.
Overall, a stellar start to the season. Next week’s episode is called “Left Field”, and I’ve read that we’ll need tissues handy. My completely uninformed guess is that we’ll see a health issue with Camille – maybe a cancer diagnosis? But remember, that’s a total guess. If you do know a spoiler, please keep it to yourself -I love Parenthood and need to experience everything as it happens! But head down to the comments and hit me with your thoughts on the season premiere.