We’re in the throes of renewal season (or, for those of you “glass-half-empty” types, cancellation season). While we’ll bid adieu to a number of shows—Trophy Wife, we hardly knew ye!—even more hang in limbo.
Parenthood was one such show. The ever-growing Braverman clan has enchanted viewers with their realistic portrayals of familial relationships, but it hasn’t garnered the sizeable audience of some of its network peers, and its fate remained largely unknown up until now. Though NBC has decided we’ve only got one season left with our favorite family, we’re thrilled to have something to look forward to. In honor of its last-minute renewal, we’ve compiled a list of 10 reasons why we’re glad NBC has renewed Parenthood- one for each adult Braverman and spouse.
Filling the spot left vacant by the departure of showrunner Jason Katims’ other critical darling, Friday Night Lights, Peter Krause’s Adam and Monica Potter’s Kristina are television’s best married couple. Not since FNL’s Eric “Coach” and Tammy “Mrs. Coach” Taylor has a couple so inspired viewers to be more supportive, more honest, more selfless and generally more human towards their partners. Too often do I have to remind myself these two aren’t an item in offscreen, as their raw emotion and chemistry define this dynamic duo in very real ways.
I’ve never liked Dax Shepard beyond his status as Kristen Bell’s sloth-providing beau, but on Parenthood, Shepard is utterly likable. Viewers have watched Shepard’s Crosby grow from a houseboat-dwelling Lothario to a true family man and the anchor of a bustling business. With a mischievous smile and a penchant for poor interpersonal skills, Crosby is the brother we’re all still desperately praying will hit adulthood.
Parenthood has, for most viewers, accomplished the unfathomable: it’s taken four notable actors and transformed them into a believable family unit. The two sisters (Lauren Graham’s aimless Sarah and Erika Christensen’s tightly wound Julia) and two brothers (Shepard and Krause) bicker and tease, but they also lend an ear, hand or word of advice whenever the other is caught in a jam. There’s a true delight in seeing the interactions between these characters, especially as they pair off. The misadventures of Adam and Crosby are particularly funny, as the latter brings out a fierce sense of competition and adventure in older, reliable Adam. It’s a true gem of a show that can transform a character as recognizable as Lorelai Gilmore into the directionless single mother, Sarah, and pair her with Ray Romano and make viewers ask, “Luke who?”
When we left her in Season Five, Mae Whitman’s Amber was cheekily purchasing a pregnancy test in a drugstore after a hospital bed tryst with former flame Ryan (Friday Night Lights alum Matt Lauria). The backend of the season saw Ryan’s emotional return after the war vet was honorably discharged from duty, and with it came multiple instances of Whitman’s legendary cry-face. Whitman’s contorted expressions and teary whimper can really pack a punch, and if, as the last scene suggested, she’s facing a pregnancy alone (as Ryan heads back to Middle-of-Nowhereseville), the audience is sure to get sufficient material for a best-of cry-face compilation.
Those Bravermans, they’re a forgiving bunch! One common theme throughout the series has been that of redemption, whether for infidelity (Crosby and family patriarch Zeek), from cancer (the inimitable Kristina) or from another whopping trial. Another season could offer redemption for the characters still searching, as most of us are, for the strength to be better. Another season could, for instance, offer the youngest Braverman child, Julia, and her husband, Joel (Sam Jaeger) the opportunity to be better parents as they navigate their sticky separation, or the time for Ryan to recover from the injuries and mistakes that led to his military discharge.
The tides are changing, and soon we will no longer have to bow to the unjust queen, Sydney Graham (Savannah Paige Rae). The five-year-old (at the start of the series) daughter of Julia and Joel epitomizes the spoiled brat of most parents’ nightmares. She throws public temper tantrums, withholds love as punishment, taunts her adopted brother, Victor (Xolo Mariduena), for stealing her limelight, and bares her frightening Skeletor teeth as she reigns from her Fisher Price throne. But this season, the audience has watched Sydney grow to be something else entirely-dare I say, tolerable? She’s bonded with her brother, welcoming him into their home after the lengthy foster and adoption process in Season Four. And, in a heartbreaking turn in the fifth season finale, we catch a glimpse of her more sympathetic side as she begs her father to stay with the family-including estranged wife Julia-for the night. It’s what we want too, kid.
