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<i>Parenthood</i>: This Week’s Chuckle, Cry and Cringe

I was really impressed with last night's "The Talk." The episode wasn't great, but it did cover the N-word, our society's treatment of veterans, autism, bullying, breast cancer, adoption and the big Team Peeta vs. Team Gale Hunger Games divide -- not bad for a 40-odd-minute primetime family drama. I think Parenthood is laying it on a little too thick so far this season (with not nearly enough Camille or Amber, might I add), but given the fact that the episode ended with Adam making Kristina move up her surgery date, I don't have that much to complain about right now, so let's get to the nitty-gritty.

Chuckle
Sarah's storyline with Hank and Ruby made me laugh a few times this week, and not only because of how obviously it parallels the ol' Gilmore Girls Lorelei/Luke/April storyline. (FYI: Seth is Christopher and Mark is Max, obvi.) Ruby was cute, the Justin Bieber photo shoot thing was harmless and I am totally excited for Sarah and Hank to make out sometime in the next few episodes. (Side note: did you know that Lauren Graham and Peter Krause are dating in real life? I find this horrifying because I am that invested in the Bravermans.)

There were some hilarious lines in the Adam/Kristina/Max campaign plot, most of which weren't supposed to be funny: "As a reward, we can get you those Skittles. We'll buy you a ton of Skittles," "All right, do that. You might have tough time getting in touch with them, Max, because the House of Un-American Activities Committee has been disbanded for being un-American!" (that one was intentionally funny, right?) and "Even though you couldn't get Bob Little elected, you're still an okay campaign manager," which was not only a terrific burn on Kristina, but is the only reference to how Bob Little is no longer in our lives we've heard so far in Season 4, I believe.

Also funny: Adam unsympathetically consoling Crosby with, "It's hard being a white man in this country."

Cry
I laid down some tears at the N-word plotline last night, as it was handled with grace, sincerity and well-timed Harry Potter reference. The Crosby/Jasmine/Jabbar stuff has been the best this season by far, thanks to the writing, acting and the fact that The Luncheonette and its rotating guest stars allow for the material on the Crosby side to feel really organic. I was worried that Parenthood bit off more than it could chew, but Dax Shepard playing the frustrated white dad, Jasmine working the realistic and patient black mom and Tyree Brown nailing the sweet and innocent biracial child did the story justice.

The Zeek veteran material was a pretty easy way to get my waterworks going too, but I do give the writers kudos for giving way more time to Crosby's storyline, establishing Zeek and his relationship to the new veteran quickly and keeping the content realistic.

Cringe
I swear, every time Victor lazily sits on the couch watching TV or playing video games to the disapproval of Joel and Julia, an angel gets its wings. You could see the baseball plot coming from a mile away (especially "You're not my real dad!"), but, at the very least, it looks like Parenthood is trying to get all of the stereotypical adoption storylines out of the way now... at least until Victor's birth mom comes knocking at their doors sometime in what's got to be the next handful of episodes.

And okay, I know that as a human being and even as a critic, it's great that Parenthood never shies away from storylines about Max's Asperger's, but sometimes the writing for Kristina and Adam get lost in the Max shuffle, and then everything around the Max Problem of the Week is wooden and lame -- and as a person watching a TV show that includes a fictional character played by an actor who doesn't actually have Asperger's, I just want to tear my hair out. Obviously Asperger's is different than being hard of hearing, but Switched at Birth is able to have a series about major characters being deaf, and yet the storylines feel fresh every single week, even if they are about how badly other people treat those who can't hear. Just some food for thought.

And for what it's worth: I will always prefer Max's social issues to Kristina's cancer storyline. Monica Potter and Peter Krauss are acting well and trying their best with this, but the writers have got to make this side of the family more likable, or people are going to start requesting that they kill off Kristina, if they aren't already.

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