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Why I’ll miss Julia the most on “Parenthood”

by SweetMidlife

Leslie here!

As you know if you read this blog at all, both of us are die-hard fans of NBC’s one-episode-from-the-end family drama “Parenthood,” which is not to say that we are always fans of the show’s creative choices or of its characters. But that’s what family is – you don’t always like ’em but you do always love ’em.

So I cried through last night’s episode, the last one until the series finale (the real finale, and not that fake NBC “the last episode before the last episode before the fall finale” crap they do in previews), because this show makes everybody cry. And I realized something weird – the character whose story I was most interested in seeing the conclusion of was Julia (Erika Christensen), the youngest Braverman daughter and, at least initially, the most financially successful besides oldest brother Adam (Peter Krause).

And that’s funny because when the show debuted, not only was Julia the least-focused on, character-wise, but probably the Braverman kid that got the least attention, perhaps because she seemed to have it all figured out and wasn’t as much drama as overgrown man-child Crosby (Dax Shepard) and perpetual screw-up Sarah (Lauren Graham). And with her sweet supportive husband and cute, if hideously bratty daughter, high-powered lawyer Julia was the one you didn’t have to worry about. So the show didn’t and neither did I – other than her pretty husband, I never paid her much mind.

When the show started, the character I most identified with was Adam’s wife Kristina (Monica Potter), who’d grown up in an unhappy family and wasn’t always appreciative of the way the Bravermans barged in, physically and emotionally, into each other’s business. (I’m from a big family who’s in and out of each other’s business, even across state lines, and I get it. We’re exhausting.) What a difference six season makes. When “Parenthood” debuted, I’d been married for less than a month. Now, right before my fifth anniversary, I realize that I relate much more to the nuances of marriage as seen through the eyes of Julia and Joel (Sam Jaeger) than to Kristina, a dedicated mother who’s become, to me, increasingly sour and self-righteous.

Julia, however, has become more intriguing because she’s had to find out who she was as a wife, a mother, a professional, a woman and even in the order of her original family. When the show begins, she’s the breadwinner, and Joel, who was in contracting and had seen his work affected by the economy, is happy to be the primary at-home parent. And it works perfectly, so the two don’t see how deciding to add another child to their family would be anything less than perfect – perfect-er! But life happens, as we know it does, and they can’t get pregnant again. Then the young woman who was to let them adopt her baby changes her mind. So they adopt Victor, an older child who’d been in foster care and who made them work for his affection because he was afraid of being rejected again.

Wow.  Suddenly Julia’s life felt real to me, more real than the nth iteration of Sarah screwing up relationships at will and Adam and Kristina’s various personal and professional conflicts. The always stable attorney quits her job, so that she can be around to provide the stability that both her kids need, at the same time that Joel’s career starts picking up again. But this causes issues that the always-solid rock of the family never predicted. She hadn’t considered how much of her identity was wrapped up in her job, how much her confidence rested on it. Meanwhile, her sacrifice at work doesn’t magically make things easier at home, and as Joel’s star rises, Julia flounders. She’s threatened by Joel’s success, horrified a little to realize how selfish that felt, and envious that he got to have an escape, one he’d not had for years.

Then came the convoluted conflict that TV shows have to have, the writerly script things thrown in just because someone in a meeting thought there needed to be some drama: Julia begins flirting with a fellow parent at their kids’ school, a dad who, like her, is a displaced professional, as Joel’s very attractive lady boss begins showing some interest in him. Because she’s always the one in control, Julia refuses to admit there’s an issue until an ill-fated kiss between her and the school dad, which throws Joel into an anger spiral that almost immediately results in him shutting her out and moving out.

That part felt stupid and rushed, but it went to the heart of the problem in many relationships of any type – people not talking to each other and assuming they’d all work out because they always had. By the time Joel realizes he’s screwed up and wants to sort it out, the divorce papers are being signed. Julia’s dating a college friend who is now her boss at her new law firm, the kids are adjusting to the split as best they can, and she pleads with him to just sign the papers already…about three seconds before they wind up in bed together. And from there, the two start a semi-secret reconciliation, which was cemented in last night’s episode when Joel moves back in. Daughter Sidney is thrilled but Victor, who knows a thing or two about chaos, isn’t convinced. How do they know, he asks, that they won’t wind up fighting and miserable again?

