The Telefile
Parenthood: This Week's Chuckle, Cry and Cringe

We did it everyone! Parenthood is back for at least 15 more episodes, and with any luck enough people tuned into last night's Season 4 premiere that there will be a lot more where that came from. Unless you're Bob Little... there's no way we'll ever see that sorry politician ever again.

"Family Portrait" had all of your typical Parenthood cadences -- moments of hilarity, emotional manipulation and eye-roll-inducing cheesiness. It wasn't the best episode of the series by any means, but the introduction of Ray Romano seems promising (anything to make Mark unhappy, really), Julia and Joel's new son storyline wasn't as horribly written as I had feared (but it wasn't very good) and choosing to start Season 4 five months after the Season 3 finale was a nice choice for moving the plot forward.

Watching this episode, I thought about how people flocked to Bunheads for a Gilmore Girls fix thanks to Amy Sherman-Palladino's presence, but I think Parenthood is a much better source to satisfying your Gilmore cravings. Obviously, Lauren Graham is a huge reason for this, but also because Parenthood possesses the same family bonding that Lorelai and Rory had (times 18 for every member of this family), each episode has a lot of purposeful quirk and there's a certain quaintness about life that it captures in the Braverman clan -- all factors that were at best forced, but usually nonexistent in Bunheads. Technically, Bunheads is probably closer to what Gilmore Girls was actually like, but as a grown-up who already sat through six seasons of Amy Sherman-Palladino (yes, the show lasted for seven, but remember ASP was long gone during that final year), Parenthood is much more watchable, given that it provides new content and different ways of storytelling. And less Sean Gunn, thank God.

But in any event, let's get down to the nitty gritty of "Family Portrait," and see how it did in the grand scheme of Parenthood elements... for Haddie's sake. Kidding.

It obviously wasn't the A-plot, but the Jabbar storyline was handled really well -- it's always refreshing when a network series can cover religion without it being weirdly preachy, and the scenes in this subplot were laugh-out-loud funny. The hightlights: Crosby being slightly weirded out by Jabbar randomly praying (especially "He's the Lord's soldier, now"), Jasmine's mom responding to the news of her religious grandson with, "That's wonderful!" and Camille's awkward allusion to "that tantric thing we did" when Crosby asked her about their personal dogmas. It frustratingly proved that Camille needs a strong storyline this season, but at least it was entertaining in the process.

Max also cracked me up in this episode, both on purpose and by circumstance -- what is he, six feet tall now? I liked him not-so-subtly being the voice of the family rejecting Victor, and his rapport with Ray Romano's Hank was the best part of his new character so far.

And speaking of Hank, while the writing for his character wasn't top-notch, I also laughed at his jokes about Mark being way too young for Sarah, especially, "Is he a Make a Wish kid? Was he trick or treating or something?" I just really like whenever anyone gives him a hard time -- Jasmine and Joel being pissed that he got to be in the picture was fun -- mostly because I think I truly despise Mark.

After watching her sweet moments with Max last night (who wouldn't want a weighted blanket, by the way?), I realize now that I'm going to miss Haddie -- Season 3 Haddie, anyways. She provides a balance with her parents and Max that will be hard to fill. When she turned around to give her crazy parents a proper goodbye at the airport, I was a goner. (To be fair, pretty much everything makes me cry.)

The awkwardness between Julia and Victor was uncomfortable to the point that it made for an unintentionally bad viewing experience. I'm glad that Parenthood is tackling the seldom-seen issue of how hard it is to adopt an older child into your family, but what the hell kind of prison-torture show was Victor watching? And having him eat Cheez Whiz straight out of the can was just (delicious) overkill.

I imagine Julia and Joel's storyline would be emotional if you could at all connect to it on a personal level... but as someone who has no experience with adoption whatsoever, the writing wasn't strong enough to make me feel empathy of Julia waiting to fall in love with her son. I mostly just felt kinda bad for gifted ol' Sydney.

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