Ken Tucker
March 29, 2011 AT 03:45 PM EDT

Parenthood returns with a new episode tonight, and among the show’s many wonderfully emotional, intricate subplots, the Crosby-is-a-bad-dude one fascinates me, and perhaps you.

All season long, the series has been setting up Dax Shepard’s Crosby as a kind-hearted good soul who’s also a shameless slacker who’ll avoid adult responsibility at any opportunity. Crosby tends to want to be more of a best buddy to cute little Jabbar than a disciplinarian father; his resistance to laying down the law about even so elementary a task as asking the boy to clean his room forced Joy Bryant’s Jasmine to assume the role of tough-parent, which she understandably resented.

Then there was Crosby’s awfully bad idea to sleep with Minka Kelly’s Gaby, thus upending not only his relationship with Jasmine, but also leaving Adam and Kristina without an aide to help with Max.

As with the best TV shows, every character has his or her reasons for the way he or she behaves, and Crosby’s not-so-great role model has been his father. Zeek, alternately a ’60s hang-loose relic and a Great Santini-ish hard-ass, was obviously a man whose parenting style was something to avoid emulating at all costs. Adam did it by becoming a careful, orderly, calm fellow (in contrast to his wild-man father); Crosby opted out of the whole commitment thing altogether, until he met Jasmine and learned of the existence of his son.

Still, is it possible to forgive Crosby for his adventure with Gaby? Have the producers rendered him irredeemable? I get the sense that tonight’s episode is going to try and bring Crosby and Jasmine closer to reconciliation; let’s see if we can buy it.

Parenthood has had a tough time of it in the ratings this season as The Good Wife has surged ahead of it. There’s no question it’s a very good series — so good at what it does, in fact, that I suspect many people stopped watching Parenthood because its emotions were so raw, so realistic, that it fell victim to the great philistine excuse of our time: The I-don’t-want-to-watch-anything-that-makes-me-depressed/uncomfortable/think.

It would be disingenuous of me not to admit that I haven’t covered Parenthood every week because, like much of the rest of the country, I think The Good Wife is both excellent and has become part of the national pop-culture conversation: It’s one of the few network dramas I want to watch in real time. Parenthood, I always catch up with, and admire some things tremendously (the way it’s dealt with the subject of autism; the performances of Peter Krause and Lauren Graham in particular) and fret over other aspects of the show (why were we asked to invest in weeks of John Corbett as Mopey Absent Father when we knew he’d be leaving the show? Why can’t the writers get a fix on Bonnie Bedelia’s character?)

That said, I hope there continues to be a place on NBC’s schedule for Parenthood to continue to thrive.

What do you think of the character of Crosby, and of Parenthood in general?

Twitter: @kentucker

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