You probably don’t watch Parenthood. If you do, you probably don’t love it as much as it deserves. It is a heart-wrenching, beautiful show (created by Ron Howard!) following the families of the Braverman clan in and around Berkeley. Largely ignored by Emmy and Golden Globe voters, the show is now in its final season but still as strong as ever (i.e. very strong). It bounces from member to member of the extended Braverman gang but always brings them together, for occasions both happy and sad. Do I cry a little most weeks while watching? That’s not important right now! Each family contains lovable figures, some more than others, and together the clan never fails to evoke strong emotions in this viewer.
At the head of the Braverman clan stand Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) and Camille (Bonnie Bedelia), the patriarch and matriarch of the exhausting group. Nelson plays Zeek — a war veteran with a clogged heart of gold — tough and stubborn, but some of the show’s best moments come when he interacts with his kids and grandkids in times of trouble. Beside Nelson, Bedelia makes Camille frustrating and at times flimsy, but she plays the part realistically, capturing much of the intellectual and emotional turmoil of a marriage decades old entering its final stages.
The heir to the Braverman throne is Adam, played by the in every way wonderful Peter Krause. Krause and Adam together make the daddest dad of all time — unendingly dorky and awkward but relentless when it comes to protecting and supporting his family, immediate or extended. Keeping Adam strong with her own incredible example is Kristina (Monica Potter, in an overwhelmingly under-appreciated role), having fought through everything from breast cancer treatments to a mayoral race. Their children — Haddie, Max, and Norah — also make for memorable moments. Haddie has been largely absent in recent seasons, studying at Cornell, but her storylines were often highlights of the show’s early episodes. Nora is just a toddler, so her cuteness is her largest contribution. Max, however, remains one of the show’s best characters. Played by Max Burkholder, he has Asperger Syndrome, and his struggles to be social and friendly are at times hard to watch but always powerful. Max also develops a close relationship with Ray Romano’s Hank, but we’ll touch on him later. Adam and Kristina are usually the most stable of the Bravermans’ second generation, so their troubles remind us just how impossible it is to navigate parenthood and its tributaries without slipping or falling.
The reformed wild child of the gang is Sarah, played with the chipmunk smile of Lauren Graham. She can be one of the show’s more frustrating characters when she grows whiny in full-family interactions, but she also keeps it light for her children and siblings. Another endearing aspect of Sarah is her ability to attract male friends played by delightful guest stars. Jason Ritter came and went but remains one of the show’s best guests. Perhaps the best is Ray Romano, playing the aforementioned Hank, Sarah’s current love interest. Hank is quirky and antisocial and awkward, but he tries. He really does. He’s a huge positive influence on Max, with the pair emerging socially on a similar timeline, and his relationship with Sarah has been highly entertaining and periodically tearjerking. Sarah’s kids, Amber and Drew, lie on opposite ends of my Favorite Parenthood Characters Spectrum. Amber has brief moments of fineness, but for the most part she sort of sucks! Drew, on the other hand, has grown from painfully shy to teeny and awkward to ambitious and self-assured.
WE NOW INTERRUPT THIS POST FOR BREAKING NEWS AND FEELINGS.
I was planning on continuing to outline the Braverman families before discussing larger implications of the show, but last night’s episode came as I was crafting this post, and I simply can’t ignore the emotional upheaval Joel (Sam Jaeger) and Julia (Erika Christensen) have brought about for me. For those of you sad folks not in the know, Julia is another Braverman offspring, and Joel is her fallen saint of a husband. They had some issues last season when Joel got worried about her cheating, but she didn’t, but she kind of wanted to, leaving us this season of their heartbreaking path towards divorce.
There’s hope! I won’t get too into the details, but suffice to say Joel was on the brink of accepting his divorce from Julia as final, so he went to visit Zeek (who is his father figure as well) to say goodbye to the Bravermans via their head.
Zeek isn’t the type to let someone walk away from a problem so easily. He broke it down easily for Joel: essentially, you love your kids and your wife and the life you had together, so go back and fight for it. So the show’s makers were kind enough to wrap up the other characters’ stories for the week earlier to allow for Joel to finish the episode strong. They cut to him, sitting in his lonely apartment. He moves briskly. They cut to him in his car. Is he going back to his and Julia’s house? HE IS. He reaches the door and makes his presence known. Will Julia’s new boyfriend answer? HE WON’T. Julia stands before him, confused and concerned. Joel pours out a piece of his heart. Surely they will let us end the episode with a joyful embrace. They can’t deprive us, leave us hanging for a week, can they? THEY CAN! Black screen. No resolution. AHHHHHHHHHHHH! I’ve feared for a season or so that I in fact love Joel more than Julia does, but now I can cling to some hope. In divorce mediation, he gave her the house. No negotiations. He told her, “I don’t want the house if I can’t have you in it.” SWOON. She has to take him back. She has to.
Sigh. I guess we will wait until next week. If this turns into a weekly check-in on Joel and Julia until the end of the season, so be it. #JOELANDJULIAFOREVER.
Putting aside my violent emotions, you really should watch Parenthood, ideally from the start. It’s impossible to perfectly replicate the minutiae of daily life and family interactions, but Howard and his workers have crafted a show that never lacks in poignancy, regardless of your age or level of similarity to the Bravermans and their loved ones. Besides those actors mentioned above, Dax Shepard and Joy Bryant also stand out as Crosby and Jasmine, respectively, the runt of the Braverman litter and his wife-babysitter. Every week, for almost six seasons now, Parenthood has packed an emotional punch without ever knocking you too far down, revealing the troubles any typical person may face in life but never letting them consume the show’s families or family. Isolated and afraid, the characters deal with a vast array of difficulties, but they always find a way to end up stronger, together.
Now can Julia hurry up and invite Joel in?! #JOELANDJULIAFOREVER.