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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Parenthood takes a "Road Trip"

     Last night, NBC's Parenthood returns with Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) leading the family on a "Road Trip" to visit his mother (Frances Sternhagen, The Closer, ER, Sex and the City). Things get off to a bumpy start when Kristina (Monica Potter) chooses to keep Max (Max Burkholder) home as punishment. From there, various children and their parents squabble, until eventually Zeek leaves the whole clan at a motel. But of course, in the end, everyone comes together to enjoy a wonderful birthday party, and Zeek's mother even tells her son that she loves him.

     "Road Trip" is a fine filler episode of Parenthood. It has the essential elements that make the series, the most important being family at odds with each other, working through their problems, and letting love win out. Yes, it's sappy, and not without cheese. But it's also the bread and butter of family drama, and since Parenthood is firmly in that genre, it's not unforgivable to spend an episode every once in awhile focusing solely on that.

     Kristina's decision to keep Max home is dumb, though the scene leading to it will seem familiar to many a parent. Adam (Peter Krause) disagrees with his wife's actions, though he defends the decision to Zeek. But the bottom line is, Max isn't seeing consequences, so he isn't going to change his behavior. Taking away the trip is the first thing Kristina blurts out, and so she must follow through. As a parent, it's the right decision once the threat is made, no matter how much Kristina might regret her words. More curious is why Max cares about missing such an adventure all that much, considering road trips are bound to go off schedule and be unpredictable, something he hates. No matter. His demonstration of regret, and apology through action is enough to earn him a reprieve without Kristina having to look weak.
     Zeek is the real child in "Road Trip." At least, he throws tantrums like one. Sure, he's justified in being upset at Crosby (Dax Shepard) for not watching the chair that is intended to be a gift for Zeek's mother closely enough, as it is stolen. But the rest of his frustration is silly. His grown kids drop everything to make this trek for him. They are trying to be there for their father. They are entitled, as Joel (Sam Jaeger) does, to tease Zeek about his "paper GPS" and walkie-talkies, which Zeek brings because one "can't use cell phones while driving," as if the giant electronics of old are safer. The bottom line is, they are there. If that isn't good enough for Zeek, he's a very hard man to please.

     Now some of Zeek's attitude stems from his mother's treatment of him. Supposedly, she never says "I love you," unlike Zeek to his own kids, and isn't easily satisfied with Zeek's life. Yet, none of that is in evidence when they finally have their confrontation, with Zeek bragging on his kids, she agreeing with him, and then uttering the three words he longs to hear. It's debatable on how well this works, because it's a good story that no matter how old one is, one still tries to please one's parent. However, Zeek also seems to go a little too far, and his mother doesn't seem that bad, other than a few passive aggressive comments, like about her gift of an egg poacher. So, really, this comes down to assuming that things are as the characters say they are, rather than being solely concerned with what appears on screen.

     Adam is a lot like his father, despite how much they clash. This is evidenced in the way he handles Haddie (Sarah Ramos) texting instead of talking to him. Adam acts like a child, without giving Haddie an explanation as to why. She has to be the adult and apologize. It's reasonable that Adam expect to have some chat time with hsi daughter, but unreasonable that he doesn't just state that outright. His comment of "if you don't know, then..." about his anger is very immature. Thank goodness Haddie steps up and makes things right before Adam acts completely ridiculous. Yet, because it's reinforcing a family trait, this subplot fits into "Road Trip."

     The subplot about Drew (Miles Heizer) walking in on his mother, Sarah (Lauren Graham), having sex is a classic, in that so many series have already done it. But Parenthood doesn't blow things out of proportion, and only semi-resolves the issue, saying it will take time. This is smart, and not exactly typical for television. There's no big eruption, or moment that gets too schmaltzy. Plus, it's far from the focus of "Road Trip." Kudos for a fresh way of handling an old standard.

     Watch Parenthood Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.

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     Click here to purchase streaming episodes and DVDs of Parenthood.

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