Ken Tucker
November 23, 2011 AT 02:04 PM EST

It’s a measure of how much we can become involved with the characters of Parenthood that the current Adam-got-kissed-by-Rachel storyline is so irritating — in a good way. By that I mean, it’s successfully designed to make you argue with anyone who also watches the show. Was it a mistake, last night, for Adam to tell Kristina about the kiss? Was Crosby the rare voice of sensible realism in telling him he should clam up and let the indiscretion pass? How dumb was Adam to promise to fire Rachel and then not follow through, his sin of omission so easily discovered by his wife?

I know that Parenthood is not a ratings grabber, nor do its twists turn as provocatively as, say, How I Met Your Mother (a show whose allure, I must confess, I can admire from afar but not really feel, and thus I’m always surprised at the passion of its fans). It operates, on a major network, like a cult show, which makes it all the more prone to provoking strong feelings among its core audience. And so the idea that Adam — portrayed as a neurotic paragon of decency so wonderfully by Peter Krause — would do something as patently stupid as this results not in me thinking, “How can the writers set up such a ridiculous plot?” but rather, “How did Adam, who really deserves a break after all he’s been through, who’s always The Responsible Husband/Son/Father, get himself into such a fix?”

Last week, I was nearly howling at the TV screen as Adam insisted on walking the almost cartoonishly ripe Rachel to her door on a rainy night. I mean, he could have just watched her go up the steps to her little apartment and seen that she was safe, right? But no, softened by tequila shots and gratefulness, Rachel lurched forward and bussed the man she’s grateful to and who, despite being, as Crosby put it, “an old dude,” is handsome, right?

On Tuesday night, the reverberations of the kiss were felt. Adam is compelled to tell Kristina; Kristina is shocked and hurt and although on some level she believes him, her reaction is all tied in with her mixed feelings about the time Adam is spending away from home at the new recording studio while that cute new Braverman baby is there at home, needing more daddy-time. Add to this Kristina’s exhaustion, her (needless) poor self-image post-partum, and her (correct) memory of Rachel as a buxom young thing who likes to show off her attributes, and the explosion of pain and rage was inevitable, and wonderfully played by Monica Potter.

If there’s a weak conception in this plot, it’s Rachel. She’s too malleable and vague a character as she’s been conceived: Smart and hard-working one moment; immature, insecure, and ready to party the next. I thought Adam’s advice to her the previous week, that she didn’t need to dress the way she does be cause she’s (groan) beautiful on the inside, was incredibly condescending. But rather than saying, “Hey, I know I am, old dude, mind your own business,” she seemed grateful for such a roundabout compliment. You’d think Rachel would have come to terms with her own body, attractiveness, the effect it has on people by now.

Which is why this character sends out a signal that she exists primarily as a catalyst for drama in Parenthood, and not a permanent fixture. She’s curvy, but she’s not as well-rounded as the other characters. She’s there to provoke Kristina to go back to work, which will bring back the tense, over-stressed Kristina we like so much — a character who’d be too much drama to handle in real life, but whom we can recognize as a familiar sort of person we’ve encountered.

I know a lot else went on last night on Parenthood (Crosby and Jasmine together again? Jasmine is a very flirty minx, is she not? and just how much breakfast sausage did Joel and Julia think their adoption-baby parents were going to eat at that abortive breakfast?), but this was the plot that stood out for its discussion-provoking complexity, don’t you think?

Twitter: @kentucker

You May Like