8:00pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
'Parenthood' Series Finale Postmortem: Jason Katims Talks Bringing the Family Drama Full Circle
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the series finale of NBC's Parenthood.]
The Bravermans' journey has come to an end.
NBC on Thursday said farewell to one of primetime television's most beloved families when Jason Katims drama Parenthood wrapped up its six-season run. The series finale — which featured a wedding, a heartbreaking death and a momentous send-off, as well as a three-year time jump — delivered emotional moments for every member of the Bravermans.
Sarah (Lauren Graham) rushed her wedding to Hank (Ray Romano) so her father, Zeek (Craig T. Nelson), could walk her down the aisle in a season in which fans of the family drama held their breath following each of the eldest Braverman's medical emergencies. Max (Max Burkholder) served as the wedding photographer for Zeek's self-professed "favorite" child — and met (and danced!) with a girl, illustrating his bright future. Haddie (Sarah Ramos) returned home and delivered an emotional speech to Max that was capped with a selfie.
Crosby (Dax Shepard), thanks to dad Zeek's encouragement, reopened the Luncheonette with new partner Amber (Mae Whitman), leaving Adam (Peter Krause) free to return and run Chambers Academy while Kristina (Monica Potter) accepted a job working for a nonprofit to help create more schools just like the one the couple opened.
Amber accepted Zeek and Camille's (Bonnie Bedelia) wedding gift and, like mother Sarah did before her, took baby Zeek and moved in with them. Then, after a three-year time jump, married and had a new baby with a guy fittingly played by Friday Night Lights alum Scott Porter — and had a healthy and functional relationship with Ryan (Matt Lauria), who was around to be a father to young Zeek.
Joel (Sam Jaeger) and Julia (Erika Christensen) wound up adopting Victor's biological sister — in addition to having another baby together! — and creating a family of four children — just like Zeek and Camille.
Zeek's journey, however, did come to its expected end. After a season in which Katims sought to explore mortality in a new way, the Braverman patriarch passed quietly in his chair at home after declaring to Camille at Sarah's wedding that, yep, they "did good."
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with showrunner Katims to discuss Parenthood's legacy and what went into the series finale.
Did you always know that the series would end with Zeek's death? And what came with the decision to ultimately kill him off? What story did you want to tell?
I didn't always know that this would be the ending but I sort of suspected it. Throughout the course of doing the show, at some point, I wanted to tell the story of losing one of the family members — even though I knew that was a hard story to tell. I always hesitated to do that because I loved everybody in the cast so much, I didn't want to lose anybody. (Laughs.) When we knew this was the final season, I knew I wanted to tell a big story that was going to touch the entire family and bring them together in some way. It felt like a natural and almost inevitable choice to make this the season that we dealt with Zeek's death. It was the first thing we talked about in the writers room, and my instinct over the break before we started was that was where I was going and that never changed and it shaped the whole season.
Amber wound up getting married to
Jason Street Scott Porter and creating a new blended family that was different from Sarah's. Why was it important to show that she wound up happily married to someone other than Ryan?
We went back and forth a lot during the whole relationship between Ryan and Amber of where that should end up. I was drawn to telling the story of Amber [being in the saddle] on her own. The reason why I felt that instinctively was because I wanted this final season to be one that in any way could be about the Braverman family having to be there for each other. So for her not going through this with Ryan or another person, it put her in context with her mom, her brother, her grandfather, her grandmother and all of these people. In terms of the flash-forward, originally it was going to be a story just about Amber meeting this new person in the park. Then the idea came up of seeing Ryan and seeing him in a really good place, and I liked that idea of having that moment to see him as well. It would have been weird to flash forward and see her with Ryan and not having seen what happened. Did they get back together? We wouldn't have had the chance to know if that was a good thing or not. For example, that's why we took two years to tell the story about Joel and Julia and took the whole season to see them getting back together. I felt if they just got back together, I don't think you would have known whether you felt like that reunion was going to have strength underneath it, and that's why we wanted to tell that story that way. The flash-forward, we felt, was more compelling to see Amber with somebody new.
