By Ken Tucker
November 13, 2012 at 12:00 PM EST
Vivian Zink/NBC
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Back after too long, Parenthood resumed on Tuesday night with an episode that typified what inspires such an ardent following for this series. The hour was filled with small moments — nothing big, grandiose, or excessively dramatic — that nevertheless added up to a meticulously moving hour.

The inescapable center of the series is now Kristina’s cancer diagnosis and how she and her family are responding to it. The episode was titled “Together” with some irony, since the urge to help Monica Potter’s character, a crisis that can bring a family together, is also what left her frequently feeling isolated, misunderstood, and with a desire to be left alone.

This regrettably Ray Romano-free hour was all over the map, in an intentional way — the art of Parenthood is frequently in capturing that feeling that events are occurring in the various Braverman households simultaneously, or in quick succession, and we catch up when the cameras get there. Thus the opening sequence, one of the best yet, with Adam trying to, in his eldest-child Adam-y way, to control everything in his household, telling Max to “cut the crap” with his excuses, his videogame-playing, his reluctance to accept some responsibility for the puppy. In trying to make things easier for Kristina, Adam just made the house mood more tense. Later in the hour, when Crosby convinced him he needed a “cocktail,” Adam nearly got into a fist-fight with a rude bar patron, and shared how “scared” he was about his wife’s future. Some fan ought to do Peter Krause a favor and cut together a montage of these great, clenched, Adam moments. He may not win an Emmy, but he deserves to see how good he is in this show, scene after tricky scene.

I loved the way sad-sack Drew used Kristina’s illness to score a mercy-make-out session with his former girlfriend, right down to shamelessly using one of her “cancer-baskets” as a gift. The show understands that adolescent hormones are devious and devoid of good taste.

As usual, Julia and Joel seemed to exist in a world unto themselves. But that’s their position in the family anyway. No time spent fretting about Kristina for Julia — no, she’s obsessed with the way their adoptee Victor doesn’t get included in social activities outside of the baseball team, with Julia overriding Joel (of course) and the social worker (not surprised) and allowing the kid to reunite with a pal from his old neighborhood.

The heads of the Braverman clan, Zeek and Camille, got some screen time this week. In general I think Craig T. Nelson has made the most of his subplot volunteering with war veterans, but Zeek’s disquiet at the prospect of Amber becoming involved with Matt Lauria’s Ryan based on a somber conversation he had with the Afghanistan vet struck me as a bit more worried and sensitive than Zeek would usually be. It would be more in keeping with Zeek’s character for him to encourage Ryan to have a good time — within limits — with a good young woman like Amber. But I suppose we’re meant to think that Zeek identifies his own Vietnam War-era difficulties with Ryan’s war experiences, and frets over a possibly greater mental instability than Ryan may or may not have. (Prescription pills; gazing insomniacally out the window on the one hand; sensible irritation with crap jobs Zeek finds for him in want ads.)

Camille, thank goodness for Bonnie Bedelia, had a more substantial role to play this week: The chief thorn in Kristina’s weakened side. Her own mother distant and unavailable, Kristina was essentially forced to accept her mother-in-law’s energetic fussing and organizing — like her eldest son, Camille instinctively moves to exert her influence on any situation. Usually she’s a force for stability and calm, but this week, she made Kristina feel, as the latter put it, “trapped in my own house.”

The final moments of the hour, with Kristina commencing her chemotherapy treatments, signal how central this aspect of the series will probably remain for the rest of Parenthood‘s season. Honestly, this is usually the kind of subplot I dread, but the series continues to handle it beautifully.

Or perhaps you disagree.

Twitter: @kentucker

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