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Is This The Biggest TV Character Assassination This Year?

By Joanna Robinson | TV Reviews | December 13, 2013 | Comments ()


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There’s a big difference between character “evolution” and character assassination. If you spend enough time with a character on any given show, you’ll hope to see them change and grow as the seasons go on. That’s evolution. That’s growth. Character assassination, on the other hand, is when a character “grows” in either a wholly unbelievable direction or, even if it is believable, the show doesn’t do the required work to get us there. We need to see the change occur incrementally and over time under recognizable and relatable circumstances. (Even in an unrelatable world of sci-fi/fantasy. See: Stark, Arya. Very understandable.)

The best example of this kind of incremental, believable change, in fact, was recently executed by Breaking Bad over five extraordinary seasons. Can we believe that a man could go from mild-mannered teacher to cold, calculating, bombastic bastard in under a year of his own life? I don’t know about you, but I believed. The opposite is true of the disappointing way in which The Office bungled the Jim and Pam storyline in its ninth and last season. They were out of dramatic ideas, it seems, so they conjured strife where there was none and, in the process, (briefly) turned Jim into a complete bastard. That’s not what you do with your romantic lead at the last minute. If that’s a story you want to spin out slowly over nine years, then have at it. That’s an interesting story to tell. But the end of series reversal of all the traits we’d come to know and love in Jim was just heartbreaking to watch. It’s fine for a marriage to go through rough periods. It’s absolutely good and honest storytelling to show a relationship (even between two lovely people) on the rocks. But you can’t cheat your way into that story by having one character change his personality completely.

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And that brings us to Parenthood.Once one of my favorite shows on television, the show has lost a little bit of steam over the past few years. That’s okay. That’s to be expected. Some shows just don’t have five seasons in them. And given that the theme of Parenthood (beyond being a parent) is one of adult relationships and how we navigate them, it’s not surprising that we’ve run across a few infidelity plots over the seasons. It is surprising, however, that all four major adult relationships have been wrung through one. Jasmine and Crosby? Yep. Zeke and Camille? Sure. Even Adam and Kristina. It was brief, but it happened. Last night the last couple, Joel and Julia, entered into their own infidelity plot. They’ve been dancing around it all season-long and I was hoping it was going to be one big make out fake out. But it wasn’t. I would be less resentful if the show had gotten there organically. But they got there by, once again, turning the nice guy who gets embroiled in his career into a completely unrecognizable asshole. When Joel blew right past his weeping wife in the hallway three weeks ago I nearly threw a shoe at the TV. That’s not Joel. That’s not ANY version of Joel. Bad form, show. Very bad form. The preview for the next episode shows Joel punching people out. Does that sound right to you? Didn’t think so. How did we get here?

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  • AlexiaF

    I'm waiting to hear that Joel is having an affair and just wants to use Julia's alleged infidelity as an excuse to break up the marriage. No other explanation makes any sense.

  • Feed Back

    I caught the first season of Parenthood last year. And I couldn't take another episode. You know why? Because JOEL is a FÚCKING ÁSSHOLE. You guys must have been blind to it, but this guy was a total jerk from the get-go. His wife tries to teach his kid to swim, and when she fails at it, he grabs the kid away from her, gives her judgmental looks and walks away while everyone in the pool is looking at her with disgust. And then when she gets home, he shows her a video of how he taught his kid to swim and reminds her of how big a failure she is and how his way was obviously the right one.

    What's worse is that the show always made it seem like he had high ground. His wife apologized right after and cuddled up to him and the message wasn't that he was an åss, it was that she needed to learn how to be a good parent. DAFUQ?! He hung around with some bítch all day who he KNEW was into him, while his wife was out making money for him to mooch off of. And he somehow thought he was the victim when she complained.

    I really hated his guts, couldn't take another episode of seeing him be the worst husband in the world. Thank God the show has at least acknowledged it even though the fandom has yet to catch on.

  • Harry Dresden

    Joel seems immensely stressed, and his normally bossy wife who had the reigns of making money for the majority of their marriage - has become a treacherous liar, that kissed Roy from the Office, yeah - Joel who isn't stupid and is tired of his wife plotting course for them all, while not taking his thoughts into consideration. Julia is the primary cause of his character assassination in my eyes - spending the majority of time with Joel as a soft character that stands by his impulsive wife... He becomes the bread winner and is expected to be better at working and homelife than Julia was before she quit her job. Come on people we may have some overly inflated opinions on these characters - but place a bit of blame where it belongs.

    I think she said it best,

    "LesYeuxHiboux

    I kind of get how Joel would get where he is though. I hate it, but every time he and Julia have a fight or disagreement he is the one who ends up reaching farthest to make it okay. Again, here he is coming home early and doing date night while she is crying about what she does and doesn't want the kids to see (then going off for an ill-advised meeting with a tempting husband-substitute). Is Joel even a real person to her? I just about fell over with shock when she offered a real, complete apology to him when he was on the couch. First time in the entire series run she has done so without qualifying it. She should have just gone upstairs and waited until he was ready to respond, but she followed up with the 'but'. The whole thing is reminding me of Tea Leoni and Adam Sandler in Spanglish."

    As for Jim and Pam - I was stunned and glad they mostly fixed it.