They don’t. And this is where I realized how much I love Julia and how I will miss her the most, because she and Joel have the most real conversation about marriage I’ve seen on TV in some time, maybe ever. Joel realizes that Julia’s still in close contact with her now-ex, still her boss, and that this makes him uncomfortable. They both realize that they hadn’t considered a lot of stuff, and that there’s a lot to talk about. Joel doesn’t want to fight about it, because he, like the kids, is afraid of the fragile truce fracturing. Julia, on the other hand is “afraid not to fight,” because she doesn’t want the problems that exploded the first time to be repeated. So they sit in their car, away from the kids, and hash it out. It’s not pleasant. But it’s part of making it work. And I believe it will.

I have told this story before, but it bears recapping – the best advice I’ve ever gotten about marriage was from a former college Christian fellowship staffer when I was a freshman, who told us that she’d learned in her first year as a wife that “love is not a feeling. Love is a commitment.” Marriage is work. Marriage is details and conflict and compromise and just talking about stuff you’d rather just put a Band-aid on before moving on to brunch, because it never, hopefully, ends. “Parenthood” is the story of several marriages, but somehow Julia and Joel’s, the one that briefly ended, is the one that seems the most real, the story that is the most about these two people and the choices they make to do the work. Julia used to be the one I ignored because she seemed so figured out, but it’s her conflicts that made her real. Bravo.

The impending end of “Parenthood,” grief and “appropriateness”

by SweetMidlife


This is Leslie, and both my sister and I are dreading the end of our frustrating, exhilarating and ultimately emotionally binding stint as quasi-members of talky-talky fictional Bay area family the Bravermans, of NBC’s “Parenthood” (or as my husband calls it, ‘I just hate those people.’)

I don’t hate the Bravermans, a multi-generational, sometimes too-close band of brothers, sisters, parents, cousins, nieces, uncles, aunts, nephews, aunt’s boyfriends, niece’s rage-happy boyfriends and whatnot. I love them. And I include all of those relationships to point out the complicated and very realistic way in which the scripted family is connected, and how the actions and affections of someone you didn’t even consider yourself all that close to can impact your life, particularly if, like the Bravermans, you’re all up under each other all the time and don’t seem to have enough friends you aren’t related to.

Those sometimes painful but unbreakable ties, as in life, sometimes exhibit themselves in times of stress, as in last Thursday’s episode, when the Bravermans are gathered in what Lynne and I can tell you is the unhappiest place on earth – a hospital waiting room at some Godforsaken hour waiting to hear if your father’s going to live or not. And in that moment of overwhelming fear and dread – their father Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) has probably just had a heart attack – any other emotion that manages to edge its way into the room is welcome, at least for a couple of seconds before the clouds come crashing down when the doors swing open.

So as they’re sitting there, trying not to cry, sister Julia (Erika Christiansen) walks in obviously dressed in the outfit she was wearing the night before (She’s…reacquainting herself with her ex-husband. Without her pants.)  Her sisters and niece rib her about it, which to me seemed not only completely natural – these people are all up in each other’s business, after all, so of course they’d comment – but healthy, because it’s normal to not want to talk about your father possibly dying several hundred feet away.

So normal did it seem that the moment sort of went over my head, until I read the recap on EW.com, which I read faithfully. The writer, Michelle Newman, liked the episode but was bothered by the mid-tragedy jocularity – ” I get that it’s a natural instinct in times like this to try to deflect the enormity of the situation, but the gossipy nature of their conversation seemed inappropriate, no matter how much I wanted to know all the deets,” she writes.

I read that passage over three or four times, and then called my sister and paraphrased it for her. And as good a writer as Newman is, this made us wonder if she’s ever been in that waiting room, if she’s ever lost someone. If she has, and she grieves differently, no judgement. I hope that her method got her through, and that she is doing well. But we wholeheartedly disagree, like, a lot, that appropriateness has anything whatsoever to do with that moment. Not in the thick of things.

