Parenthood: Speaking of Baggage (5x07)
I'll take this one plot at a time, and list some pros and cons.
At the Luncheonette, the band isn't doing so well with their recording. Amber has the idea to have a concert and get them to perform live, since that should help them get their energy up. She plans a big event, and although there's a scary moment where the band doesn't start performing, they eventually start up and they sound great. While planning all of this crazy stuff, she has very little time for Ryan, who is rather nonplussed that Amber now wants to have a wedding ceremony after all. Kristina tells Amber the story of how Adam proposed to her, which leaves Amber feeling a bit disheartened about Ryan. However, in the end Ryan surprises her with an engagement ring, and Amber is excited.
Pros - Mae Whitman's acting... my goodness, I love this girl. A lot. Her emotions while Kristina told her story were pitch perfect, and I loved her excitement about the concert at the Luncheonette. It's nice to see her actually at her job, since we haven't had a lot of that lately. I liked that she came up with a good idea, and that her uncles respected it and let her take charge.
Cons - I'm still not sure how we're supposed to feel, as an audience, about Amber and Ryan's relationship. It seems to go back and forth a lot. I guess they're trying to show the complexities of young love? The stuff where Amber was flirting with the drummer in the band was a bit out of nowhere, and I just hate that trope where they guy walks in at just the wrong time and sees his girl in the arms of another man. While not played exactly that way here, the hint of it was still there. I hope that they don't go with a cheating angle.
Speaking of the cheating angle, let's talk about Julia's story. We see her listening to a message Ed left her with a smile on her face. She then goes to listen to it again, and we get the sense that she's been pining. This prompts her to show up to Joel's work wearing sexy underwear. The two of them have sex in Joel's office. Julia is on teetering on the edge of a breakdown - she snaps at her siblings as they wonder what's going on between their parents, she tears up when giving Camille a suitcase for her big Italy trip, and she yells at her kids and starts throwing things around the house. So, how does she calm herself down? By giving Ed a call. The two of them talk, and Ed is pretty blatantly hitting on her when he says his day got a lot better when she called.
Pros - Again, acting-wise I thought this was a great performance. I like seeing Julia struggle, since it does add depth to her character. I also find myself really enjoying the character of Ed. Joel comes across very sympathetic, here. He's swamped at work, but he still tries to make time for his wife. I really enjoyed the little scene between Camille and Julia, as well.
Cons - I thought that Julia showing up to have sex with Joel was a bit over the top. There might have been a more subtle way to indicate that she was feeling guilty about Ed's message. I'm not sure what it might have been, but I felt like the message came on a bit strong. However, I'm still interested in how far they're going to push this.
Drew had a very interesting plot this week. Natalie, his crush, comes to his door one night, quite drunk. The two of them hook up. Afterwards, Drew is uncertain where they stand. He tries to act like her boyfriend, but she seems to be acting like they're still just friends. He invites her to the concert at the Luncheonette, but she shows up with a group of friends. She then talks to him, saying that it was just a hookup and she's not looking for a relationship. However, she then comes to his door. Drew expresses confusion about where they stand, but he quickly shuts up and the two of them again have sex.
Pros - I liked the confusion Drew had to go through, and the awkward way he handled it. The script struck the right balance here - it wasn't so awkward that I wanted to cover my face, and I'll admit I've had that problem with Drew's plots before. I also think this Natalie girl is a pretty likable character. I'd love for Drew and Natalie to interact more with the rest of the cast, because I think it could give these actors a great chance to build off of one another.
Cons - The ending... I thought they did a good job with showing the heartbreak that comes from liking someone more than they like you. Then, in the end, when she showed up at his door I thought it undermined what could have been a good lesson. I remain unsure where they're going with the Drew/Natalie relationship.
My favorite plot of the episode by far was the one with Hank, Max, and Sarah. My goodness I love Ray Romano in this show. He's the perfect contrast to all the vibrant and fast talking characters in the rest of the family. His relationship with Max is one of the best things the show has going for it right now. Max finds a picture of Sarah in Hank's shop, which leads to him asking prying questions about their relationship. Max then repeats some of what Hank said at a family dinner, which prompts Sarah to come in to the shop to talk to Hank. She wants to make sure that he understands the relationship is over, and that it's inappropriate for him to be talking to Max about her. At first, he gets mad and says that Max can just stop coming to the shop. Later, however, he comes to Sarah's place and says that Max can stick around.
Pros - Acting. I know I sound like a broken record, but it has to be said. Also the relationship between Hank and Max is adorable. What an odd friendship these two have. And the fact that Max calls Hank his best friend is just sweet. The awkwardness of Hank and Sarah is so endearing to watch. I want a flashback episode to figure out why exactly these two broke things off, and why there seems to be so much unfinished business between them. The highlight for me was when Hank tries to pay Sarah a compliment and ends up awkwardly mumbling something about her teeth. I cracked up.
Cons - Nothing really, except for that I want more. I would love to understand the breakup better.
Lastly, there's Zeek and Camille. This was also a particularly strong plot thread. Camille announces her plans to go to Italy at a family dinner, and everyone mistakenly assumes that Zeek will be going along. When they learn that's not the case, the family thinks that Zeek is refusing to come because he's stubborn. Adam goes to talk to Zeek about it, telling him to step up to the plate and do something nice for Camille. Their conversation escalates, until finally Zeek blurts out that he wasn't invited. In the end, we see Camille leaving for her trip, as Zeek is left on his own.
Pros - The relationship between Zeek and Camille was handled nicely. It showed how Camille wanted to be independent, but that she still loves her husband deeply. The scene where they say goodbye was really sweet. I also liked how Zeek, normally such a vibrant character, was left feeling empty without his wife. I think this might allow him some interesting character development. Adam and Zeek's scene was one of the highlights of the episode. The mounting tension between them was very well done.
Cons - I think the scene at the end with the alarm going off was perhaps a touch too heavy handed. Again, just like with Julia's sex scene with Joel, there was probably a more subtle way to handle this.
So. The episode as a whole? As you'll probably notice, all the plots have positive attributes, but most of them have just as many negative attributes. I think this episode may have suffered a bit because it rehashed some things. In Drew's story, we're still in a state of uncertainty about Natalie, just like we were before. In Amber's, we see how happy she is with Ryan, but there are also still problems lurking around the corner, just like before. With Julia, she is feeling guilty about Ed, but she still hasn't technically done anything wrong, just like before. I don't think any of that makes it a bad episode, necessarily, but I was expecting things to move along a bit faster.