  • Sarah Weissman

    Just started Season 2 of Parenthood. So experts and superfans, when should I watch UNTIL?

  • Michelle

    Yes. I used to LOVE this show - it almost rivaled FNL for me for a brief time when it was *really* good - but man, I'm almost ambivalent to this season. The handling of the Joel thing has been done really poorly, and those two deserve better than this storyline. The Victor thing feels like a mistake that they felt they had to stick with since they were uncertain they'd get another season and they tried to wrap up all of the season 4 storylines in the finale last spring.

  • blasterion

    It's a mystery to me why Pajibans keep bothering with this show. I liked it for a while - I truly did - but it only grew MORE trite and MORE emotionally manipulative. I stopped watching when they got Sarah to fall in love with her photographer boss (which so obviously was the only reason his character was ever introduced) and they threw in a war veteran and a teen pregnancy for no good reason at all except DRAMA and EMOTIONS and WEEPY REALISATIONS. Annnndd I just remembered that I already wrote something like this once before--but damn it, it still stands!

  • Lauralyn

    They assassinated Joel's character from the beginning of this season. In what (fictional) world would Joel gloss over the fact that his son has no respect for his wife? Victor will call Joel dad but still calls Julia by her first name. That hurts.

  • Kate

    Maybe because Joel saw Victor as his child straight away, while Julia was on the fence about the adoption right up until the last moment. I think the show was pretty clear about the fact that Victor trusts Joel but isn't sure of Julia, and the reasons why.

  • DominaNefret

    I stopped watching because the Amber and Ryan relationship made me extremely uncomfortable. To me, that is where the character assassination was, in that relationship. They sucked all of of the personality out of Amber and turned her in to this codependent husk. She is too smart and strong to make the decisions she was making with him, and she wouldn't lose herself like that.

    I am team Joel though. Unless things changed drastically since the last episode I saw, I haven't seen him do anything out of line with his character and think he is in the right.

  • Kate

    How is Joel the bad guy here? Because he wanted to give his son a chance to improve and got frustrated when Julia played the 'I know more about what's going on in the kids lives because I'm at home' card, when he's been the primary caregiver since very recently.

    The whole season Julia has been attempting to derail Joel's career while having an emotional affair with Roy from the Office. That scene from the last episode where she burst in to his office and ranted in front of and at his boss? Majorly messed up. Can you imagine Joel doing that when she worked at the law firm? Hell no. Last night she did the ridiculous thing of telling Roy his contacting her was inappropriate (as though she hadn't been an active participant), then kissing him. After Joel agreed to work on things. Surely she's the one who's ruining their marriage?

  • Harry Dresden

    mostly thank you

  • Sarah Weissman

    Conflict involves two parties. Cheating is different....

  • phase10

    This. Thank you for putting what's in my head so eloquently.

  • AudioSuede

    I had to give up on Parenthood after they bungled the Jason Ritter storyline. You spend that many seasons getting us to root for Sarah Braverman to be in a relationship that's as satisfying as that one, and then she abandons it because, what, she thinks she's too old? And no way was it because Ray Romano was a more appealing character because HELL NO. He's whiny, obnoxious, sexist, and boring. How in the hell would she fall for him over the show's most charming character? I completely lost interest after that. What's the point of wading through the emotional tripe if there isn't some sweet reward at the end for those of us who've held out so long? Stupid.

  • AlexiaF

    She abandoned the relationship because everyone thought the show was going off the air, and Jason Ritter got a new job.

  • KC

    I am in the same boat. I can't deal with the stupidity. Just CAN'T.

  • I kind of get how Joel would get where he is though. I hate it, but every time he and Julia have a fight or disagreement he is the one who ends up reaching farthest to make it okay. Again, here he is coming home early and doing date night while she is crying about what she does and doesn't want the kids to see (then going off for an ill-advised meeting with a tempting husband-substitute). Is Joel even a real person to her? I just about fell over with shock when she offered a real, complete apology to him when he was on the couch. First time in the entire series run she has done so without qualifying it. She should have just gone upstairs and waited until he was ready to respond, but she followed up with the 'but'. The whole thing is reminding me of Tea Leoni and Adam Sandler in Spanglish.

  • Wigamer

    Spot on. They could've mined more realistic, interesting territory with the idea that Joel feels unsupported by Julia after supporting her career for years, Julia's inability to adjust to being a stay-at-home mom, the BRAND-NEW kid they just added to their family--I'm so annoyed by them plopping the stupid infidelity plot line into the middle of everything. Also? Roy's cute and all, but his character's kind of a whiny, boring douche. They haven't established near enough chemistry between them to indicate that Julia would be willing to throw away her whole life (and yummy, perfect Joel) to be with him. Stop messing with my show, show.

  • fracas

    Is it possible that in the affair he experienced true happiness that broke the gypsy curse that had made him nice? I understand that can make a character instantly different and evil on a TV show.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    Slight correction. The curse makes you guilty, brooding and desperate to redeem yourself. Nice is sort of an occasional, tangential benefit.

  • Jelinas

    I totes agree -- THAT'S NOT JOEL. That's never been Joel. This whole infidelity storyline has felt contrived from the get-go.

    Is Julia really going to tell Ed that his constant texting is inappropriate, and then GO IN FOR A HUG? Maybe it's just me, but I just could not believe that moment AT ALL.

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