This season hasn't been an easy one for Parenthood fans. While many of us have taken Joel and Julia for granted, rolling our eyes at their drawn out adoption plot lines and infuriatingly unshakable bond, Season 5 delivered a split that hurt — and one that I have admittedly hated from day one. But now that we're stuck in this divorce situation, Parenthood has proved that it knows exactly what it's doing.
In the first episode since the Olympics wrested the Jason Katims series from our loving arms, Joel is taking the kids to his new bachelor pad for the weekend and from Sydney's staunch resistance to the plan to Victor's seeming indifference once unlimited Xbox was on the table, everything about the situation was on point. As a former child of divorce, this scene — aside from Joel's improbable impeccable decorations — felt exactly like the first night at my dad's new apartment after he and my mother separated. Where there was Xbox, we had PlayStation, and where there was excellent pizza, we had California Mexican food. All in all, this sense of moving on into this strange almost purgatory complete with creepy elevator sounds (at my dad's place it was occasional coyote howls as we were near the hilly highway out to the mountains) is the stuff harsh reality is made of.
But inevitably, there is a sense of resistance from all angles: Joel knows this isn't home, as he continually refers to the house he shared with Julia as "home." Still, he soldiers on, pushing the kids to find the silver lining of this strange new world — look a pool and pizza every Saturday! The clear tension of the push and pull between father and kids is subtle, but it's exactly perfect. Sydney's outburst isn't a ploy for heightened drama — I had one of those myself at my father's new apartment — it's realism. As hard as it was to watch Joel and Julia part, the truly difficult part is watching how their actions affect their children and it's important that Parenthood take the time to put the spotlight on them for once during this long, tumultuous plot.
Of course, the moment that clenched Parenthood's home run in this situation was the final scene in which Victor, finally pushed to discomfort by the creaking elevator once the pool is closed and the Xbox is put away, grabs his father's phone and calls Julia so that she can calm him down so he can sleep. There is no panic — no "Mom, come get me right now!" It's sincere, subdued and completely realistic. Victor has reluctantly accepted that he's stuck in this strange new life, but he craves connections to the old one. He can't force his parents to return to one another, but he can feel — if only for a moment — that his family is all in one place. And once he achieves that impossible dream for just a few minutes, he's fast asleep.
My own connection to these moments is rather personal, because while my parents were certainly no Joel and Julia and my brother and I were a bit older when my father moved out, the emotion that goes along with that change remains the same. And while this episode could have focused entirely on Julia's struggle and the way her siblings eased her pain with wine, Thai food, and Adam's dancing, it left room for us to understand the kids' stance in this whole thing. And that, in a nutshell, is why Parenthood continues to be a weekly source of tears — and, of course, one of the best shows on television.