Previously on Parenthood, Pt. 4: It’s Scary, It’s Really Scary

This is the fourth installment of a look at the theological (and pastoral) wisdom found […]

Matt Schneider / 11.19.12

This is the fourth installment of a look at the theological (and pastoral) wisdom found in the current season of NBC’s Parenthood, mostly regarding the intersection of undeserved love and human suffering. This time I take a look at Adam Braverman (played by Peter Krause), who has been attempting to keep it together all season long even though the audience sees the truth of his flimsy facade. Spoiler alert!

Remember that I introduced this series of posts by looking at an earlier episode poignantly titled “Everything is not OK,” a title that spoke to Adam’s relentless positivity in the face of his wife Kristina’s suffering. Since then Adam has slowly come to grips with the realities of Kristina’s breast cancer, but the most recent episode (#7, “Together”) portrays his continued futile attempts to keep everything “under control” as he says: “I’ve got this taken care of.” The thing is, Kristina isn’t the only one suffering. Adam is, too. His attempts to keep everything at work and at home under control/business-as-usual are basically unconscious efforts to distract himself from the pain. Ironically, he is killing himself by doing so.

Thank God Adam’s brother Crosby helps him to finally unmask during a bar scene, in which Adam shares some vulnerability, telling the truth about how he is actually out of control. Although we have seen Adam’s true state all along, he needs to articulate that his life has become unmanageable. In a sense, he breaks the fourth wall in a much needed way, allowing some room for healing to occur.

Though there is no talk of original sin or the cross of Christ, something very special happens in this scene though. Adam implicitly tells us a truth about God. The Gospel isn’t shared per se, but for network TV, we witness a pretty sophisticated treatment of theodicy (the problem of pain):

People are really starting to piss me off! Everywhere I go. Walk out of my house the other day, going to the car, the neighbor comes up to me says, “Adam, I just want you to remember God only gives you what you can handle.” What the hell is that? Is that supposed to help me watch my wife suffer? [Dramatic pause.] She starts chemotherapy tomorrow. You should see these women after they’ve been in chemo. They look like ghosts. Just, man, the thought of Kristina having to go through that is—it’s scary. It’s really scary, Cros.

Well-intentioned Christians are often guilty of saying things like “God only gives you what you can handle” to those in pain. Unfortunately, Adam Braverman is right: such pat answers do not help folks endure. Also, these statements about pain are off-target when you compare them to the Bible (see Job, for example). God might be at work in the likes of Adam and Kristina’s overwhelming suffering. Out of some sort of compassion that none of us can recognize right now, God might actually be giving them much more than they can handle, however counterintuitive this may seem to our finitude.

Speaking for myself at least—but I know this rings true for a few others who have told me so—this season of Parenthood is pastoral in its accurate portrayal of human suffering in the context of families, which is where we often experience our own anguish. Thus, Parenthood isn’t merely some facile primetime drama-dy. With scenes like this one between Adam and Crosby, the show this season is onto something very special. My only fear is that when a major network program has such uncommon depth, it risks being canceled due to a lack in viewership (Freaks and Geeks)—people tend to want things with a little more broad appeal. Perhaps four seasons would be enough though. That’s almost as long as Friday Night Lights, which was basically the Parenthood of a few years ago (same executive producer, too).

As a bonus, here is what is bound to be the most memorable scene from this recent episode in which underappreciated matriarch Camille schools us with some grace in practice. This subplot between Camille and Kristina really deserves its own treatment in another post: