This article contains spoilers for the final season of Parenthood
Justin: Jen. Ben. Hello. The three of us have been the Parenthood torch bearers here at Place to Be Nation, but, sadly, in the world of TV, many great shows can meet an early, untimely demise. And this is one of those occasions. For the second time in a decade, Jason Katims delivered a tremendous TV drama that met an early death thanks to murky ratings. Just like Friday Night Lights, Parenthood was loaded with a very talented cast and tearjerking stories for days.
Yet, here we are. Saying goodbye to greatness way before we were ready to do so. Much like the Bravermans and Zeek.
So, let us pay tribute to the memories by sharing our favorite moments, discussing our favorite characters…and maybe even projecting where all of the Bravermans end up after we leave them.
Were you each into the show immediately or did you have to play catch up? Had you seen FNL prior to getting into it? Out of the gate, who was your favorite Braverman?
Jen: Oh, how sad I am to be bidding farewell to this show. It seems as though this final season is the only one so far that we knew for sure was happening. NBC played with our heartstrings every year, only renewing at what seemed like the last possible minute.
I’ll admit that I have not yet seen any of Katims’ previous heartbreaker, Friday Night Lights. I did see the movie! But I have heard great things though, and promise to watch it soon.
Asking me to pick a favorite Braverman is like asking me to pick my favorite book! Near impossible. I have always loved Zeek, right away he seemed like the kind of grandfather that had all of the awesome stories to tell. Adam and Kristina were favorites early on as well.
Favorite non-Braverman? That is an easy one for me, it has always been Joel. Even when I was mad at him all last season he was still my favorite “NB”!
I can tell you who has never been my favorite – Sydney. Do I even need to back that up?
Ben: I definitely came into Parenthood via Friday Night Lights. Despite being a late convert to FNL, I binge-watched during the final season and truly believe it to be one of the greatest accomplishments during TV’s current golden age, not to mention one of the most overlooked. When I heard Jason Katims had something new in the works, I would have given it a shot even if it were a musical reality show done in German (that actually sounds pretty great).
Contrary to you guys, I do think Parenthood got a pretty fair shake from NBC. Unlike Friday Night Lights, it never got shuttled to a satellite station, and while I wish it had run a decade, six seasons is nothing to sneeze at. I give the network credit for giving the show every chance to succeed, even if a wider audience – and the Emmys! – didn’t realize what they had.
As far as favorite Braverman, man, I’m with Jen, it’s tough to choose. I found Crosby the most fun at first – and wow did this show turn me around on Dax Shephard – but I’m probably more like Adam. Zeek reminds me of my own grandfather, so I’ve got a soft spot there too. Drew really came into his own over the last two seasons. However, it may have been Amber, the Braverman I’m nothing like, who won me over on the most consistent basis. Really there’s no wrong choice here (though I never really cared much for Camille…actually she’s been great this final season).
Also, like Jen, I really dug Joel. The son-in-law/father-in-law dynamic is not one often explored on TV, but the Zeek/Joel stuff always gets me for some reason. And Kristina! Monica Potter should have won an Emmy, an Oscar and a Tony somehow by now.
So I guess everybody.
Justin: I got in right on the ground floor of Parenthood but binge watched FNL after it had already started. Both shows are tremendous and it was cool seeing a lot of the actors and actresses cross over between the shows as well.
I think Ben nailed it with Amber. She has gone through arguably the most change over the course of the show and in many ways is the strength of the back end of the Bravermans. Mae Whitman is fantastic in general, but she really took Amber from a one dimensional “trouble child” and added beautiful depth to the character, to the point that she is the focal point of the final episode of the series.
I have always been a Craig T. Nelson guy, dating back to Coach (aww, jeez!), so I was all in on this show as soon as I saw him attached. Do you think he has portrayed the flawed, but loving patriarch perfectly? Could anyone else have done it as well or better? The original rumor was the Ed O’Neill was penciled in for the role with Nelson lined up for Modern Family but they ended up in the opposite roles. Could that have worked?
Did any of the storylines lead you to almost quitting the show? Or were you engaged the entire time?
Also, one of the criticisms of the show is that things can be a bit unrealistic (money troubles disappearing, Christina running for mayor, etc.). Did those things ever bother you?
And I agree on Joel. I really dug the father-in-law/son-in-law aspect and it is a relationship I sorely miss in my life. I like that Joel would step in with the outsider perspective whenever someone needed to be set straight. We saw it happen with Jasmine late in the final season too, but she didn’t have the Braverman experience Joel had, so it backfired on her. Nice touch there.
Jen: Amber was by far the character that grew the most on this show. In the beginning, she WAS the troubled teenager and this season we’ve seen her grow up to become a new mother. She pretty much did a 180, and there were times at the beginning that you wondered if she would.
I can’t imagine Parenthood without Craig T Nelson and I can’t imagine Modern Family without Ed O’Neill! I think both were perfect for the roles that they ended up with, I can’t see Ed O’Neill as Zeek at all. They can both act a little curmudgeonly in their own way, but Nelson is the patriarch of the Braverman family.
What show is ever all that realistic? Okay, so the Luncheonette is a bit of a reach, but it’s not particularly entertaining to watch normal families struggle to the bring of bankruptcy week after week. And based on personal experiences, I think they portrayed Kristina’s battle with cancer pretty realistically. Sure, they didn’t show the struggle as intense as it really is every week, but Monica Potter deserved every award they could have given her for that season.
Parenthood always kept me engaged, it is one of the very few shows out there that I haven’t thought of giving up on. As sad as I am that it is ending, I also think that this is the right time to end it. Before the story goes in the wrong direction, before we get bored with it, before the cast starts to leave, and before NBC has a chance to cancel it without being given a proper ending.
Ben: I did not know that about the Craig T. Nelson/Ed O’Neill switcheroo. That is fascinating. Not to knock Al Bundy, but I think Coach could have handled Modern Family and not vice versa. I can’t think of anybody who could have brought the perfect formula to Zeek that Nelson did. He was able to be the loving father/grandfather, the funny old guy, the stern war vet, and even the sleazy philanderer and you believed they were all the same guy. He reminded me of my actual grandfather, and I think a lot of people got the same vibe; he felt very real. He was definitely the center of the show.
Yeah, I heard the “it’s not realistic” knocks and didn’t pay much mind to them. Like Jen said, it’s a TV show, so of course the plots are going to be dramatized. What always rang true to me were the relationships between the characters, their chemistry and their dialogue, so I didn’t care if they magically found the extra cash they needed as long as I still bought the family connections.
The show never lost me, and I suppose part of that is the strength of an ensemble, because even when one storyline didn’t do it for me, several did. Honestly, Sarah’s stuff was usually where I would roll my eyes. Lauren Graham is terrific and she created a wonderful character – and that’s another casting that almost didn’t happen – but I got frustrated that her plots were always focused around her dating life. She was at her best with her kids or looking for a career – remember when she wrote a play and Richard Dreyfuss was on? – but they always wasted time with Billy Baldwin or that doctor. Mark was the only guy for awhile I enjoyed watching her with; Hank didn’t win me over until the final season, but Ray Romano really came through in the end. Who was you guys’ favorite “blink and you missed it” love interest for Sarah or anybody?
And yeah, Justin, great point on Joel having to step in when immediate family couldn’t see something; I feel that way with my in-laws a lot and it rang true.
Justin: Great points about Sarah, Ben. So much of the show was spent on Sarah’s love life. But that was part of her growth and overall redemption, I guess. It was fitting that the show ended with her marriage, because the show was so much about her comeback tale. The series started with her coming back home, lost and aimless and ended with her in a new profession and married, ready to start out on her own.
And yes, Ray Romano was fantastic and I was so glad he became a regular in the final season. Tremendous addition to the show.
My favorite “blink” actor was Mike O’Malley as Sarah’s high school boyfriend early on in the show’s run.
So, the whole show was about growth in general. We saw it in all of them. Besides Sarah and Amber, who else do we feel grew and changed the most? The least?
