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September 11, 2012 at 12:00 PM EDT

Parenthood, still clinging to life through the mere 15 more episodes NBC has granted it (because they just know Chicago Fire and a second season of Smash are really gonna revive the network, right?), returned for a new season on Tuesday night with a wonderful hour that demonstrated once again how engrossing this series can be, in no small part by dramatizing how irritating family members can be.

The episode, titled “Family Portrait,” introduced Ray Romano as a grumpy, frumpy photographer who hires Lauren Graham’s Sarah and made a few marvelously snide comments about her fiance, Jason Ritter’s Mark (“Is he a Make-A-Wish Kid?” Romano’s Hank asked of their relationship — oh, this photo-snapper knows how to snap!).

The night’s through-line was the departure of Sarah Ramos’ Haddie to Cornell, and if the show is really sending Ramos out the Parenthood door, I must say, you are going to be missed, kid. The way this actress has played off of Peter Krause and Monica Potter (as her parents) and Max Burkholder (as her brother) has been one of the most underrated, sustained performances on TV recently, calling upon her to express an array of moods and emotions that went well beyond the usual prime-time network-drama teen role. Her final scene this night with Max, after presenting him with an especially thoughtful blanket found to comfort people with Asperger’s Syndrome, was a beautiful piece of acting by Ramos.

There was so much more packed into this hour as well. “Family Portrait” was also about a family portrait — a photo shoot of the Bravermans, to be shot by Romano’s Hank and destined to include Mark, much to the consternation of parents Camille and Zeek (Bonnie Bedelia and Craig T. Nelson), who’ve seen these outside intruders, no matter how charming, come and go. I was totally in agreement with Camille in this matter, even as I enjoyed the gall of Mark to pay a special visit to her to plead his case, and then show up anyway. Over-dressed. I have seen Bravermans, and you, Mark, are not Braverman-clan material.

By contrast, the uber-Braverman — over-achieving, over-reacting Adam — was in fine form this week, having a meltdown in the recording studio once he learned that his niece Amber (Mae Whitman) had been done wrong by a smirky-cute musician* booking time and making time in Braverman business. First of all, how delightfully icky that Adam would know about, become invested in, Amber’s sex life. Second, how ludicrous that he would lose money by banishing the band over this. There are quite a lot of things that don’t make much sense on Parenthood — don’t worry, I’m coming to Victor — but somehow the show makes you want to take sides and see how the absurdities resolve themselves anyway.

Now, this kid Victor, now five-months-adopted son of Erika Christensen’s Julia and Sam Jaeger’s Joel: This young man needs to have some boundaries set, doesn’t he? Julia remains the most exasperating parent on Parenthood, her crushing, pointless sense of guilt permitting her to allow Victor to loll around the house squirting whipped cream directly into his mouth (isn’t Julia a big healthy-food proponent?) and allowing him to watch exceedingly inappropriate things on TV, programming witnessed by their younger daughter destined for years of therapy, Sydney.

The plot-line I found rather flaccid was the one handed to Dax Shepard’s Crosby and Joy Bryant’s Jasmine regarding the religious upbringing of Tyree Brown’s Jabbar. You knew going into this that Crosby was no match for Jasmine’s mother (the excellent Tina Lifford) in spiritual matters, and you could see it coming a mile away that when Crosby went to his own parents about this subject, it would drift into the ether of Buddhism, Zen, and the easy joke of Tantric sex.  But fear not, for I have seen next week’s episode, and Crosby and Jasmine get more, better stuff to do.

I was delighted with Ray Romano’s performance — ever since Men of a Certain Age, he’s been on a roll, and I’m only sorry that Hank is apparently just a guest arc in the series. Much as I admire what Jason Ritter has done with wispy facial hair and a shy grin, I really like the damp sparks that spurt and fizzle so amusingly between Hank and Sarah.

What’d you think of the Parenthood season premiere?

*some twerp from American Idol, I gather from your informative comments, thank you

Twitter: @kentucker

For more, and some reassurance about Haddie: ‘Parenthood’ boss: Sarah Ramos will be back. Plus, a preview of next week’s episode

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