Look: An unscheduled walk of shame to focus on is a gift in this situation. Lynne and I are part of the sad Parental Loss club, but since childhood have been going to funerals, sitting vigil in waiting rooms and at bedsides, and, as of the death of my mother-in-law almost five years ago, sitting shiva.

And while I believe that it’s inappropriate to start stuff with your family in a moment of weakness, like, unrelated stuff that could wait, life continues even as Death prepares to ring the doorbell (Lord, I wish you could yell “We aren’t here!” and turn the porch light off until it goes dejectedly back to its car and goes away.) Babies will pee in the pew at the funeral. The florist will mistakenly but beautifully decorate the wreath from your cousin Chick and family “Chicken Family,” and everyone you are related to will laugh so hard that it’s painful, even as the rest of the mourners look at you like you crazy. Your father will miss Gladys Knight’s performance on “Dancing With The Stars” because he’s on his way to dialysis, and even though he needs the dialysis to live, he will grumble about it, because he was only watching this stupid show for Gladys.

Every single one of those things has happened in the past 30 years to us and I can tell you this – You do not stop loving, eating, peeing, laughing or being human in the middle of tragedy. Humanity is a gift in these cases, in those rooms. Humanity keeps you sane, or as sane as you can be kept, because you’re trying to scratch your brain out of your skull trying to keep it from chanting “He’s gonna die. He’s gonna die. Hey, Hoda’s hair looks nice! He’s gonna die.”

The Bravermans are not perfect. I do not understand some of their romantic or parenting choices, or entirely where their money comes from, or how moving from a giant rambling house with land in the expensive Bay area to an expensive big Victorian in a nice neighborhood in San Francisco is considered downsizing. I think, again, that they’d all benefit from having friends they aren’t sleeping with whose last names are not and have never been “Braverman.”

But I understand their passionate devotion, how they have never loved anyone more than each other while considering each the burr under their collective saddles. I understand how hard it is to extricate yourself from your family, even if you wanted to, and how sometimes you get all tossed together like an artisanal cranberry and feta salad, bumping against each other, and don’t even realize how good you go together until the spinning stops.

And I know that in those moments, I would not dare tell someone not to crack on their sister’s presumed previous activities, or their hair, or Hoda’s hair, or what’s on the front of the paper, or whatever worms its way into the room. Because I have been in that room, and know this: The pain that might be coming? THAT IS WHAT IS INAPPROPRIATE. It’s evil. It’s the Devil. It’s inevitable, maybe, but it sucks and it just feels wrong. Pain is interrupting your walk of shame, and Gladys Knight, and life, not the other way around. So if being a little tacky gets you through? You get a pass.

“Parenthood”‘s Kristina Braverman: Maybe she’s just a bad parent?

by SweetMidlife



Leslie here!

I have just a relatively scant eight month’s experience as a parent, versus 43 years being parented. But my folks were awesome, and they imparted to me, by example and by drumming it into my little head, that it was their job to prepare me for the world, because the world was too busy to worry about preparing for me.

“Parenthood”‘s Kristina Braverman really sucks at that.

NBC’s family drama, now finishing its last season, follows the extended Braverman family and their various domestic and romantic situations, and I find most of those situations relatable, which is to say that I want to alternately hug them and pop them upside their stupid heads. Kristina (Monica Potter) triggers my popping reflex more than anyone else, both as the mom of a son with Asperger’s and as the administrator of a new charter school for kids with behavioral issues, including her son.

For the non “Parenthood” devotee, Kristina and her husband Adam (Peter Krause) have made Max so much the focus of their lives that you would be forgiven for assuming that their other two kids were kidnapped by wood sprites and being held for ransom that’s never gonna come because MAX IS HAVING A PROBLEM. And girl, Max is always having a problem, and his parents (and maybe the “Parenthood” writers) might think that his Asperger’s-related traits – he’s incredibly, sometimes uncomfortably literal, doesn’t recognize social cues or other people’s emotions and is detail-oriented to the point of being rigid – are the reason that he’s often a pain in the butt.