If the show did last one more season, what is the one storyline you wanted to see more of based on where things left off?
Ben: Drew, for sure. Like I said, those last two seasons were where he really came into his own, but even a little before that, with the abortion storyline. I feel like more than anybody else on the show, we saw Drew go from begin a kid to an adult; even Amber honestly already felt grown up when it started, and so did Haddie to a lesser degree. With Drew, we really got to see the journey through high school into becoming somebody his family could count on; I don’t think I realized how much of a point of view character he was until very late in the game.
In a more unorthodox way, Adam changed a lot as the show went. He had to go through that story of self-discovering, realizing he needed the passion he had for his family in his job as well. On the flip side, Julia seemed to reinvent herself quite a bit, and it nearly destroyed her.
Sydney certainly never changed, and thank goodness for that. Though I’m sure some people would argue Crosby did, I think he’s closer to where he started than you’d think; he still needs Jasmine or Adam to kick him in the ass to get him going. I like that, though; the idea that a guy has a child and is magically a fully-realized adult is one I think is a little out there. Some of the best fathers I know are the ones who haven’t quite grown up.
Jen: Tough decision here, I can’t choose just one character either!
I think Adam evolved the most, he will always be the responsible older brother, but he learned to still do what is best for his family and do what made him happy. He took a leap of faith with the Luncheonette, but learned along the way that wasn’t his calling. I did think that they wrapped it up a little too neatly in the end there, with him running the school. If I had to guess, I would have pictured him going to culinary school.
Max came a long way as well! He struggles with relationships, but by the last season he seemed finally ready to embrace them. He found something he loves, and that he is good at and built a friendship with Hank in the meantime.
I pretty much didn’t consider Haddie in the cast/family anymore after she left for college. I know that she was no longer a full time cast member, but I didn’t think she was around enough to really have much of an impact any more. It seemed like a second thought when she came around.
I wish that we saw more of Amber after she became a mother. And more of Joel and Julia. Looks like they have a crazy road ahead of them!
Ben: Haddie did become an afterthought once she went to college, but like I was saying with Crosby as a dad, touches like that made the show more real for me. Sometimes family members who go away to school do drop out of sight. Heck, I kinda did. Almost all my cousins on one side – and I have eight of them – still live in the same town and are basically the Bravermans, but I went to school out of state and never moved back, so I’m their Haddie in some ways. Her peak was the storyline with Alex, anyway; after he took off, I lost interest.
Speaking of Alex…favorite Friday Night Lights alumni appearance?
Justin: I think Adam is a good call for most changed, as he really went through a bit of a mid-life crisis while also holding everything together at the same time.
Speaking of Max, many agree he was one of the most impressive characters in the show from an acting perspective. Any others you rank up there with him? I think Amber definitely belongs in that category, as does Zeek.
I was fine with Haddie coming back towards the end. Sure she was a bit of an after thought, but that tends to happen, like Ben said. Everyone is still family and close, but when you are away, you miss out on those little interactions and day-to-day happenings, so it can be tough at first to slide right back in. Her moment with Max at the wedding was nicely done.
Alex was great and picked right up from his role as Vince n FNL. There some other good ones, like Lyla and Jess and even Billy Riggins, but I have to go with Luke Cafferty coming in as Ryan York. He was great on both shows, and also the continuity was perfect as he left for the military in the final FNL and then is in the military come Parenthood. Beautiful.
We spoke about Sarah’s love life briefly, but do we think Hank was definitely the best choice for her? Would Mr. Cyr have been better long term? Or was that always doomed to fail?
What were the toughest moments for you to get through? Kristina’s battle with cancer? Zeek’s heart issues? Amber dealing with Ryan? Amber dealing with her dad? Max all around?
Ben: You can’t really appreciate Max Burkholder’s performance until you’ve seen him in other stuff. I say that as somebody who has never seen him in something else, but have certainly heard that a lot. In all seriousness, he’s done a good deal of voice acting and you’d never peg it as the same kid. But the little things like how he’d consciously avoid eye contact made what he did over these last few years really incredible.