Scott was fantastic. It was a huge favor to ask a TV star like Scott to come on and do a role with no lines (laughs) and come into a show. He literally heard what I wanted to do and just came and brought a great energy to it. He's also a big Parenthood fan, which was important to me. I didn't want to bring in an actor I didn't know because it was such an important role. We didn't have time to work with the actor to have him become part of the family. We wanted someone who could come in and instantly be part of the family.
The finale ran way over and John Corbett's Seth was poised to return but ultimately cut. What would his scene have looked like?
It was a beautiful scene where he was meeting his grandson [baby Zeek] and having a moment to show that he really wanted to be there for Amber and for his grandson — and then also have a moment to have him acknowledge Sarah and the fact she was getting married and almost show that he was OK with that. It was a nice moment and one where unfortunately we had to make some very tough choices in that episode.
Joel and Julia wind up adopting Victor's biological sister — and had another child together. What was behind your decision to throw them this curveball?
With Zeek dying toward the end of the final episode, we started to think about not only that moment with the family playing baseball, [but] think ahead with the flash-forwards and vignettes about where everyone was going to be. That made us think about where everybody was headed. In that scene, not only have they adopted Victor's half-sister but they've had another child in the interim. I like the idea of seeing the poignancy of Zeek passing away countered by all these very precious moments of seeing this family continuing to grow, thrive, evolve and go on. To me that is, in a weird way, what the whole show was about: No matter what happens, the strength of this family coming together. What was behind the Joel and Julia story was seeing that. They've also become a family of four [children], which is the same as the family Julia grew up in [with siblings Adam, Crosby and Sarah]. That was an interesting kind of subtle but poetic allusion as well.
What was it like filming that final scene?
There were two final days. The first final day was the day before we wrapped. That was the day we had the final scene with the entire cast. That felt like the ending because we were wrapping out about seven of our eight [actors], including Peter. It was the most celebratory and the saddest thing at once. Everybody involved, the emotion of the moment caught up to them, either expectedly or unexpectedly. It's wonderful to be on a show that when you look at the show, it's this wonderful family; but what's great is behind the scenes, it's a wonderful family. Everybody has gotten so close to each other. We feel like we've accomplished a lot, and that's great. We all felt so privileged to be part of the show and so close to each other. It was emotional but it was also really celebratory. The next-to-last day, it was great for us because it was mostly almost all visual stuff. There was very little dialogue, which as writers, we could enjoy and watch since we didn't have any responsibility to be working. Larry Trilling directed it and got the most beautiful images of the ending. The final day, [the final scene we filmed was one] with Hank and Ruby that didn't even make it into the final cut. It's a beautiful scene but we ran so long we had to cut a bunch of scenes out. I thought that was really beautiful because it really became about the group. The entire cast was there and everybody in the crew got to have their moment together. It was great.
There aren't many traditional family shows like Parenthood left. Why are networks hesitant to take on the ensemble drama?
They've been tough sells for a while. It was a tough sell when I sold Parenthood and when I pitched the pilot. Honestly, if I had come in and pitched a big, messy ensemble drama about a family, I think they would have said, "That's great," and I would have written a script and nothing would have happened. The fact that it was Parenthood and there was a recognizable title [based on the movie] and the whole legacy of that movie helped us get over the hump. But they're tough sells. It would be tough for me or anybody to go in and pitch this show now.
What kind of legacy do you hope Parenthood has?
The thing I'm most proud of about what we've done on the show is that we've told stories and haven't shied away from telling them in a way that was very specific and very detailed. When they needed to be dark and honestly, they were. When I look at stories like the Asperger's storyline, I'm very proud of that. We told a story about autism that didn't last a couple of episodes, it lasted 103 episodes. Similarly, the breast cancer storyline and this season with Zeek's health. I'm very proud that we told those stories and that's what made people lean in and watch the show. Hopefully, that's what people will remember us as: like a family that always came together — and there was incredible strength in that despite the very difficult things and all the curveballs that life throws at you.
Were you satisfied with how Parenthood ended? Share your thoughts (and feelings!) in the comments below. Click here to read our interview with Scott Porter and here to see what Craig T. Nelson had to say about Zeek's journey.