‘Parenthood’ and Michael Emerson Give a Voice to Adult Autism

By Danielle Turchiano

Michael Emerson, you break our heart.

We thought it was bad during LOST when he was Ben Linus, a man who we so desperately wanted to believe was redeemable and deep down only had the best intentions, especially after meeting his younger counterpart and realizing the crap he went through as a child. But then he goes and tops himself by taking a guest role on Parenthood as “Amazing Andy,” a kids’ party entertainer who specializes in bugs but more than lives up to his nickname by overcoming what the Bravermans have thus far seen as a giant handicap.

It’s Max (Max Burkholder)’s birthday and his parents have called up Amazing Andy after a recommendation from another parent who has used his services. Unfortunately these Bravermans are a bit narrow-minded and at times uncomfortable with differences and aren’t sure how it will work out that Andy just happens to have Asperger’s and therefore is in need of sticking to some very specific rules and regulations for the party– ones by which Kristina (Monica Potter) in particular seems quite a bit put off.

If you’re looking for a patriarchal hero, this episode will give you quite a few. There is Adam (Peter Krause), who still isn’t quite sold on certain things but he trudges through them nonetheless, hoping that in what he finds weird, his son really will find salvation. He is making great strides, but it is Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) who really steps it up and shows that when he said he read his son’s instruction manual and now understands, he does truly mean it. The character could have stayed an “old-school” crotchety old man but instead he is emerging as one of the more forward-thinking characters. It’s quite heart-warming in and of itself. We found ourselves wanting to just reach into the TV and give Nelson a big, tight hug, and we bet you will, too.

Watching Burkholder and Emerson, not quite playing off each other but still exuding identical energy is just as amazing as Emerson’s character’s name declares. They mimic each other’s behavior without even trying, and that causes a delicate dance within their scenes. They will bring tears to your eyes and yet still plant a smile on your face.

And in case your hearts don’t fill enough with those two, this episode offers so much more. Every other story line woven in will touch you, too. First and foremost, how about the return of Gabby (Minka Kelly) to help with that? She is so much more endearing here than she ever was on Friday Night Lights, even when she is flirting a bit dangerously with Crosby (Dax Shepard). She may have a little bit of a setback with Max early in the episode, but his angry outburst is proven completely unwarranted when she manages to smooth a potentially party-halting situation over with Andy.

While it was great to finally see Gabby again, we can’t help but wonder why Alex (Michael B. Jordan) is absent, especially after his basketball bonding session with the birthday boy just last week.

Maybe there was just only so much time for male bonding in one episode, though, and this time around those who needed it most were Drew (Miles Heizer) and Seth (John Corbett). Picking up where they left off over dim sum and a concert, their men-dating continues at the batting cages, where Drew spies some overtly aggressive behavior on his father’s part and instead of seeing signs (because he is too young to really know what he is looking for), he adopts similar behavior. Though Seth is thus far saying and doing all of the right things to make his son want to spend time with him, it is what Drew doesn’t see that we should all really worry about; there is a lot more there than meets the eye, and for the first time we get a glimpse that is more than just hearsay at it.

Thanks to Emerson and Corbett, Parenthood just got a little more intense and intriguing. Be sure to tune it when the Ron Howard/Jason Katims series airs on NBC every Tuesday night at 10pm.