TV Diary | Parenthood: “Road Trip”
TV Diary | Parenthood – Episode 3.12 – “Road Trip” – Original Airdate: 1/3/12
Episode Grade: A
Editor’s note: New feature time here on the blog. I’m kind of shamelessly stealing from The AV Club’s format from their episode reviews, but I’m going to start doing some mini-reviews that I’m calling TV Diary. As we enter the digital age, DVRs have become much more prevalent in the past five years and many people tend to keep up with their favorite shows on their own pace. Many, like myself, rarely watch anything live so the stockpile of shows on the ol’ TiVo can get rather large. TV Diary will give you a look at what I’ve been watching – may be a show that aired months ago, or it could be a show that aired just last night. My hope is that maybe I’ll turn you on to something you haven’t been watching or warn you off of something that’s terrible. Onto the entry.
The road trip as a framing device for television episodes is often a fruitful one. It often forces a series’ characters to examine their relationships with one another due to the close proximity that such a trip provides. They also often make for some of a show’s best installments , and Parenthood’s first 2012 episode, “Road Trip” is no different. It was an exceptional episode on all levels that drew from some of the storylines that the show’s been building in this, its third season, but was one that also felt very self-contained and was almost a mini-film unto itself. The titular trip comes from Braverman patriarch Zeek’s (Craig T. Nelson) desire to pack the family up to visit his mother for her 86th birthday. The desire to make a fuss out of the randomness of the birthday  seems somewhat odd, but all four of the Braverman siblings and their assorted families agree to pack up and make the trip downstate from Berkeley to Bakersfield on short notice.  From the moment that the family assembles, the tension is obvious. Zeek is incredibly controlling and uptight about the trip but, along the way, we learn that the relationship between Zeek and Blanche (Frances Sternhagen) is a tense one, in that she has been very demanding and very unsupportive of him and his choices throughout his life which has lead to a strong need for her approval on his part. Vulnerability is not a shading we’ve often seen out of Nelson’s Zeek in the series’ run, but in “Road Trip” it’s present in abundance and Nelson wears it well. Because of the tension in the relationship with his mother, Zeek can’t help but pass this along to his own children along the way, particularly as it relates to his own eldest son Adam (Peter Krause). When Adam shows up for the jump-off of the trip without his wife, son, and infant daughter , Zeek loudly voices his disapproval due to his desire for the entire family to make the journey . The frustration rolls downhill to Adam’s interactions with his own daughter, as he experiences an inability to connect with Haddie on the trip  and passive/aggressively makes his frustration apparent at a rest stop gift shop. It’s interesting to watch as the tension trickles down from generation to generation to generation to generation in this way. After Adam confesses to her that he’s just trying to take the opportunity some time with her before she leaves for college the following fall, Haddie realizes what’s happening and tells him that she’s just always taken for granted that she’d be able to talk to him and hasn’t yet given any thought to the distance that college would put between the two of them. This self-actualization eventually makes its way back up to Zeek and his mother by “Road Trip’s” end as Zeek confronts his mother in a heartrending scene over her lack of vocal support for him, telling her that the overriding reason he made the trip is that he wanted to show her how proud he was of how his own children turned out in the hopes of finally gaining some of her approval . The contrast between a parent/child relationship that’s strong (Adam/Haddie) and one that needs work (Zeek/Blanche) is evident and striking. “Road Trip” was one of the few Parenthood episodes that’s put Nelson’s Zeek front and center and Nelson runs with the opportunity. In less skilled hands, the material could have been maudlin and melodramatic but Nelson and Sternhagen are pros and that shows through the pathos that they imbue in Zeek and Blanche. It’s a relationship that’s fractured over the years, but is one that both parties are interested in repairing at their advanced ages. In a season filled with far too many valleys, “Road Trip” may stand as the highest peak yet. This episode – and the raw emotion that it provides – is why I watch this show.
 I’m thinking specifically of Big Love’s third season episode, “Come, Ye Saints,” and Louie’s brilliant second season installment, “Country Drive.”
 It’s established that visiting Grandma Blanche isn’t something that the family has done on any kind of regular basis.
 Which is something that they take care to note to Zeek and Camille (Bonnie Bedelia) on several occasions.
 Leaving him with just his teenage daughter Haddie (Sarah Ramos) as a traveling companion). Adam’s wife Kristina, in an attempt to take a harder disciplinary role with their Asperger’s afflicted son Max, punishes him by making him stay home from the trip. After being called a “bitch” twice, she doesn’t think the punishment through and is forced to stay home with him, angering Adam and then later Zeek. Have I mentioned before that Kristina is the worst? Because she is THE WORST.
 Due to her apparently being more interested in texting with her friends instead of conversing with her father in the car-ride to Bakersfield.
 In the most touching part of the scene, Zeek expresses his disappointment over the scarcity of hearing Blanche tell him she loved him, noting that he told each of his kids that he loved them every day of their lives. She responds by telling him that of course she loves him. Yeah… it admittedly got a little dusty in the room at that point.
*Someone actually stole the used recliner out of Zeek’s pick-up that he’d purchased for Blanche as a gift? While the truck sat in the parking lot of a diner? Who DOES that?
*”She doesn’t approve of me because she told Dad that she didn’t approve of me. And then he told me.” Sarah, about her grandmother. The way that Lauren Graham delivers this line might have been one of “Road Trip’s” funniest moments.
*There’s another attempt at redeeming Kristina when, after arriving at Blanche’s after all, tells Zeek what a great job he’s done with his family after he expresses how he feels he failed in getting the entire family to make the trip. His demanding nature caused the Braverman children to (temporarily) head home. They do eventually all arrive at Blanche’s home.
*In that same conversation, there were some hints at a hard family life for Kristina. Is this something we’ll be revisiting later in the season?
*Still, Kristina is THE WORST. I’ve mentioned that, I think.
*Drew, in every teenaged boy’s nightmare, walks in on his mother and her boyfriend having sex. Awkwardness abounds for the rest of Drew’s interactions with Sarah in the epsiode.
*”Thank you. My back is killing me.”
*”An intimate union of bodies.”
*”That’s not a good handshake. It’s very limp.”
*Much of the on-the-road scenes are shot with longing looks at the scenery and are accented by pensive acoustic music. It sets the atmosphere nicely.
*The scene with the kids discussing their outrage with Zeek and Camille going on without them was great and seemed almost improv’d. Seeing as much of the creative team behind Friday Night Lights now works on Parenthood, their influence was apparent in that particular scene.
*After going on for 1,300+ words (or about 600 more than I’d intended), you should probably just watch this. Because I’m such a great person, I’ve embedded it below via Hulu. Enjoy.