Cancer. It’s a scary word. It’s even scarier to decide to depict it on television without disrespecting the seriousness of it and those who are affected by the illness.
This season of NBC’s Parenthood has dealt Monica Potter’s Kristina a life-altering doctor’s visit where she was diagnosed with breast cancer. In the two episodes that followed, the fourth-year family drama has successfully portrayed the personal struggle of the character and her relationship with her husband Adam (Peter Krause).
While breast cancer is a personal subject to series creator Jason Katims—his wife went through a similar process to what we’ve seen Kristina go through on the show a few years ago—it was actually Potter who first pitched the idea. After a mammogram this past April, doctors told her that they discovered “a blip or something” and that she would have to go back to get it check out later. The experience propelled her to email Katims immediately, as she felt it was a topic worth covering.
His response: “I got chills.”
Yet it took the showrunner some time to figure out exactly how to approach such a serious topic.
“I struggled with that decision because I thought it was a difficult subject matter,” Katims revealed, “[It] could be challenging from the point-of-view of storytelling and sometimes to watch it.”
Parenthood has never shied away from difficult, and this would be no different. It was only two episodes into the new season when, at the end of a typical episode and seemingly with no warning, Kristina was shown at the doctor’s office getting an exam. It was appropriate that the episode was called “Left Field” because that’s exactly how the storyline was introduced, much like how a woman would really receive the news.
The scene was heart-stopping for viewers and for Potter herself. She wanted her reaction to be as genuine as possible and tried to do as little research as possible.
“As far as doing research and going online, I did nothing. Only because I wanted to experience it as a person doing it for the first time,” she divulges. The actress said it was important “having a fresh perspective on it and feeling those real feelings of being scared and hearing the news [for the first time].”
It was the following two episodes when the storyline was properly introduced. It focused on Kristina and Adam trying to sort through how to proceed with surgery. Yet the character has yet to reveal her diagnosis to the rest of the family.
Katims drew on personal experience while writing the upcoming scene where the Braverman clan learns about Kristina’s cancer. “One of the things I definitely remember is the idea of having to tell our kids about it,” he says. “Which was a really, really tough thing to do. And to figure out how to talk to them about it in a way that was going to be not too scary. We were being honest with them, which we thought was really important.”
“I love the way that Jason wrote this episode,” Potter adds. “Where it was staged and how it’s so—it’s done in a place that you wouldn’t normally tell people news like that. It was just ‘bam!’ It was perfect, it was just great and so real.”
While next week covers the initial revelation, Katims says it’s a slow process: “How their family, how their children, and how the family is responding to it is something that is a part of the entire season that continues.”
The upcoming episodes also continue to dive deeper into Kristina and Adam’s relationship as they struggle with the news. As Katims puts it, Adam wants to control everything, but this time he can’t make things OK with a simple solution.
“I think this is challenging to Adam to be able to sort of play a role that’s slightly different for Kristina and be there to support her, but not necessarily be the person to make the all the decisions they’re making in terms of what they want to do medically and all that,” he says.
Parenthood’s writers know it is a difficult task to depict this story as honestly as possible, but Katims says he doesn’t want it to be a cry-fest. He insists that humor is a necessity, and Potter adds that she feels it is the little moments between Kristina and Adam that really make the upcoming season special.