TV Club

Parenthood Episode 13, “Small Victories,” recapped.

Move over cancer. The abortion episode is finally here.  

Bonnie Bedelia as Camille Braverman.
Bonnie Bedelia as Camille Braverman in Parenthood.

Photo by: Colleen Hayes/NBC.

Welcome back to our Parenthood TV Club. Every week, Allison Benedikt IMs with a different fan/regular watcher of the show. Today, please welcome Salon television critic Willa Paskin.

Allison Benedikt: Hey, Willa! So they handled that abortion episode with an uncharacteristic lack of melodrama. I was impressed.

Willa Paskin: It was actually such a quietly done story: If you didn’t know better (and have that extra special parental discretion disclaimer) you wouldn’t know they barely ever, ever show abortions on TV! What I liked about it especially was that it was in keeping with Drew and Amy’s characters, as we’ve come to know them. These are not super chatty kids. They don’t do anything that dramatically (besides, you know, have sex in his sorta step-dad’s house).

Benedikt: I was just relieved that the whole Braverman clan didn’t show up at Planned Parenthood. I had half expected Hattie to fly in. What I didn’t like, though, was how they made Amy, who was certain from the get-go that she wanted to abort, the villain.

Paskin: Right. The show’s creator Jason Katims has done teen abortion on TV not so un-recently: There was a character on Friday Night Lights who had one. But in that case, both the teens involved were main characters, so we got both of their perspectives. Here, we just got Drew’s, and so the fact that he “wanted to keep it” seemed unduly weighted.

Also, just because of the rarity of abortion on television, I always watch those things thinking: Is this the part they put in to please the people who are already infuriated by the episode?

Benedikt: Yes, I guess NBC probably thinks it can’t just have two teenagers be like, “Duh, our only option is abortion,” even though I bet that’s how Amy and Drew would both feel. But it’s particularly weird to have the teen guy want to keep it—at least in what I remember of teen guys. Even though Drew is a particularly sensitive one.

Paskin: Well, because he is a particularly sensitive one, I could sort of imagine a scenario in which he really just wants to be with Amy, and so the idea of having a baby with her seems not nearly as terrifying to him as it maybe actually would be. And I think that even though we know Amy less well, the moment in the car when she talks about how her life, anyway, would be over were she to keep the baby was well made.

Benedikt: What doesn’t feel as well made is the continued DRAMA over who Sarah really wants to be with, though tonight finally solidified for me who Allison Benedikt wants Sarah to be with.

Paskin: Sarah. Sarah. And how cute is Mark? There were so many adorable guys being sweet and adorable this episode (all except Crosby).

Benedikt: Wait! I want to defend Crosby!

Paskin:  Ha! I kind of do too. His mother-in-law’s “If my pride has inconvenienced you, I’m really sorry about that” is an all time nonapology. Right up there with “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings.”

Benedikt: Now, who else besides Mark was being sweet and adorable?

Paskin: Well, Drew and, in his way, Max. This episode was actually a lot about how one’s children contain multitudes. What with Drew basically keeping this huge secret, Max having this whole inner life (did you think they were setting up the possibility of him maybe being gay?), and then Victor which, well, I am curious what you make of that whole situation.

Benedikt: No, I don’t think they are setting up Max to be gay. Hadn’t even occurred to me, actually. But I thought that abbreviated birds and bees chat between Max and Adam was incredibly moving. Max wishing he could shed his skin like a reptile—this is a complex kid, and I love how the show lets that come out in tiny moments.

Paskin: On the Max front, I thought “Dad, I’m not ready to talk about this yet,” was one of the best lines on any Parenthood ever.

Benedikt: I was also moved by Drew’s final scene with his mom, going to her, basically, for a hug. Perhaps this is because I fear having three boys who will never share their feelings with me, and I like my TV dramas to assure me that sons will always need their mother. Because I’m sick and clingy.

As for the Victor storyline: Mostly I think Julia is just way too fucking impatient.

Paskin: Yes, definitely, she’s being impatient. But I do also think there is something interesting going on, where she and Joel a little blithely welcomed a pretty-formed child into their home with not that much thought (when Victor showed up, they were expecting an infant or toddler and he’s what? 10?) and things were progressing well, and now Julia actually has to confront her commitment to that.

I’m also sort of fascinated, personally, with why I find Sydney the most annoying of all the kids, but simultaneously think she’s being ill-served by her parents all over the place. (Probably because she seems familiar.)

Benedikt: Were you a little asshole, Willa?

Paskin: I’m sure! Or, you know, at least a goodie two shoes.

Benedikt: Sidney and Victor are kind of in the same boat, in that both of them are in situations that they aren’t old enough or well-equipped to deal with—he being torn from his home and plopped into this new one and expected to just accept a new family, and she being asked to go to bed one night as an only child and wake up the next morning to find she has a handsome older brother. So we really should sympathize with both of them. But, yes, I find myself only sympathizing with Victor.

One other thing I like about how they are handling this adoption storyline is the slow build of tension between Julia and Joel.

Paskin: Joel sees that Victor is being difficult, impossible, and particularly mean to Julia, but I think he, rightly, thinks the only way to change this is to be wholly committed. Like, he thinks of this boy as his son, truly, and he is not going to give up on him. And Julia, clearly, is still deciding, or had some moment where she just felt that Victor was less her son than Sydney was her daughter.

Benedikt: The bat throwing incident last week, I think.

OK, final two questions. Question 1: Is this the first episode of Parenthood that didn’t have a musical montage?

Paskin: Haha.

Benedikt: And related, but not Question 2: Is this a good thing?

Paskin: So, to answer the related question first—I would say that no musical montage is a good thing (and there were two long scenes with just music, and lots of Drew in his car and staring at the ceiling), but the answer is tied up in the essential Parenthood question, which is: Did It Make You Cry? And for the first time in weeks, I have to say, no, no it did not! Probably because Kristina and Adam did a lot of comedy this episode (though, not to be outdone by Zeek on ejaculations).

Benedikt: Oh yes that was great Zeek shtick!

Paskin: Zany grandparents on sex all day.

Benedikt: Question 2: Mark or Hank?

Paskin: Sarah is just going to squish poor Mark like a little bug. When she showed up at his door? God, he was so cute and sweet and way, way too young. For his own sake, I hope she leaves him alone.

Benedikt: Booooo don’t crush my dreams. She’s already squished Mark three or four times, but his head keeps growing back. (Am I mixing animal metaphors?) Tonight definitely made it official for me: I want her with Mark (/I want me with Mark). And I cried when Drew hugged his mom. I may even have brought my hand to my heart.

Paskin: I was moved, but no tears. Maybe hand to heart.

Benedikt: I’m sorry you didn’t get a cathartic sob out of it.

Paskin: Next time. And, I did get a reminder to wash my armpits and ass with soap, so, you know, I’ll take it.

Benedikt: Your body is changing.

Paskin: It’s becoming one with my couch.