Nope! I am not a disability expert and I don’t meant to speak definitively about it, but I love many people with them, and know that disabilities alone don’t make you a jerk! Parents who don’t set boundaries for their kids in the name of protectiveness and letting them be their own special selves make you a jerk! And that’s what’s happened to Max. Adam and Kristina – specifically Kristina – have a good track record of explaining to their extended family (and by extension to the audience) some of the things they might expect from Max. But they’ve done a poor job of explaining to Max that even though it’s not fair and he didn’t ask to have Asperger’s, that he has to try to see things from other people’s perspective, to be responsible to other’s feelings, and that there are social expectations of him that no one who doesn’t love him is gonna think is cute.

When Max pitched a fit because he couldn’t use a printer that his aunt Sarah had rented on her own dime for an important work project at the exact time he wanted because Sarah needed it, Kristina expected her to apologize for upsetting him because she couldn’t keep to his schedule, rather than saying “Max, I know you’re disappointed and that Aunt Sarah is using the printer when you’d been told you could, but she’s the adult, it’s her rental for work, and you’re gonna have to suck it up and deal.” When they didn’t it was disappointing, because they not only disrespected a relative who didn’t have to let him use her stuff in the first place, but because that doesn’t do that boy any favors.

And last night, when Max found his crush Dylan kissing another boy, he marches into his mother and principal’s office and demands the kid be expelled. That doesn’t happen, but when Max then passes around a flier detailing the other kid’s supposed crimes still insisting on that the kid get kicked out of school, then starting a fight with hin. Kristina’s response should have been to immediately discipline him, call the other kid’s parents and had a talk about, telling him in no uncertain terms that he was wrong and that he can’t lie about other kids because they disappoint him.

But of course she didn’t, leaving Max feeling justified to escalate things by making a creepy kidnapper collage of photos of Dylan, interrupting her lunch to declare his love for her in front of her friends and refusing to stop when she asked until she blew up and told him she was never going to love him and to go the heck away.

You should have seen me – I was literally standing over the TV, just knowing that this – THIS – had to be the moment where Kristina would be forced to be a parent and a daggone administrator by, as clearly as she good, telling Max that what he did to Dylan bordered on harassment, that while owning and relating his feelings is not only important but a few breakthrough for him, that he can’t force someone to feel the same way, and that when they ask him to stop, he must. But noooooo. She hugs him (a breakthrough for the touch-averse Max) and tells him that she’s proud of his candidness, but that he’s not in trouble, at which point I yelled some non-friendly words at the TV because come on. The Bravermans operate on the assumption that Max’s issues compel him to act a certain way, but they never seem to fill in the other piece, that he, like all humans, is responsible for the way that those issues affect other people. Not telling him this is not protection. It’s setting the stage for him to one day get punched in the mouth, or worse.

Max isn’t the only Braverman family kid whose shenanigans don’t get called out nearly enough. Adam’s sister Julia and husband Joel are going through a divorce, and their daughter Sidney, already a screamer-yeller, has gone straight into bullying classmates and losing her crap all over the place. Her reaction to her family crisis is understandable, but her parents’ response is to try to explain to the parents of the girl she terrorized how hard things were for Sidney, who has just given a snotty fake apology and run to the car without accepting any real responsibility for anything.

The victim’s dad, however, wasn’t buying it, telling Julia and Joel that he didn’t really care what Sidney’s problem was, as long as they were spilling over on his kid. This is what I want to see somebody – anybody – say to Adam and Kristina, and to Max, that things being hard for you doesn’t give you the right to take them out on other people, and that if Max proposes to not live in a cave, he’s gonna have to work that out.

I guess this affects me so much because I see all around me, in the newspaper I write for, the TV I watch and in the malls of the world, the philosophy that the world is supposed to conform to everybody’s wishes – that it’s OK for kids not to say “please” or “Thank you” because they’re “shy,” or that it should be alright for kids to bump into you in the mall, or be rude to strangers, because they’re “just kids.” No, they’re not. They’re future adults, and if the people in their lives don’t impress upon them their responsibility to check themselves enough to not cause harm to others, no one is going to like them. Many people are going to want to punch them.

And it won’t be a TV show.

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