In this week’s episode of Parenthood, Crosby Braverman (Dax Shepard) bribed a man to vote for his candidate after finding out that he couldn’t register to vote on Election Day. The real fraud in this season of NBC’s ratings-starved family drama, though, has been everything involving Christina Braverman’s monumentally implausible bid for mayor of Berkeley, California. From her discombobulated campaign strategy to her questionable motives, this storyline reeked of transparent manipulation and lacked the unvarnished realism of the show’s previous high points.
“Election Day” resolved this storyline, which has been careening towards a particularly unsustainable outcome all season. How did Jason Katims and his writers choose to conclude the Berkeley mayoral race? Read on to find out.
Mercifully, Christina conceded the election to Bob Little, and the show spared us a sequence of mounting suspense as the poll numbers slowly trickled in. As any election in the real world would have been, this one was fairly well stacked in the established candidate’s favor – Christina never really had a chance, whatever the poll numbers might have suggested.
In terms of the show’s long-term future, this decision was the best one possible. We’ll spend a few episodes with Christina reeling from the disappointment of her loss, which will be agonizing to watch but more fruitful for Monica Potter’s gifts than the clueless optimism she’s been asked to play in nearly every scene for the first nine episodes of this season. Even better, the show won’t have to fundamentally alter its structure and worldview to accommodate the inner workings of the Berkeley government. This storyline represented a case of misplaced identity for Parenthood. Even as the developments grew more implausible, the looming specter of a show about the mayor of a fairly significant town in California was too much to bear for a show that excels at the small and simple more than the sweeping and grand.
Speaking of small and simple, the real victory of this episode was in the Max-Hank-Ruby-Sarah storyline, every beat of which landed with perfection. I totally believed that Max would see Hank’s daughter Ruby as an asset to his social standing, even as he couldn’t quite grapple with the emotional implications of such a decision. Hank’s botched attempt at parenting, and Sarah’s subsequent ribbing, was both hilarious and genuine, capitalizing on Ray Romano’s curmudgeonly charm and his character’s penchant for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. This storyline didn’t aspire to grand heights or even particularly deep emotions, but it was consistently delightful nonetheless.
Elsewhere in the Braverman universe, Ryan (Matt Lauria) snapped back into the destructive tendencies that last flared in season four, though Amber’s blissful naivete didn’t help. This story feels like a retread so far, but it’s affecting nonetheless.
Joel and Julia’s marriage fell deeper into disrepair. I’m impressed that the show has thus far avoided the easy route of presenting Ed (David Denman) and Peet (Sonya Walger) purely as objects of temptation for the most solid Braverman couple. Rather, these characters have highlighted the defects in the marriage and accentuated an unflinching and often quite challenging portrayal of a marriage that stopped working well, just like that.
This characteristically overstuffed episode also tossed in a slightly bewildering story about Crosby’s nonexistent history with the American democratic system, brushing up against intriguing issues of race that the show has neglected in the past, but exploring those issues with little depth or nuance.
Drew and Natalie are “keeping it casual,” with much skepticism from Sarah.
Haddie Braverman? No sign of her.
When Parenthood returns on December 12th, it will have shed perhaps the least believable story in its run. Perhaps the show’s strengths will come into sharper focus as a result.