For five seasons, we’ve watched Braverman matriarch Camille (Bonnie Bedelia) drift in and out of storylines with her paint-marked smock and warm charm, but she’s rarely been afforded the character development and screen time she’s received as of late. Sure, she jetted off to Italy for a painting workshop for weeks, and we only saw her through husband Zeek’s eyes in video chats, but, upon her return, she’s grown to be a more valuable character, expressing her desires and demanding they be considered. In the most recent season, as she and Zeek prepared to sell their house, the audience was forced to endure an almost tedious (if realistic) season-long subplot of the Braverman progeny coming to terms with losing their childhood home. For of the few times in the series, Camille leveraged her position and got what she wanted: a new home.
Critics have long praised Jason Katims’ use of music on his shows, and Parenthood is no stranger to his magic touch. From Wilco to Brett Dennen, Glen Hansard to Lyle Lovett, the use of music to deliberately punctuate poignant dialogue comes down to a science reinvented by Katims. Audiences have found new loves in old songs and indie tracks, while cameos from Cee-Lo Green (as himself) and All American Rejects frontman Tyson Ritter (as the fictional lead diva of Luncheonette recording artist Ashes of Rome) serve as nice odes to Katims’ and music supervisor Liza Richardson’s vision and reach. Perhaps most notable, musically, is the show’s theme song since its inception, Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.” It’s the perfect pick to encapsulate the show, and seamlessly works with the opening title card, featuring images of the cast in their youth. It’s a one-two punch of emotion from the start. The photographs of young Max Burkholder (Max) and Miles Heizer (Drew Holt) particularly tug at the heartstrings.
In Season One, Parenthood presented a difficult dilemma to a pair of loving parents: Max’s Asperger’s Syndrome. The struggle, so real to so many parents, was handled with such dignity by Adam and Kristina as they strove to provide Max with the very best educational and social opportunities they could despite their limited expertise. In these later seasons, Max’s growth was facilitated by an unlikely source: Sarah’s boss and romantic interest, Hank (a truly fantastic Ray Romano). The relationship between these two-Max, who possesses a great talent for and interest in photography, and Hank, the professional photographer-is more than simply a mentorship. Hank ably handles all of Max’s Asperger’s struggles and triumphs, from soothing the stormy tantrums to celebrating the success of his eidetic talents. Hank’s realization that his kinship with Max may come from his own possible tendencies that fall on the spectrum is a beauty to behold. Most importantly, Adam and Kristina see in Hank a future for Max, and the former’s success mitigates their concerns for their son’s ability to thrive on his own.
I have a Cry-O-Meter for a show as nuanced and beautiful as Parenthood: I think the record for this particular show is seven separate cries, and I never leave an episode without a good, heartrending sob. The raw expressions of tenderness and affection can really be attributed to the actors’ portrayal of their characters. Kristina’s cancer diagnosis, Amber’s alcoholism, Max’s struggle with Asperger’s—it’s all handled with a subtle dignity and a realization of imperfection. This family has endured so much, but they have survived (and thrived) together.
Perhaps the best example of this is in the season five closer, “The Pontiac.” Adam and Kristina’s eldest child, Haddie, is home from Cornell for summer vacation, and she has brought her girlfriend Lauren with her, unbeknownst to her parents. She tries in vain to express to her father how important Lauren is to her. Her father mistakes her intentions until it ultimately dawns on him that his daughter couldn’t come out and say that she was coming out.
Peter Krause ought to teach a master class on the art of facial reactions; his realization, of the subtext of every conversation Adam has had with Haddie since her return, is more than just heartwarming, it’s hilarious. Adam and Haddie ostensibly talk about it, sans dialogue, as yet another Bob Dylan song (Richie Havens’ cover of “The Times They Are A-Changin’”) plays over a montage of the characters saying their goodbyes: to their childhood home, to each other, and, many feared, to us. But we don’t need to hear what Adam says to Haddie to know he echoed Kristina’s earlier sentiments: we love you, and we just want you to be happy. That scene was a whopper, played to perfection by Krause and Sarah Ramos, and would have served as a satisfactory conclusion to the series. But we’re sure glad we won’t have to say our goodbyes just yet.