Welcome to the Saturday edition of Channel Guide in which Merrill Barr takes a look at an episode from that past week in the world of television that really stood out above the rest. If there isn’t a good episode, well there’s always plenty of back logged TV to be brought into the spotlight for you to check out.

There are very few television shows that actually improve over time. Usually nothing ever comes close to matching the magical discovery of who a show’s characters are, and how they interact than what takes place in that first season. The season where everyone is fresh faced and bright eyed before their lives take a one eighty with either tragedy, comedy, action or all of the above. One could probably count on two hands the shows that really surpassed their first season. Well now we can add another show to that list: Parenthood. And there is no greater proof of that than in the season 2 finale “Hard Times Come Again No More.”

Regardless of the fact that the episode begins with a cliche scene in a hospital following a near fatal car crash suffered by Amber in the previous episode, it was still powerful. Powerful because the scene grabs hold of exactly what family is all about. Everyone has differences and disagreements, but when you need them most, your family will always be there no matter what.

It was nice to see that Producer Jason Katims didn’t sugar coat the scene as well as when it came to how everyone was dealing with the tragedy. Especially when it came to Max. Katims could of easily written Max to be silent and calm out of respect for Amber, but instead he wrote a very emotional moment where Max, not understanding the situation, demands pancakes to the point of tantrum in the waiting room. Thus causing Zeek to go on a rare outburst of anger, of course to no avail.

It can also be appreciated that only the first half of the episode takes place in that hospital waiting room. After the second commercial break, Amber is back home and the consequences of everyone’s actions during the past season finally came to a head.

All during the second half of the season Adam has been at odds with his new boss. To the point where he was actually drugged (accidentally) by said boss. Katims set up a really compelling story line for next season involving a family of four with no foreseeable source of income, thanks to Adam speaking his mind and getting canned. A very real crisis that families of all types are currently facing in today’s job market. You can’t help but feel bad for Adam, and wonder what the future will hold for the only “normal” family in the bunch.

The second half of the episode also brought back into the spotlight Max’s personal dealings with his aspergers. In one line, everything he’s feeling comes out into the open – “Dad, are you mad at me because I have aspergers?” It doesn’t matter if your are the best parent in the world or not, the answer to that question is obvious. But what it represents is the hardest thing in the world to deal with. Does Max believe that everyone is against him because of his condition? Does he think that he’s walking down a never-ending path of destruction (in 10 year old logic anyway)? These are questions that won’t be answered until next season, but it was nice to see them raised.

Perhaps the most compelling moment of the episode came when Zeek and Amber went to the junk yard to see the wrecked car that Amber’s life nearly ended in. In that moment we see a side of Zeek that is rarely seen (making it the second time is happens in the episode, but on a different end of the spectrum). A side where he stops being a funny, aging hippie, and becomes a man who has seen it all and who hates to see life being wasted on a girl who doesn’t appreciate everything she has. He becomes the hard ass that Sarah simply can’t be, and that’s what made the scene so great. Amber’s break down into Zeek’s arms was the most moving moment in the episode, and couldn’t of been improved in any way.

One of the outstanding things about season 2 is that a lot of focus was put on the people that didn’t get a fair amount of play in season 1, Julia & Joel to be specific. And that’s why I was disappointed that they got little-to-no play in the finale. We’ve spent that last few weeks watching the most well adjusted of the families go through hell and back while trying to conceive a second child. And to see them not get a single scene to sum it all up, well it just seemed unfair. These two deserve more than just a few lines to help push another storyline forward.

Which brings me to Crosby and Jasmine. Here’s the thing. When the episode was over and the possibility of the two of them getting back together became extremely high, it’s near enraging that so much time was wasted breaking down a very loving relationship. This is simply a case where none of the stakes that were created by Crosby cheating on Jasmine are fully realized. There was no point to the story line if they get back together so easily. That time could of been spent with Crosby furthering his relationship with Jabbar or becoming further integrated with Jasmine’s family. My only conclusion is that the storyline was simply created to remove the ongoing supporting character of Max’s behavioral aid. In which case, there were far simpler ways to go about it.

But at the end of the day, everything comes together in the final moments when the Braverman family are all sitting in a packed auditorium watching there lives play out on stage for all the world to see. In that moment they realize how little importance there truly is to all of their individual problems, as long as they’re together. It was the perfect parallel to the way the episode began.

There’s no telling what season 3 will hold for the series, but if it’s half as good as season 2, then we’ll be in for a treat.

To listen to the latest episode of Merrill’s TV Podcast, The Idiot Boxers with Kevin Carr, head over to Fat Guys at the Movies.

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