To review Parenthood is to be repetitive. That is not because the show is but because the best way to describe situations, story arcs, and episodes is to say they're "heartwarming", "emotional", "reflective", and always "like coming home". The Braverman family is not every family, but they should be because even when they are stumbling, they handle everything with grace and love and support. The amount and kind of support varies, of course, based on the individual character, what he or she has going on to work through individually, and his or her personality type/maturity level/ability to handle adversity. But that just works further to prove these people are not perfect; they are anyone you could see in your own family or neighborhood, and even the cutest or seemingly most together couples have cracks in their relationships to fill in.
Communication is key in a family or a relationship, and it has always been the most unique thing about Parenthood. The way the Braverman family talks, stepping over each other at times, sometimes having multiple conversations at once, but always sharing a laugh or a smile and coming out of it knowing a little bit more about the others has been inspirational. Now, though, the show is delivering the flip side of the coin by showing what happens when the communication breaks down and individuals in bigger units let things simmer and fester.
Joel (Sam Jaeger) and Julia (Erika Christensen) had the marriage that many people aspire to. Nice house, well-behaved kid, one job high-powered enough that the other spouse could stay home. Things were sent in a tailspin when they went through struggles to have another baby, then adopt, and Julia quit her job-- only to find now that she can't just jump back into her line of work so easily, if at all. The problems at home range from having a new kid in the house who is struggling with school or the crazy and often inopportune hours of someone just starting a big job. But those are just the external ones this particular show has used to draw attention to the internal issues going on with Joel and Julia themselves.
Joel has always been a quieter character, especially when compared to the big, boisterous Braverman clan. He internalizes, but he might not really "deal". Now he has a ball of pressure building up inside of him that has him feeling that he has to provide for his whole family, rather than Julia's previous position of "getting to." His back is up against a wall, and he's proving he's not doing so well at balancing by just sucking it all in. Julia, on the other hand, is spiraling and letting things spill out around her. She is lost; she is bored; she is feeling inadequate and broken after having the one thing she knew she was good at shut its door on her only to find herself struggling with (and again partially bored by) her new situation. True to the heart of the show, this storyline is really about one Braverman's unique struggle, but unlike Kristina's (Monica Potter) cancer, those in orbit around Julia are not just trying to contain their own fears and struggles to get her through what she needs. It feels a little selfish to the viewer because the viewer spends so much alone time with Julia to see her vulnerability, her fear, her guilt* when she reaches out to her only real (non-biological) friend. But in actuality, it's just life at its richest once again.
* Oh how I just wanted to grab her and shake her and tell her she has absolutely nothing to feel guilty for; everyone needs a friend; stop being so strong and stoic and solitary!
David Denman came between Jim and Pam before Jim and Pam knew they were supposed to be together on The Office, and by design he has been introduced as that "other" guy on Parenthood, too-- that new friend of Julia's (Ed) who is getting her through some of the tough stuff when she feels ignored or inadequate at home. But the truth is, it's not Ed specifically-- Ed could be Ben or Bill or even Betty-- and Julia would still be reaching out the way she is because she's getting an ear and a shoulder back. Again, it could be seen as selfish to the unkeen observer, but when communication and emotional support breaks down one place, the innate thing is to go look for it somewhere else. We need it to survive.
The truly fascinating thing is seeing the same storyline reflect in completely different characters at the same time. Julia saw herself reflected in her mother's struggles but really there's a little bit of what she's going through in Victor (Xolo Mariduena), too. And if only she and her niece Amber (Mae Whitman) would sit down together, maybe they could lean on each other a bit more in that familial way the Bravermans have inspired everyone else to do. Because Amber and Ryan (Matt Lauria) aren't communicating either. He says what he thinks he has to-- or what he thinks she needs to hear-- to push past any point or issue that would have him confronting his own fears or feelings of inadequacy. He's a hyper-version of Joel in that he's quiet, too, but there's a danger to his brooding because of the things he's been through. His stone cold face when he showed up at Sarah's (Lauren Graham) door to talk to her about his family proved that. He isn't letting Amber in, and she's young enough that she's not pushing. Yet.
The difference, of course, is that Julia is older and more experienced than Amber, so she would be expected to be the adviser in the situation if she and Amber were to compare notes, so to speak. It's a shame, though, because by seeing our problems reflected in one another we can breathe a little easier, relax a little more, feel less alone and therefore get out of our own heads a little bit. Julia has always been one of the most together ones in the family, but now she's a little bit broken, and she doesn't quite know how to handle it, let alone accept it. She is trying so hard to go about things as usual-- dropping the conversation because Joel's busy or tired or frustrated and even still dressing in more lawyer-appropriate attire than what works more efficiently for hanging out with the kids-- that she may just be losing herself more than if she allowed herself to embrace full vulnerability. As much as it may break our hearts to watch her in these moments of self-doubt and struggle, though, it's a subtle but beautiful lesson that needs to be learned-- by her and by everyone watching. No one, not even the Bravermans, are perfect.