Season Analysis: Parenthood probably works better with shorter season orders, as the 22-episode fifth season allowed it to indulge in storylines that were not always working. Still, there was stellar acting throughout, particularly from Ray Romano and Max Burkholder.
Smack dab in the middle of the season, “Promises” was the point at which every Braverman story – the questionable and the sensible ones both – were all clicking. I was always skeptical of the Joel and Julia marriage troubles storyline, because the existence of their issues required some unusually unreasonable behavior. But when it produces scenes like Julia confiding in Adam about her problems, with Erika Christensen perfectly conveying how she cannot understand how her life is the way it is right now, it doesn’t really matter if the story didn’t make much sense in the first place. Then there is the weird, but totally engaging, love triangle with Drew, Amy, and Natalie in which it was kind of just fun to examine the personalities of these characters and analyze who really fits with whom. But the best moments of this episode – and really the whole season – come from the best storyline of the year, Max hanging out at Hank’s photography studio. The latest crisis with Max leads Hank to realize that he too might have Asperger’s, and Ray Romano delivers a whole host of reactions that convey how this revelation changes everything about his past and present. It is cathartic because everything finally makes sense but devastating because it might be confirmation that things will never be better. It is this sort of emotional conflict that is Parenthood’s bread and butter, the device that guarantees a few tears will be jerked every episode, and it is rarely pulled off more consistently than it was in “Promises.”