Ken Tucker
January 02, 2013 AT 07:15 AM EST

Parenthood began our new year with a new episode that may have had you tearing up before the opening credits. In the space of a few minutes, the show went from raucous laughter (courtesy of the Braverman women, out on the town for a night of boozy revelry, culminating in Kristina’s excellently impudent question to Sarah as to who has the bigger endowment, Hank or Mark?) to hushed poignancy.

The shaving of Kristina’s head was moving, a little ludicrous (am I the only person who thought Monica Potter’s bald pate ended up making her look a bit like one of Fringe‘s Observers?) (okay, I’m the only one, and I do prefer Max’s off-screen comparison to “Bane in the Batman movie”), and the provocation for some typically wonderful scenes between Monica Potter and Peter Krause, who together are making this season one sustained feat of switchback emotions and artful reactions to each other. Their acting, and reacting, is taking the show to a higher level.

The episode (directed by Dax Shepard) made room for two other significant subplots, and a third that could have been cribbed from a sitcom. The ever-evolving relationship between Sarah and Hank was moving along nicely — I highly approve of Hank’s notion of putting butter on the underside of a fresh hot croissant. And if Sarah overreacted to seeing a picture of Mark being kissed by a girl in a Facebook picture — well, Sarah always overreacts to the guy she’s not with, doesn’t she? She wouldn’t be the screwed-up-about-men-Sarah we like so much if she didn’t. But really, for an episode that relied so heavily on the subject of hair, I have one thing to say to Sarah: Look at Hank — the man may have the honking voice of Ray Romano, but he’s got a great hank o’ hair.

Speaking of having things to say to Parenthood characters, please cover your ears because I’m about to shout: HEY, JULIA AND JOEL: GIVE IT UP! THE ADOPTION IS NOT TAKING! Come on, you two: Victor is miserable, throwing a bat at Sydney can only be a prelude to strangling Sydney in the dead of night. Either renegotiate this adoption or spin-off into a reality series on MTV: My Big Mistake Adoption. Not that Julia telling Sydney to “shut up” was much better — the verbal equivalent of throwing a bat at her. I cede to the opinion of my wife, who said decisively, “She’s the worst mother.”

The sitcom subplot I mentioned? That would be Jasmine’s mom moving in with Crosby, Jasmine, and Jabbar. Specifically into the spare room that is Crosby’s arty version of a mancave. At least now it has a new overhead fan, so that when Mother-In-Law moves out, it’ll blow away the fumes of dope and Cheetos when Crosby is busy “making art.”

As he proved with his recent co-direction of the movie Hit & Run, Shepard has a knack for keeping things moving, and it seemed as though Parenthood crammed an awful lot into one hour this week. The Kristina-and-Adam stuff felt like its own show, which I mean as a compliment. Kristina’s visit to the supermarket; Adam’s buying of the well-intentioned-but-awful Farrah-cut wig; the surprise redhead Kristina arranged in the alley; Kristina passing for a hot 27 year-old with a horny young salesman; the utterly glorious hotel sequence (Adam all “oiled up” in that Hugh Hefner-ish smoking-jacket-bathrobe: priceless). This was all wonderful stuff.

So wonderful I wish I hadn’t seen the coming attractions for next week. I really don’t want a Drew subplot; if the show wants to go with youth to mix things up, I’d rather have Parenthood engineer a Haddie-comes-home subplot. But as long as Parenthood keeps giving us stuff as good as Kristina/Adam and Sarah/Hank, I’m really not complaining.

Twitter: @kentucker

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