'Parenthood' Showrunner Jason Katims Talks Tears and a 'Satisfying' Season Finale
"There are definitely some emotional moments, and there's a lot of resolution in the season finale," he tells THR.
Parenthood's fourth season comes to a close Tuesday night, a finale that showrunner Jason Katims promises will be filled with both emotional moments and resolution. In a season that has featured nearly as many emotional triumphs (Max wins the election, Ryan and Amber connect) as it has heart-wrenching moments (Kristina's breast cancer diagnosis, Julia's adoption woes with Victor), the critical darling will see Sarah (Lauren Graham) painstakingly pick between Mark (Jason Ritter) and Hank (Ray Romano) and Kristina's (Monica Potter) health status revealed. Elsewhere, Julia (Erika Christensen) and Joel (Sam Jaeger) look to finalize Victor's adoption, Amber (Mae Whitman) and Ryan (Matt Lauria) will address their future as a couple as Drew (Miles Heizer) continues to cope with the emotional fallout of Amy's abortion.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Parenthood boss Katims to preview Tuesday's episode, titled "Because You're My Sister."
THR: How will Amy's abortion and their subsequent breakup change Drew? Might we see him go off to college next year in a fashion similar to Haddie?
Katims: That's a question for next season and the journey he goes on next. The journey for Drew over the course of the series has been a real coming-of-age story. When you think of where he was at the beginning of the show, he's gone from being very shut down to somebody who has been emerging as a young man. Certainly having to deal with something so big like this is something that's going to really have an influence on what happens with him next. It will inform a lot of what we talk about when we talk about next season and inform how we think about that character. We could potentially [see his storyline mirror Haddie's]; he's a senior in high school; there's a potential for that, and it is something we address in the finale.
THR: Sarah has to pick between Mark and Hank. The promo teased Hank moving to Minnesota to be closer to his ex-wife and daughter. Should we take that as a sign that things look good for Mark?
Katims: She's a lucky girl! That's a high-class problem to have! You could take that as a sign. What we were hoping to do in this story was, when I look back when we started the season in the writers room, we wanted to try to create a true dilemma for Sarah, and we felt like there were things that would recommend both of these people to her and it would be a tough choice. It does get to the point where she has to pull the trigger one way or the other, and that's what she does in the final episode. You can see she knows she has to make a decision and go one way or the other, but you also see that it's not an easy decision to make. There are things drawing her toward both of these guys. It does come down to the wire, and she does make a choice.
THR: Is there a chance that one or both Ray Romano and Jason Ritter could return next season?
Katims: It's always a combination of actors' availability and their interest in doing it and a combination of that and the writers trying to figure out what the best story is for the characters. Both Jason and Ray have done such tremendous jobs in their roles on the show; they feel like part of the show; they don't feel like guest stars.
THR: Is there long-term hope for Ryan and Amber?
Katims: That's another question we're addressing in season finale episode. There's great chemistry between those two actors, and they love working together. That was a story arc that at first we were thinking would be several episodes, but it kept expanding because we felt like what they were doing was so great. We do address whether there is the possibly for more after that.
THR: Erika Christensen's scene with Dax Shepard was a game changer for Julia. Will the adoption storyline be resolved in the finale?
Katims: Yes. That's something that has been going on with Julia for two seasons, and it is something that will come to a resolution in the finale. We hinted at it in Tuesday's episode, and her decision seems to be in the direction of moving forward with this adoption on the faith that she will forge this emotional connection with Victor. The final episode is watching how she goes about doing that.
THR: Monica Potter has been amazing as Kristina combats cancer. What can you say about how her storyline ends this season? Will it end on a hopeful note?
Katims: We reach the end of Kristina's chemo treatment in the finale. But that doesn't necessarily mean that she is healthy. I know from when my wife went through it that there is a real anxiety that happens when you finish treatment. Because you are done with what you can do to fight the cancer and then you just have to wait to see the results of the treatment. That said, we do reach a resolution in the storyline by the end of the season finale.
THR: What have you learned about Kristina in telling this story?
Katims: I wanted to make that journey feel as real as possible and go through all the different emotions and the twists and turns of it. That was what I felt like we would be able to do with that story as opposed to telling it over a couple of episodes. It was something we were really able to dig in to. I knew having worked with Monica for the previous three years on the show that she was capable of such incredible work in terms of her dramatic work and how heartfelt and honest her performance is. But also her comedy, which I thought was an important part of the story. I feel like we wanted to find the moments of humor and grace that happen when you're going through something like this. That's what gave us the confidence to move forward with the story. Monica was great as was Peter [Krause] and everyone in the storyline. This is a story that's very personal to me. My wife went through this and to be able to tell the story in this way and have people respond to it is really satisfying. One of the concerns I had in taking this story on was worrying if people would turn away from the show because it was too depressing and they didn't want to deal with this. I think the opposite happened, and people were really drawn to it. While it's not the easiest material to watch, it feels very real, and it was observed in an honest way.
THR: What does your wife think?
Katims: She responds the way many people seem to be. Some of the episodes are very familiar to her as specific things we went through, and some aren't exactly what it was. She's been very moved by watching it. Most people who have seen it seem to have that same reaction.
THR: The show has become a weekly tearfest. Do you take that as a compliment?
Katims: The reason why people are having that reaction is because they're connecting to these characters and these stories in a very personal way. I take that as a compliment. In talking about that, I wouldn't want to overlook the other aspects of the show like the humor, which is part of what makes Parenthood what it is. It's a balance of many tones. What I'm very proud of is in the same episode, there are storylines that are much lighter and those that have a more dramatic and emotional feel and they live together in a way that feels very natural.
THR: On a one-to-10 scale, how many pieces of Kleenex should viewers have handy for the finale?
Katims: There are definitely some emotional moments and there's a lot of resolution in the season finale. I think the way the show ends has a very beautiful montage at the end, which came out really great. I think it'll be very satisfying. I can't predict the amount of Kleenex, but I'm proud of the episode and ... hope it'll be a satisfying season finale.
THR: If the series isn't renewed, will the episode work as a series finale? Is there more material to mine?
Katims: Yes to both. It's a satisfying ending, but there is much more to mine there. A lot of people felt like the season three finale felt like I was writing the end of the series, and I never really intended that. I don't know if it's because there was a wedding and that gave a sense of finality to it. There's both a lot of resolution in this episode -- we've been writing toward this episode for a season, and in some cases, more than a season -- so ... hopefully it will be leaving you wanting to see more of the Bravermans.
THR: What are you hearing about a potential fifth season?
Katims: There's been no talk in the network yet about next season ... so I don't know what the future of the show is. I'm hopeful because I think creatively everyone at the network, including [NBC entertainment president] Bob Greenblatt, has been so supportive and passionate about the show. They've also been happy with how the show has performed this year. I feel like there are definite positives going into it.
The fourth-season finale of Parenthood airs Tuesday at 10 p.m. on NBC.