'Parenthood' Season 4 premieres: The Bravermans tackle tough issues with grace and humor (and Ray Romano)

parenthood-zeek-sarah-haddie-goodbye.jpg"Parenthood" is finally back for its fourth season, and it couldn't come soon enough. After a long day, there's nothing more satisfying than curling up on the couch to do some laughing and crying with the Braverman family -- and tonight, we definitely did a lot of both.

We're not going to beat around the bush -- Sarah said yes! She accepted Mark's proposal and they are now officially engaged, which warms our cold, cold hearts. Still, Camille stubbornly refused to welcome him into the family portrait session. It broke our hearts when Mark asked Sarah, "Did you fight for me?" and she hadn't quite realized how important it was to him to be an "official" part of the Braverman family. Hopefully, little slights like that don't add up and come between them. After all, once Mark turned on the charm with Zeek and Camille, he won them (and us!) over -- and we all got our photo.

As for Victor, Joel and Julia's new adopted son -- he has had a few months at this point to get adjusted, but entering such a close-knit group isn't exactly a seamless transition. "You're not really even part of the family yet," Max said, and though he was typically tactless, his statement wasn't wrong.

The simple issue of Max's missing lizard, which would have been easily handled if Sydney was involved, became complicated because of the continued tension between Joel, Julia, and their new son. We're not going to lie - when Julia choked out, "I feel like I'm waiting to fall in love with our son," we turned on the waterworks immediately.

Haddie's goodbye was the most poignant part of the episode. Her frank discussion with her brother, who is as difficult to connect with emotionally as ever, was incredibly moving, as she laid out for him in an almost businesslike manner why she'd miss him while she was away at school. Of course, he barely responded. Meanwhile, Kristina was desperately trying to spend a few meaningful moments with her eldest daughter, and Haddie pushed her away. The entire arc was so easy to relate to -- the inevitable distance that comes with leaving home often comes before the actual leaving part. The family's airport goodbye made it very clear just how much this show is going to be missing with Sarah Ramos' role reduced this year.

We've gotten used to seeing Ray Romano do a very specific kind of sit-com acting, so we were skeptical about how he'd fit in with the Bravermans. We were wrong. Romano, who plays Sarah's new boss, Hank, won us over in just minutes with his awkward, closed-off demeanor. He's pretty cantankerous at this point, but it seems that Sarah's interested taking him on as a project of sorts. (Let us be clear: Ray Romano is welcome to stick around, unless he gets in the way of Mark and Sarah. If that happens, we are going to respectfully ask that he bow out.)

In the (much smaller) guest starring role department, "American Idol's" Paul McDonald played Nick, a musician recording at the Luncheonette, who quickly won Amber over when they met there. Unfortunately, after a post-coital duet, she was reminded just how much trouble musicians can be... when his girlfriend stopped by the Luncheonette.

The real complications arose when Amber told Crosby about it -- and Crosby relayed the dish to Adam, who blew things out of proportion and let his protectiveness for his niece take priority over the business. (And, you know... Amber's independence.) "You don't have a daughter!" he shouted at Crosby as he kicked Nick out of the studio. Awkward. When Amber confronted Adam about it, it was one of the most compelling scenes they've ever had together, because she's really come into her own and her maturity, particularly in comparison to the petulant teenager she was in the pilot, was remarkable to watch.

Only "Parenthood" could explore issues as heavy as a child's religious education with such a lighthearted, grounded perspective. When Jasmine and Crosby noticed that Jabbar prays, after some conversations with Jasmine's mother about religion, they realize that they don't have a "doctrine" -- or a plan as to how to speak to their son about God.

The couple got married in last season's finale, but apparently they skipped a few key conversations. Crosby, who was raised without religion, was surprised to hear that Jasmine believes in God -- and he was upset by the idea that Jabbar might. "I don't want my son to be a part of some club that I'm not a member of. Maybe that's selfish," he said.

Crosby spent a lot of time talking to his family and looking inward as he thought about how to talk to Jabbar. Finally, in a sweet scene, he told Crosby about his beliefs. "I believe in you. You're my number one guy. And I believe in your mom, and all of our family... and sometimes, like on a night like tonight when I'm sitting under the stars with my son eating delicious cookies, I think I'm pretty blessed. Blessed by something, you know?" he said. We think he did a pretty great job.

As usual, the show tackled relatable, human topics with grace and humor, and made us fall in love all over again with the characters we already love as if they're our own family. We got a sneak peek at Episode 2, as well, and we can promise an emotional doozy once again. Next week, something will happen that rocks the entire family to its core. Definitely hang onto your tissues.
 
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Photo/Video credit: NBC
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