In Defense of 'Parenthood's Julia Braverman: Why No One Needs To Take Sides On The Joel & Julia Issue
Thursday night, NBC's most heartfelt drama will air what could be its final episode (networks execs haven't quite handed down the renewal order, though it does seem likely) as Parenthood's Julia Braverman-Graham (Erika Christensen) watches her fate hang in the balance. All season, she and her estranged husband Joel have weathered a tumultuous sea of unmet expectations, disappointment, and frustration resulting in their eventual and extremely painful separation. Suddenly, the character who most Parenthood fans have brushed aside for four seasons was the Season 5 anchor, and yet, Julia still remains a divisive character. I, for one, think Julia deserves better from Parenthood fans.
When the Joel and Julia split seemed imminent, the battle cries for "Team Joel" and "Team Julia" emerged, as if this painful separation and potential divorce was some adversarial excursion in Levi's Stadium (Julia's own Berkley, Calif. isn't exactly rife with sports complexes). This is ludicrous. If anything, Parenthood is the show that's taught us that when it comes to relationships and family, nothing is one-sided. There are no clear cut lines drawn in the sand. Love is this nebulous, all-encompassing, confusing presence that both obscures everything and makes it clearer.
The beauty of Parenthood is in its ability to not choose sides in any emotional debate — even when Sarah (Lauren Graham) fiddled with the idea of bringing her deadbeat ex Seth (John Corbett) back into her life, the series managed to play devil's advocate and Seth sympathizer. There is no situation in which fences should be put up on one side or the other.
But then, there's Julia herself, whose "Team Julia" seemed to be far thinner than "Team Joel," and while I'm certainly not advocating these teams in any form, I had to ask: Where is the love for Julia? She's always been a bit of a pill — a type A lawyer who had a hard time understanding her siblings different lifestyles because hers seemed so busy and important, yet, she's always been kind, loving, and ambitious to a fault. It would have been easy to write her off as "the worst," but Parenthood has taught us that's not an option. Yet, with Julia, it always has been.
Then, when her world was turned upside down and she left her law firm, failed to find new employment, and took on the very difficult task of being a stay-at-home parent — a trying position she hadn't really had any experience performing — she struggled. She felt bored when her kids were gone, and overwhelmed when they were around. She was thrown into the thick of at-home parenting — something that many parents require years to get the hang of — and was expected to excel at it and take to it immediately.
Now, Joel had a point when he said that she wasn't supporting his dreams. Julia was so focused on her own struggle that she couldn't see how important her struggle was in the process of giving Joel the chance to take on his dream job. That was a failing on her part. But after that, Joel shut down, and Julia knew no other recourse than to speak loudly, flail her arms, and show up to his office in nothing but a trench coat and lingerie. Of course, when that didn't work, Julia found her way to other companionship — a major screwup from which she desperately sought recovery. And once again, she was met with a wall: there was no conversation. Again, the message from Joel was loud and clear: you being uncomfortable is getting in my way, you deal with it.
Of course Joel has reasons to be upset and to shut down — I'm not here to pick either side in this debate. (Hell, I just want these two to kiss and make up because their relationship once gave me hope for the rest of us romantically-inclined humans.) All I'm saying is that we should probably refrain from picking "Team Joel" or "Team Julia."
Mrs. Braverman-Graham can be annoying and sometimes it's clear that for all her ridiculously intimidating book smarts, she lacks common sense. But she is a Braverman, an essential component of this TV family we've all come to love. She deserves just as much consideration and understanding as we've given Amber and Ryan through their infuriating relationship and at least as much as managed to send towards "Team Crosby" when he cheated on his now-wife with his Autistic nephew's therapist. If we can do find compassion there, it can't be that much to ask that we give Julia some credit and maybe accept that both sides of this romantic debate hold water.
Images: NBC (3)