It’s possible that we’re wired to notice those aspects of art that apply to our own lives–one person staring at a Degas painting might see light, truth, and love, while another might simply see smashed up crumbly cheerios because they are the bane of her existence.
What? My point: the story lines on Parenthood that I am most interested in talking about are the ones that I can relate to, or the ones that somehow reflect my life. As such…
I have been less interested in the Amber/Ryan kerfuffle, or the Drew-goes-to-college-and-tries-to-figure-out-girls saga (though I do love Drew, such a sweet boy) and way more interested in the Julia-and-Joel-chaos and, to some degree, the Bonnie Bedelia-Coach-autumn-of-our-years plot.
First, though, let me take a moment to pay homage to Crosby, my favorite Braverman who, in episode six, rages against the minivan. Now, this was indeed a hackneyed storyline. Surely we all know someone in life (or on Facebook) who has struggled with a similar reality. (I don’t think anyone does it as cutely as Crosby does, though.) To get the details out of the way: Jasmine wants to get a minivan and get rid of Crosby’s “cool” vintage car. This comes to pass, and they make out in the backseat and all is well.
Really though, this storyline was just a set-up for some of the best lines ever uttered on this show, or, in life. Crosby equates minivans to vaginas, wearing corduroy pants, listening to Norah Jones, and getting into bed at 11 p.m. Adam, Crosby’s big brother and all-around vanilla kind of guy, tells Crosby that he can either, “keep tiring himself out and swimming against the current,” or he can, “slip on some corduroys and get comfortable.” And in that moment, Adam, who had become boring and non-essential to this show, suddenly became the truthiest of all truth tellers because really, what is parenthood and the slow march toward middle age all about, if not comfy pants and being OK with them?
Moving on. Julia and Joel continue to throw up warning signs in every corner of their light-filled blonde wood and steel beamed dream house. Julia continues to be frustrated by her stay-at-home status and ventures forward into a questionable friendship with a married dad who she knows from her kid’s school. For the record, they haven’t done anything that many of us haven’t also done, albeit generally we do it with the same sex or at least with someone with whom we have no agenda other than to vent. We all have a friend or two who we text during the dinner rush to bitch with when the kids are flinging peas and being generally incorrigible. We need those friends, the ones who commiserate when daylight savings time ruins your life and your kids’ sleep cycle, those who make you laugh while you corral small bodies through the dinner-bed-bath relay. Julia just happens to have found that simpatico parent in a man and, it just so happens, she’s feeling distant from her husband, and it just so happens, his new boss is a sexy lady.
So Julia does what all (read: almost no) women would do: she puts on fancy lingerie and an overcoat and tries to reinvigorate the romance by surprising Joel at his trailer/office at the construction site. She’s scared that she’s feeling something for this other dad, and we, the viewer, are scared for her. It’s upsetting to watch a marriage fall apart, even a fictional one. It’s upsetting to see issues like parenting lay at the root of that dissolve, because isn’t that basically what we’re all dealing with every day anyway–trying to figure out how to simultaneously be a good parent and a good partner and a good person? And isn’t it true that the stress of being a parent can often be so immense that the person you became a parent with–your best friend, your partner with whom you created a new world of humans–is precisely the person whom you hurt the most as you try and do it all? The person you are often least kind to, the person you project onto, the person who sees you at your worst? And isn’t it scary that sometimes, it doesn’t wind up being OK?
Watching Julia and Joel (in this case, mostly Julia) make a mess of things makes me want to schedule 10,000 date nights from here to eternity and just make sure overall that I’m connected to my partner, that we’re not just passing in the hallway and grunting at each other in front of the TV. (For the record, I have no intention of showing up at Jon’s office in a trench coat and nothing else. Because that would be crazy.)
In a plot meant to sort of obviously mirror this marriage dissolve, Bonnie Bedelia and Coach continue to not understand each other–even after 100 years of marriage, lots of kids, and a big rambling Berkeley estate. Bonnie Bedelia is going to Italy for a month with her art class, and Coach is not going. Their grown kids find out at one of their idyllic Braverman family dinners at the Berkeley estate with the fairy lights and the foliage, and they question Coach about why he isn’t accompanying their mom on this retirement dream trip. Coach looks at everyone blankly and vaguely, appearing to be having a dementia episode. In truth, he tells Adam much later on, he wasn’t invited.
And here’s what I think (since you asked): that’s OK, isn’t it? I mean, while this independent model of marriage wasn’t the one I was raised on/in–my parents did everything together, they didn’t take separate trips, they didn’t have separate plans on the weekend, they held hands all the time and always wanted to be together, and that was a pretty awesome kind of love to observe as a kid–my marriage is different than theirs was, and while I don’t know for sure, I could see how as a retiree my husband might want to spelunk in Croatia and I might want to say, hole up in a fancy hotel and watch old Parenthood episodes with my silver-haired girlfriends. I get that the point here is also that Coach isn’t quite hearing Bonnie Bedelia, and that it sort of implies that he doesn’t really know her and that’s kind of shocking because they’ve spent a lifetime together, and she’s only now asserting herself. Ultimately, though, I love that Bonnie Bedelia goes to Italy without Coach, and I think they’re gonna be OK.
And with that, I leave you to slip on your corduroys and watch episode #8. See you in two weeks.