‘Parenthood’ Season 6 Premiere Recap: “Vegas”

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They say life’s a gift, and for Parenthood, the words ring even truer. The ensemble dramedy from Friday Night Lights alum Jason Katims has remained on “the bubble,” ratings and renewals-wise, through its five tear-filled seasons, so much so that a final season remained up in the air until May. The half season (13 episodes) fans have been given is, in many ways, a gift — a chance for closure from the Braverman family. But by the looks of tonight’s premiere, Parenthood season six won’t be dedicated exclusively to saying goodbye. By no means does this feel like the beginning of the end, what with all the new beginnings for the Braverman women: Amber’s pregnancy, Julia’s new beau, Kristina’s school opening, Sarah’s commitment to Hank, and Camille’s new creative start in the city. But then there’s Zeek.

“One of the things I wanted to do for the season was to find one larger story that influences everybody on the show,” Katims said at this summer’s Television Critics Association Press Tour. “The story is going to be introduced in the first episode and play throughout the season. It’s a huge new challenge for the family and one that we didn’t see before… In this case, I feel like I want to to do something that starts at the beginning of the season, by the way there will be as many story lines going on as usual, but this will be something that tracks us throughout the year.”

In “Vegas,” Zeek celebrates his birthday with a surprise casino trip alongside Sarah, until a cardiac “event” lands him in the hospital. Zeek Braverman is clearly an irritable sort, but over the course of season five, he made major strides in personal growth. He compromised in order to save his marriage and make his wife happy by agreeing to sell their home. He bonded with grandson and son alike, via car restorations and road trips. Slowly but surely, I think Katims and co. have been preparing Parenthood viewers for the passing of the patriarchal torch from Zeek to Adam. Despite having a heart condition, Zeek is still very young and active. He’s put in the work to improve himself, so it seems to really hit him hard when his health problems flare up, just as everything in his life seems perfect again.

I’m torn, though. The scene where Zeek is in the hospital bed, psychopathically screaming at his “barely legal” doctor and threatening to pull out his own IV feels like an act as much as a moment of shock. What if Zeek already knew he didn’t have much time left and chose to keep it from his family? His behavior would suggest as much: the Braverman take on The Hangover is how Zeek chose to cope. I loved that moment when Adam, Sarah, and Crosby — the most responsible child and the two least responsible ones — stopped arguing with their dad and plopped down at the blackjack table. At the end of the day, you can’t win every fight in life — hell, you can’t win most fights, not even the big ones. So you pick your battles, you learn to cope, and sometimes you just surrender. Parenthood always has been a show that chronicles this idea with such sincerity and heart; as much as I hate to see Zeek’s health treated lightly, there has to be room for the human condition — and hint of lightheartedness.

For all of Parenthood‘s overly heartwrenching moments, there are these delightfully glum bits of dialogue that never fail to amuse me, and make these everyman characters ring true. Adam cheerfully bragging about a ham sandwich he’s just made for his Asperger’s kid, whom he calls “sir” with a slight jaunt. Haddie talking like a true basic bitch while consoling a pregnant Amber: “You can drink like, tea, right? That’s a calming thing people do.” Kristina greeting all 39 students by name as they enter Chambers Academy, because of course overachiever Kristina would have memorized their names, possibly via notecards. It works in part because Peter Krause, Sarah Ramos, and Monica Potter — the actors respectively behind Adam, Haddie, and Kristina — are nuanced in their performances, content to little small asides stay that way.

Then there are characters like Julia, who let anxieties overtake their entire existence. The Julia-Joel plotline this season will not be pretty; as much as I want to see them back together, I’m rethinking it all after seeing Julia in lust with old-new lawyer hottie. She could use a new adventure to strip her of those anxieties. Perhaps she could take a page from Sarah, who finally seems content in something stable with Hank. It’s hard to believe he’s the same prickly guy from a few seasons back, but you can see in his patience with his daughter Ruby and ex-wife Sandy (Betsy Brandt, now in a recurring role) that he has changed. There’s a touch of worry hiding behind Sarah’s cheery response to Hank’s new split custody of Ruby; maybe this will be a problem for them down the line, but it’s about time Sarah gets blissful stability. Hell, even Crosby achieved that long before Sarah did.

With a cast this size, it’s hard to get to everyone in each episode — not that I’d be able to address every single storyline anyway. For now, my mind is on Zeek and Amber, whom I foresee keeping the baby and eventually marrying Ryan. If anything, season six of Parenthood will be the circle of life completing itself. “Vegas” was a decent start to that, even if a number of plotlines — Crosby’s home life, The Luncheonette, Drew and Natalie — were largely ignored.