All of the grown-up Bravermans are having problems in their relationships on Parenthood this season, and problems that are interesting in the same way. All of them have deadlocked on issues where there are two or more potentially correct answers, whether the challenge is whether or not to hold back a student who’s fallen behind, whether to sell a family home now that the children have moved, how to handle an extraordinarily fussy baby, and how to balance each other’s dreams. The latter situation, though, raises some interesting questions about Parenthood’s priorities. Kristina’s split-second decision to run for Mayor of Berkeley may be about whether or not Adam respects her dreams. But that’s not enough to make me root for her for her to actually win the election. And I think Parenthood needs to spend more time fleshing out whether or not she deserves it, and to seriously consider having her lose.
“It was ten times crazier and ten times more expensive than this,” Kristina tells Adam of her support for his efforts to open the Luncheonette, but that’s not necessarily true. In last year’s Berkeley Mayoral Race, candidates spent between $27,000 and $50,000 competing for the seat. There’s no question that setting up recording studios can be exceptionally expensive, but it seems unlikely that Adam spent $500,000 renovating and updating the Luncheonette. And even if he spent, say, $100,000, there’s a difference between investing in start-up costs for a business that will amortize over the life of that business’s operation, and in equipment that could be sold to recoup some of the loss should the business go under, and spending money to get a job that’s not a sure thing. Being Mayor of Berkeley pays about $47,000 a year, but even so, that only means Kristina and Adam get their money back if she wins.
While Kristina is right that Adam has asked her to support his dreams in a way he’s finding he’s not able to reciprocate, it’s also true that Kristina’s dream probably poses more pure financial risk to the family than his did. And while starting up a business can be time-consuming in the long-term, a campaign is more intensely disruptive in the short term, and injects people — like Kristina’s campaign manager — into both the ordinary dynamic of the family and into issues like family finances.
But the question of who’s right and who’s wrong in this situation is somewhat beside the point — the truth is that both Adam and Kristina’s positions are justifiable. The real issue is that, given the way Parenthood is setting up Kristina’s campaign and her rationale for running, she deserves to lose.
Her decision to enter the race, which Kristina herself acknowledged last night, was fueled in part by her sense of invincibility after her cancer went into remission. And to a lesser extent, it also seems motivated by a sense of getting revenge on Bob Little, for what is apparently the unpardonable crime of having a somewhat unprofessional relationship with a campaign employee who happens to be part of the extended Braverman clan. The show’s antipathy towards Little has always been a little strange, given that he didn’t do anything horribly transgressive, and everything we’ve seen of him suggests that he’s a totally decent politician. The strongest rationale Parenthood has presented for why Kristina ought to be Mayor of Berkeley is that she wants the job. It’s politics as self-actualization, which is a pretty entitled way to go about thinking about things.
The reason Kristina presents publicly for wanting to run for Mayor is that she wants to be the education candidate. But the show never explains what the big problems in the Berkeley public schools are, if, in fact, they exist. The one public school we see, where Julia and Joel send Victor and Sydney and Crosby and Jasmine send Jabbar, is in gorgeous shape and has parents who are involved enough to run a sustainability committee. Maybe there are dramatic inequalities in Berekeley’s schools, but we don’t see them, and Kristina doesn’t really talk about them. And we don’t see a contrast between her and Bob on education, either.
In keeping with the idea that this is mostly an issue of Kristina’s self-actualization and a way to play out the season-long theme of Bravermen couples communicating poorly with each other, the campaign has played out almost entirely through logistics and finances. The big issues are how much money Kristina’s spending on pens, and juice, and t-shirts, the way Kristina’s campaign manager has taken over the Bravermans’ kitchen, and whether Sarah can take Kristina’s campaign portrait. There’s some discussion of the fact that it’s hard to be a first-time candidate, but that’s mostly in the context of the overall demands of the campaign, and what it will cost, and how much stress it will cause the family.
The Bravermans have always been a world unto themselves, a country that absorbs new members, rendering them more Braverman-y than whatever they were before they strayed into the clan’s boundaries. And most of the time that’s a lot of fun. But in this storyline, the Bravermans have become the Family That Ate Berkeley. We have no sense of what any non-professional campaign worker outside of the Braverman family thinks about Kristina’s run for Mayor at all, or what the issues are other than education and Kristina’s empowerment, and whether her run is a good idea or a bad idea for anyone outside of the Braverman family.
Maybe Parenthood will start to at least pose some of these questions in subsequent episodes, though the teasers for next week’s hour suggests that the way the plot will expand will be to pose an ethical dilemma for Kristina about fundraising. But no matter what happens, I’m sort of hoping that Kristina ultimately loses the Mayoral race. It’s not that I want Kristina, given everything she’s been through, to be unhappy. But it would be nice for Parenthood to acknowledge that something other than the relative happiness of the Bravermans is and should be a deciding factor in a plot. Letting her lose would be a way for the show to both acknowledge larger realities outside of the Braverman compound, and to push her character development by letting Kristina make a genuinely bad decision that she can learn from.