Monica Potter is the popular choice for acting prowess – she got the only acting Emmy nom, I believe – but it’s deserved. For me, as heartrending as her cancer storyline was, it was everything she did in scenes with Max that got me. You could not have convinced me that was not truly her son with merely the expressions on her face when dealing with Max.
I’m the same way allowing myself to believe that Luke and Ryan are the same person. I hated when they introduced his mother and showed his house if only because it took that fantasy away from me in part. Billy Riggins was a phenomenal blink and you miss it bit of perfect casting. I liked Jess even more on Parenthood than on FNL, and I liked Jess on FNL a good deal.
I was always Team Mark, but my parents would give me a hard time saying he wasn’t age appropriate. At first I laughed it off, but the way the story unfolded, it really did feel like as good as they were together, Sarah and Mark were just not at the same place in their lives, and that would always be a thing; another storyline that rang true. Hank won me over in the end like I said.
Kristina got cancer before my own mom did, or I know that storyline would have wrecked me more than it did. The Zeek stuff was definitely what got to me the most, simply because I’ve lost grandparents so it was hard to relive. That was part of Parenthood’s beauty: Every story at least some of us had been there.
Jen: I thought Max did an excellent job in this series. I haven’t seen any of his other work, but I’ve seen interviews and you can tell what a difference there is.
I can’t compare any of the crossover characters to their FNL counterparts, but I do look forward to seeing them once I start watching it!
I was always rooting for Mark, I really thought when we saw him in the last season something would spark and that would be the end of Hank. I’m glad Sarah ended up with Hank…but deep down I never thought it would actually happen. I was also very concerned when he and his ex-wife got closer the last season as well.
Kristina’s cancer battle was definitely a tough storyline to watch, but I agree with Ben; even before that battle I thought she deserved an Emmy nomination for her acting. I had a very hard time watching Kristina with cancer, but it was Zeek that was very hard to watch for me. My own mother lost her battle to cancer this past fall, and she got it well after Kristina got better on the show. I saw the similarities between their battles, but I had a very hard time seeing Zeek in hospital because it made me think of what we went through when my mom was in the hospital those last few days.
I was glad to see Amber be brave and decide to raise little Zeek on her own. She went through a lot with Ryan, and she was strong enough to know that she didn’t want to go through that again, and she didn’t want the baby to go through it either.
Justin: What will be your lasting impressions of Parenthood? Will you remember it for years or will it fade into your memory bank, only jogged when one of the actors pops up in something else? Where do you rank it in your personal pantheon of great shows? Would you ever rewatch it, or is it a one and done?
Ben: I think it’s probably a one and done for me, but for a good reason: it was such an emotionally powerful show I’m not sure I could relive that! The only way I could see rewatching would be to share it with somebody else, but my wife watched with me and I think I’d freak out on any friends who wouldn’t appreciate it.
Do I consider it an all-timer? Personally, yes; I think it will rank at the top of my own list. Partially that’s because I feel it was a brilliantly written, directed and acted ensemble show that dealt with important stuff, but in large part I felt like I could really relate to the characters and the stories, something I think a lot of Parenthood fans will echo. Honestly, that’s probably the legacy of Parenthood: a great show, but more importantly OUR great show.
Jen: I agree with Ben, it is definitely a one and done for me as well. It was wonderfully written, and when I watched it, I really felt for each and every one of those Bravermans. But I don’t think I could go through all of the emotions again!
Even if I don’t think I could handle watching it again, I still try to persuade any and all of my friends that never watched it to watch it. I don’t know anyone that started to watch it and “give up” on it. Everyone that I know that watches it was always hooked. I don’t think anyone regrets getting sucked into it either. This show will always be relevant and I think it’s one of those shows that could be watched 10 years down the road and still have an impact. I’ll miss those Bravermans, but I can’t wait to see what Katims brings us next.
Justin: Well, that seems as good a place as any to wrap this up. If you didn’t watch the show during its initial run and you enjoy good television and a strong ensemble cast, then this is the show for you! Bravermans for life. Rest in Peace, Zeek. May the spirit of Parenthood live forever!