I know I usually do an even split of best and worst pairings for Parenthood, but honestly, that's impossible for the best episode of the season (so far), "Election Day." Even the "worst" storyline in this episode could barely be considered bad, let alone a storyline really, and that's because everything here clicked. This was Parenthood at its best: heartbreaking, funny and surprisingly compelling television about human moments. While I still think the worst is yet to come for powder-keg couples Joel and Julia and Ryan Amber, the groundwork that the writers are laying for both of their eventual implosions is some of the best stuff the series has ever done. Not to mention the fact that it's gotten series-best performances out of Sam Jaeger (who has been particularly outstanding and Emmy-worthy this year) and Erika Christensen. The only truly bad thing about this intense installment is that we'll have to wait three weeks to see how everything shakes out.
Best: Joel and Julia
Wow. Just wow. We are literally watching Joel and Julia's marriage come apart at the seams here. When Victor struggles with having to get moved back to the fourth grade -- already huge source of contention between Joel and Julia -- it sets the wheels in motion for a full-fledged downward spiral. Julia, who has been struggling with being a stay-at-home mom, repeatedly calls Joel at work to talk her down from the ledge, but he isn't answering. Julia storms over to his work site to find Joel and Pete having a sushi dinner together as they work, and this sets her off. Julia makes a scene and tells Joel she needs him at home and then tells Pete, his boss, that it doesn't concern her. Clearly, Julia has concerns about how close Pete and Joel might be, but Joel has just as many infidelity suspicions about Julia and Ed. Earlier in the episode, Joel noticed Julia had yet another text from Ed, and when she tried to blame it on the sustainability committee, the devastated and fed-up look on her husband's face said it all. It only gets worse when Joel and Julia have yet another fight in which he tells her -- and understandably so -- that he supported her work for nine years, when she hasn't even given him the courtesy of three months, and that he deserves better. It is a man who has reached his end with someone who has taken their lion's share of a relationship, and while it hurts to watch Julia struggle so much to parent alone, you can also understand where Joel is coming from. This can't end well for them (I'm actually kind of stunned neither have strayed yet) but, again, this is the biggest gamble that Parenthood has taken in a long time and it's paying off.
Best: Ryan and Amber
Speaking of couples on the brink of disaster: Ryan and Amber. Oof. They have not been on the same page since the whole returning-the-ring fiasco and it's only getting worse. In last night's episode, Amber spent most of her time in the recording studio with the band (and yeah, flirting with some of the guys, too) and coming home late rather than being with Ryan. While Amber should have absolutely called her fiancé, he's also being unsupportive, controlling and jealous. In the midst of all this, Amber finds Ryan painkillers hidden in a drawer and when she confronts him, he backpedals and says they are old. But, as Amber pointed out, they were only two weeks old. There is so much tension and unspoken feelings between them that it's almost unbearable to watch. (I wanted it to work out with these two, if only to prove Sarah wrong!) It all reaches a very scary climax when Ryan goes to pick Amber up at the bar – where she was celebrating with the band, who used her backing vocals for their album – and has another violent episode. Ryan begins beating the crap out of one of the guys and we later see a crying Amber waiting at the jail. It's Zeek who comes to the rescue, but that's all we know of this storyline for now.
Best: Crosby and Democracy
While it can get a little tiring watching Jasmine roll her eyes at every stupid thing Crosby does, this one was awfully stupid. Having never voted before (but lying and saying he voted for Obama's monumental election back in 2008), Crosby doesn't realize you have to register and instead publicly declares his vote. He finds out the hard way that this method of "voting" definitely doesn't count, and that if Kristina loses by one vote, it's totally his fault, so he bribes a man in his neighborhood to vote for her. Was it Crosby's proudest moment? No. But, I'm continually impressed with just how damn hilarious and genuine Dax Shepard is in this role. (The absolute funniest moment came when he described himself being somewhere between Farrakhan and Adam on the blackness scale).
Best: Kristina and The Election
Turns out, Crosby's vote wouldn't have mattered anyway, because Kristina lost to Bob Little. Now, I have not been the biggest fan of this storyline -- it always felt forced and rushed and I couldn't emotionally attach to it in any way -- but I appreciate that the writers realized they couldn't let her win. Sure, there were some emotionally manipulative moments here (hey, this is Parenthood, after all), like when the mother of the deaf girl approaches her after her concession speech, but it did finally put a bow on this thing. That said, the appearance of her friend Gwen did remind me just how far Kristina has come since last year, and the support of Adam was more evidence of how amazing this couple is. I'm not sure what's ahead for Kristina, but I was glad to see this chapter come to a close.
Best: Max and Hank
I'm not usually the biggest Max or Hank fan (I still think Hank doesn't serve a big enough purpose to be on this show) and the majority of this storyline was painful to watch as Max failed to successfully ask out Hank's 14-year-old daughter Ruby and failed miserably. But it all felt worthwhile when Hank had a heart-to-heart with Max about how "guys like them" get the breaks a little bit later in life, and Max genuinely thanked him for it. It was a sweet, but not saccharine moment that felt earned and authentic.
Worst: Drew and Natalie
Sure, they only had, like, three minutes of screen time total but that's all they really deserve. I'm not fond of this "Natalie" and her casual attitude about our fragile Drew. Still, when the "worst" moment is barely a blip on an episode's radar, that's the best.
Watch the full episode here:
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