There is no better way to describe the season five premiere of NBC's Parenthood than to say it feels like a warm hug from a family member you've deeply missed. The show that never fails to make you smile, laugh, and cry, often within mere seconds of each other, is back at its best with "It Has To Be Now", an episode that sees a return to the Bravermans half a year since we last left them. It's a homecoming if we ever knew one, and it couldn't come at a more perfect time. As the fall weather settles in, you'll want to cuddle up on the couch with a blanket and this season pass on your DVR; there is nothing cozier than that.
For those fans still recovering from the rocky emotional road that was Kristina's (Monica Potter) brave battle with breast cancer in season four, thankfully "It Has To Be Now" not only sees a lighter side to the survivor but also to the Braverman clan in general. While new conflicts certainly present themselves almost immediately upon reunion, they are not nearly as heavy as life or death. The show doesn't treat anything as unimportant, but the scope is certainly smaller, more close-knit, and this may leave you unconsciously waiting for the other shoe to drop, so used to the events of seasons past. In fact, you may even hold your breath completely when Amber (Mae Whitman) and Ryan (Matt Lauria) are Skyping, thousands of miles away from each other, just hoping he doesn't come back without a limb or in a wheelchair. That would be too Jason Street of Katims, right? But the tension felt is palpable, as you just want him to be okay as you would any friend or brother or cousin serving overseas. Those moments and feelings linger in the back of your mind even throughout the lighter scenes that follow. Sometimes that means moments like Max (Max Burkholder) robotically repeating Hank's (Ray Romano) advice or seeing Sarah (Lauren Graham) fight with a smoke detector seem that much more humorous because you've been holding your breath and waiting for that other shoe. But once you realize you're safe here at home with the Bravermans you can certainly smile along with them a whole lot more.
"It Has To Be Now" opens with Crosby (Dax Shepard) and Jasmine (Joy Bryant) buying last minute baby items as they await the birth of their new daughter, only to have Jasmine go into labor right there in the store. The addition of yet another member of this big, emotional family is a celebratory moment that brings everyone together and more than gives the family, in addition to the audience a reason to smile. But it's never just been the big moments that have made this show special, and this episode is no different. Parenthood is at its best when it is reflecting everyday life through the unique eyes of its core characters, and here we see that through new ventures for characters like Sarah, Joel (Sam Jaeger), Julia (Erika Christensen), and Kristina, most notably.
Sarah has grown the most in our time away. She is working on getting her own photography clients, but while that is very much a side, part-time job, she has taken a job as a super of an apartment building. Immediately her maturity is apparent in Graham's tight and dead-on responses when her tenants (well, one specific one) prove to be as irresponsible as Sarah would have been just seasons ago. She hasn't lost her childlike enthusiasm for things (like learning what emojis are) or witty banter (a personal favorite is her response to Crosby and Jasmine's crying baby), but just in her attitude and demeanor you can tell she is following through with getting her life together before she jumps into another relationship.
When it comes to Joel and Julia, they are each trying to land big jobs, to varying successes. Jaeger taps into a downright glee at the prospect of taking on this two-year building job that would be great for the family, even if it means him spending less time with them, while Christensen is more reserved and collected as the wheels turn behind her eyes when she realizes the way she left things when she quit her old job to focus on her family might now come back to bite her. Already we are seeing the hints of their strong unit being pulled in opposite directions, each of them being distracted by different things, with the potential for destruction if they're not careful.
Even in season five, Parenthood still manages to surprise with some of pay-offs and story paths. Things that you thought the show may have dropped or just decided not to pursue-- such as Max and Hank's similar personalities that could therefore bond them, or Kristina's political aspirations that ultimately had to be put on hold by her cancer treatments-- pop back up in this season premiere in the most pleasing ways. The return of Bob Little (Jonathan Tucker) may not be an entirely welcome one for Adam (Peter Krause), but it is for the audience because of what it means for Kristina. The episode starts off so carefree for her-- a woman just going with the flow and doing whatever she wants spontaneously because she has been given a second chance-- but it is in a way that could lead down a reckless road if not reminded of what she really wants and what she is fighting for. Thankfully, she gets all of that with enough time to spare, and fun Kristina manages to merge with the determined Kristina who can and will succeed at anything once she put her mind to it.
As expected, Krause and Shepard share one of their always special brother talks in this episode that sheds some new light on Crosby, a guy we've seen "take" to being a dad perhaps better than originally expected but still with skipping a lot of the hardest parts. Now that he has a newborn-- and a daughter, to boot-- his vulnerabilities and shortcomings are bound to spill out. Shepard allows a key early one to without any self-consciousness as an actor, and that perfectly sells the moment for the character. He admits something to his brother that most would never want to say out-loud, but his delivery, matched with Krause's quiet, non-judgmental response says so much about how far these two have come as men and as brothers.
But this wouldn't be an episode of Parenthood if it didn't have you reaching for the tissues. Rather than hitting you hard upfront, though, this fifth season premiere gradually builds the emotional moments, certainly causing a little choking up in the beginning from the birth of the baby, into welling when Kristina visits her old chemo ward to see friends not as lucky as her, and finally settling into full on ugly (though happy) crying for the final scene when Amber waits for Ryan to return home. Five seasons in, you may be crying from joy more than pain alongside these characters, but they will still make you feel harder than any other show out there.
Parenthood returns to NBC on September 26 2013 at 10 p.m.
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