In Defense of Joel on ‘Parenthood': Julia’s to Blame for Breaking Up the Best Marriage on TV
Joel on ‘Parenthood’ has been a completely different person this season, and I’ve felt twinges of both disappointment and rage as I’ve watched his baffling actions unfold on-screen on Thursday nights.
I haven’t been alone in my feelings. Even ‘Parenthood’s’ executive producer’s 12-year-old daughter has been hating Joel.
This is how I’ve been seeing things: Joel (played by Sam Jaeger) is a man in a secure, longterm relationship with a gorgeous, smart, successful woman — one who not only is the mother of his sweet children, but who is also his connection to the Braverman clan, a dream family if there ever was one.
This is the guy who probably made every other stay-at-home dad in the world look terrible. He was loyal, devoted, unselfish. He was patient with his kids. He not only was willing to actively be a part of the school’s mom clique — he somehow managed to thrive among them. The moms loved him! This may have had something to do with his handsome looks and charming smile, but they clearly also were drawn to him just being the good guy that he is. He dealt with years of being in a position in life that probably was not ideal to him — but he supported his wife stuck and through it without complaint because he is just that guy. (Sigh.)
Joel was a pro at running the household while his wife pursued her career and provided for them up until Joel and Julia swapped places, with Joel working again and Julia out of a job. The money she was making kept up their lifestyle, but he kept things in order in that house. You could sense that they really loved each other, and Julia and Joel’s marriage seemed to be the kind you’d aspire to have one day.
And then, after sticking it out through all of that, they ran into a little bit of relationship trouble this season. Joel got up and left it all, and he left Julia (and ‘Parenthood’ fans) with no clue as to where things were headed. He didn’t want to talk things through. He wouldn’t even have a conversation with his wife about how he was feeling. This ultimate family guy — this compassionate, sensitive guy — just packed his bags and found himself an apartment to live in all alone.
If I was the kind of person who would throw things at a TV, the episode when this happened would’ve been the time.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been wondering if the writers and producers of ‘Parenthood’ are just bitter and mean — or just thinking it’d make for good TV ratings — to suddenly ruin this picture of a beautiful family life. Did they really need to write drama into Julia and Joel’s marriage? Couldn’t we just see a nice couple, you know, be happy together? I tried to make sense of Joel’s sudden, intense resentment of Julia over what seemed to be not-so-big issues, and the whole thing brought out that gnawing fear that no one in the world is satisfied, ever.
I was getting desperate to figure this out. One late evening last week, I kept my fiancé awake for a half hour longer than he wanted to be when I suddenly blurted out “What if Joel has a brain tumor?!” and convinced both myself and him that there was no other explanation for Joel’s massive change in character, bad judgement calls, aggressiveness (Joel punched Ed Brooks. Seriously, Joel punched someone?) and drastic decision making on this season of ‘Parenthood.’ I started referencing episodes of ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ I even starting Googling what physical symptoms come along with having a brain tumor, and I found some possible matches there. (Joel drove to the wrong baseball field to pick up his son. It must be a brain tumor! Every time he talks to Julia he sounds confused and can’t seem to make eye contact. Brain tumor! He seems to have forgotten about that one time early in the series when another woman tried to kiss him. Definitely a brain tumor!)
But after watching last night’s episode of ‘Parenthood,’ ‘Fraud Alert,’ I’m starting to see things very differently. I’m realizing that maybe I’ve just had the Braverman goggles on.
It makes a lot of sense that I’ve been siding with Julia (played by the excellent Erika Christensen, who has portrayed her character’s personality and hurt so well) all along.
Before Joel left, I’d been privy to Julia’s discontentment in living her day-to-day life as a stay-at-home mom, and I’d excused her complaints about it because I could tell she’s having a rough time in that role — she’s an ambitious person who knows she has talents outside of being a mom that are going to waste. I could see that she was bored without a job, and I thought it was natural that she’d find a friend in Ed, who could relate to that feeling. I thought it was unfortunate that Ed thought that friendship was more than it was, and that Julia found herself in a situation she was in — and sure, I expected Joel to get upset about the fact that another man kissed her. But being on Team Braverman, seeing him move out over it felt like a major betrayal.
After Joel left, I saw Julia’s conversations with the Braverman family, her tears falling as she opened up about what’s going on between the two of them. The show is all about those beloved Bravermans, and as Julia started breaking down in front of her parents and siblings, well, I wanted to give her a hug, too.
I didn’t get to see anything from Joel’s perspective. He kept busy at work — not much to see there. He wasn’t talking to Julia about what was going on his head, and he certainly wasn’t talking to Julia’s siblings or parents about it.
Last night, we finally heard his side of the story, and it was moving:
It’s not fair that I stayed home, raising our family and supporting your career for all those years, and when it was your turn you couldn’t do that for me. That’s not fair. You come into my work and you make a scene in front of my boss. You have an affair with Ed, that’s not fair … whatever it is. I believed that our relationship was built on mutual respect, and I just found out that that’s not the case … You think I don’t hate this? You think I don’t hate living in this crappy apartment, trying to make it great for the kids? You think I don’t hate that they sleep in our house every night and I sleep alone here? I hate it. Our marriage, it wasn’t working, Julia. It wasn’t working for me. And I don’t know what I want, but if you have to know, if you’re gonna press the issue right now, then my answer is: No, we’re not working on our relationship right now. We’re not trying to get back together right now. I’m sorry.
This season of ‘Parenthood’ isn’t about the downfall of Joel; if anything, it’s about showing just how selfish Julia is.
At the end of the episode, after she’s heard that Joel isn’t ready to work on the relationship or get back together, we see her walking into a bar with Ed, of all people.
In the preview for next week’s episode, we see her meeting Mr. Knight (Max’s English teacher), hitting it off and making out with him (and maybe even more — we’ll find out what exactly goes down next week). Joel’s decision to have a trial separation with Julia definitely seemed rash, but this seems really quick. Remember, Joel emphasized the words “right now” when talking about not wanting to get back together — he didn’t completely rule out a future reconciliation. But Julia’s actions are probably going to do just that.
I was hoping to see a preview of her being remorseful for how much she’s hurt Joel after hearing his heartbreaking speech because, well, she should be. Instead, it seems like she’s wasting no time in moving on and taking this an an opportunity to do whatever she wants to do — as Julia does. (Remember when she quit her job out of the blue, without even discussing it with Joel first? Suddenly Joel’s out-of-character decision to buy their son a cell phone without talking it over with her in last week’s episode doesn’t seem like such a big deal.)
Julia has every right to do what makes her happy, but if she wants to hold onto her marriage with Joel — whose shift in character is one that she’s caused (not a brain tumor after all, I suppose) and who, when all’s said and done and he’s out of this funk, will likely still stand up to be the same ol’ good guy that he’s always been — she is doing all the wrong things. Julia, slow down. Joel is a man that’s worth waiting for.
Here’s to hoping that one of the Bravermans (please let it be Zeek!) talks some sense into Julia and saves this marriage, because I’m starting to think she’s truly not capable of seeing beyond her own wants and needs. And here’s to hoping that she’s not the one who makes me actually throw something at my TV for the first time next week.
Watch the Preview of Next Week’s Episode of ‘Parenthood’