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The Amazing Andy: Michael Emerson Steals the Show on Tonight's Parenthood

While tonight's episode of Parenthood makes mention of the "Amazing Andy," it's the amazing Michael Emerson (Lost) who should be singled out for praise here.

It's been far too long since Emerson--who brought depth and grit to his portrayal of the Machiavellian Benjamin Linus on Lost--has been on my television set, so I was overjoyed to learn that he would be appearing in an episode of NBC's woefully underrated Parenthood as the Amazing Andy. Emerson is the sort of actor that comes around but once in a lifetime, the gifted artisan who manages to walk off with every scene in his pocket so effortlessly.

Tonight's superb episode of Parenthood ("Amazing Andy and His Wonderful World of Bugs") gives Emerson the chance to play a very different sort of character than Benjamin Linus or, indeed, like any other that we've seen Emerson play in his vast career.

While the episode deftly balances several plotlines--including Drew bonding with his errant father Seth (John Corbett), Crosby and Jasmine's relationship fracturing further amid increased pressures and misunderstandings, and Julia and Joel's efforts to have a second baby--it's Emerson who steals the episode here.

Playing a character with Asperger's Syndrome--that would be the Amazing Andy of the title--Emerson imbues him with the sort of traits you would expect to see in a nuanced and realistic portrayal of someone with an autism spectrum disorder: he's methodical, highly specific, and attuned to the way that things need to be done. But the portrayal isn't limited to just those surface-level signifiers; Emerson creates a fully three-dimensional character here, one with flaws and dreams, vision and pluck, humor and pathos.

In a series that has sensitively handled the challenges involved with raising a child with Asperger's, it's no surprise that Parenthood would eventually bring in an adult Aspie, but the way in which the character enters into their lives is both emotionally resonate and laden with humor. While Peter Krause's Adam and Monica Potter's Kristina don't exactly realize at first that Andy has Asperger's, it makes sense that they would see the neurological condition with some blinders, being so focused on Max's well-being. For them, raising a child with Asperger's means shutting themselves off to the possibility that there are adults in the same situation as their son.

Emerson's Andy--who brings his vast collection (and love) of bugs to Max's birthday party--provides the perfect opportunity then for Adam and Kristina to witness a window into Max's possible future. But what they see in Andy isn't something sad or tragic: it's a man who loves his job and who has found a place in the world.

"Crickets can't actually smile," says Andy, giving Kristina a stuffed cricket before he does his (unannounced) walk-through of their house two days before the party. "That would be anthropomorphizing."

Look for a scene between Emerson and Krause at the end of the episode that had me getting misty-eyed as the two discuss happiness. Beautiful, poignant, and understated, it's a fantastic sequence that deals with both Adam's fears for his son and the realization that Max's future can be a happy one.

It's the type of small moment that Parenthood does so well, as it captures the conflicting and often messy emotions of everyday life.

Elsewhere, look for Crosby to be further tempted as he and Max's behaviorist Gaby (Minka Kelly) get closer... and for things between Crosby and Jasmine to get even worse. Despite the fact that they still have a date for the wedding, I'm beginning to believe that these two may not make it to the altar. And events in tonight's episode seriously won't help matters on that front.

There's an interesting scene between Zeek and Seth that shows the long-standing animosity between the two men, as well as an incident involving Drew that might point to the influence that Seth is having on his adolescent life (let's just say that it might not be a positive one), while Lauren Graham's Sarah has to come to terms with the fact that Seth is now a part of her son's life. And Joel and Julia's efforts to conceive lead to a very humorous moment that's entirely hysterical and utterly embarrassing for these two.

All in all, "Amazing Andy and His Wonderful World of Bugs" is a turning point for the second season of Parenthood and a wonderfully emotional and uplifting episode in its own right. Be sure to tune in tonight... and to have some tissues handy.

Parenthood airs tonight at 10 pm ET/PT on NBC.


Brennan said…
"Emerson is the sort of actor that comes around but once in a lifetime, the gifted artisan who manages to walk off with every scene in his pocket so effortlessly."

Could not possibly agree more. Well said. I don't watch Parenthood, but I might have to pick it up now.

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