'Parenthood' Postmortem: Jason Katims Teases "Bittersweet," "Uplifting" Series Finale

The series creator talks with THR about the events of the 100th episodes and what's to come from the NBC drama's final three episodes
Colleen Hayes/NBC

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the 100th episode of NBC's Parenthood, "How Did We Get  Here?"]

NBC's Parenthood celebrated its 100th episode on Thursday with one of its most emotional — and fulfilling — episodes in its six-season run that set the stage for its final three episodes ever.

Following Zeek's heart attack, the Bravermans gathered at the hospital to await word on his condition. As it turns out, his health is in a precarious position, where he could opt for a risky surgery or do nothing but wait. Ultimately, Zeek and Camille opt to make the decision together — without consulting the kids.

As for the struggling Luncheonette, things get worse for Adam and Crosby when the studio is robbed of everything, leaving the brothers with differing opinions about what to do with the insurance payout.

Read more 'Parenthood' Cast Share What They Learned From Being a Braverman

Meanwhile, Joel and Julia are seemingly back together after sharing an intimate night together. Hank, looking at a supportive Joel and Kristina, decides he wants to be "all in" with Sarah and proposes marriage. Continuing to counterbalance Zeek's story, the Braverman women move Amber's baby shower to the hospital, giving the family a focus on new life amid the chaos of everything else.

"The writers haven't planned out deep cliffhangers because we knew it was the end of the season," showrunner Jason Katims tells The Hollywood Reporter. "So the Luncheonette story, as well as Joel and Julia, Zeek and all these things we've been following are all going to be leading to a resolution and conclusion when we get to the end of the season."

Here, Katims goes in depth about what to expect from the remaining three episodes of the family drama: will there be a wedding? Will Zeek survive?

Zeek's (Craig T. Nelson) health and the Luncheonette robbery was paired with Amber's baby shower and Hank's proposal. Was it originally your plan to have the 100th episode be filled with such a wide range of emotions?

No, we didn't break it with a huge awareness of the 100th episode. We were more concerned with and thinking about leading to the last few episodes of the series so we building toward the end of the show. I'm really happy with the way it turned out because I think it's a special episode. Zeek's heart attack coalesces the family around that event.  When I first imagined doing the show, before we started shooting, I almost pictured the show to look a little bit more like that episode looked than the show actually looks because 90 percent of that was in a practical location. I imagine that's the way we were going to shoot the show. The fact that you had everybody in that one place under these dire circumstances lent an urgency to it and gave it a sense of emotion that's very familiar to anyone who's been in a situation like that with a family member who they're waiting to hear news about.

As a perennial bubble show, the season finales could have doubled as satisfying series finales. How will the final episode, knowing it's the last one, be different? 

We definitely want to lead to more of a resolution, a cathartic ending. It's not so much that I wanted to leave with questions about people but more, to me, it's about leaving with a hint of where they're headed and what path they're on. That's what we're thinking about in terms of how the show gets resolved.

Zeek isn't in great shape. What will the family's reaction be to Zeek and Camille's decision about his health?

Zeek has been put in this position of having to make a tough decision, having to weigh the pros and cons of it. For the family members, it's a tough thing to separate what you want somebody to do versus what the best thing for them to do is and I think that's something that they're all going to be struggling with as Zeek decides what's next.

Read more 'Parenthood's' Ray Romano on Hank's Surprise Move

At the start of the season, you mentioned wanting to tell the story of a blended family with Sarah and Hank, who now has Drew's stamp of approval. Could there be a wedding in these final episodes?

Anything is possible. More than being about seeing a wedding, the next episode or two are going to be about Sarah (Lauren Graham) trying to figure out what's best for her. Sarah has to make this big decision now after Hank's (Ray Romano) proposal, and to me, it's not saying there will or won't be a wedding. The joy is more in the journey, and, in this case, that's her figuring out what to do. The next episode has some really wonderful moments of her both with her with Hank and other characters trying to figure out what the best thing for her to do is. There's this beautiful scene with her and Camille (Bonnie Bedelia) and a great scene with her and Julia (Erika Christensen). When you think of Sarah and where she started when the show began — when she was basically moving back into her parents house and trying to keep her head above water — it's great to see just how far she's come over the course of the series and now she has this really big decision to make.

Julia, amid the hospital chaos, refers to Joel [Sam Jaeger] as her husband. Where do they go from here?

There's been all this momentum over the past couple of episodes of getting them back together but I think what's important for me, since we did commit to telling this difficult story, is that when we come to a resolution, we don't come to it in a way that is over-simplified from the story that we set up. They still have things to work out and that's what the last three episodes will be about.

Adam and Crosby are at different points with the Luncheonette. What will their compromise look like? Could Amber play a role?

Amber (Mae Whitman) could definitely play a role. But right now the story is more about Adam (Peter Krause) and Crosby (Dax Shepard) and working through the fact that they really are in two different places right now. For both of those characters, it's a very compelling story to tell. For Adam, he's somebody who has dealt with having to weigh his personal and family obligations against what he thinks will be best for himself. There's also this question about what's best for his nuclear family versus his extended family. That's something from his side that will continue to be explored over the next three episodes. For Crosby, we've seen him go through so much this season. In seasons' past, Crosby's always been this sort of man-child; no problems were too big for him and he seemed to be able to deal with whatever's been thrown at him. This season, for the first time, I saw him in an almost midlife sort of situation, dealing with what was happening with his dad and it seemed to hit him particularly hard. It's hard for everybody to deal with Zeek but I think particularly hard for Crosby. All the struggles that they've had in their business, that's hit him hard, too. There's a real need and drive for Crosby to make that business work but he may not be seeing it very clearly because it might not be the best business decision for him to forge ahead.

Read more 'Parenthood' Cast on Zeek's Major Health Crisis: It Changes Everyone

There's so much to resolve in these remaining three episodes — Zeek, Amber's baby, Joel and Julia, the Luncheonette, Hank and Sarah, Drew … will there be another time jump?

There won't be any time jumps for the body of these next three episodes. It's not like we're going to cut to two years later after Sarah may or may not get married or something like that. However, we will have some flash forwards which give little glimpses into where some of these characters are heading and what path they're on.

How would you describe the final scene of the series?

Parenthood ending for everyone involved with the show and for the fans is bittersweet. The ending of that final scene will be bittersweet. We're definitely dealing with big issues that are not all happy per say. There is so much joy, hope and, I think, a sense of life continuing and the sweetness of life in the ending that I hope comes through that. I certainly felt from everybody involved in doing the show, in doing the last scene of the show and I'm hoping that will come through in the episode. Even though we're dealing with very difficult subject matter, it's ultimately a hopeful and uplifting ending and speaks to what the show speaks to. It's about life going on. One of the things that has been really powerful about the show is that it has been about several generations and the idea of seeing [things] moving to the next generation. There is something sort of sad and difficult about that but I think that it is ultimately hopeful and uplifting.

Read more 'Parenthood's' Dax Shepard Sets Second 'About a Boy' Cameo

How are you feeling about a third season of About a Boy?

NBC has been very very positive about the show creatively. There's frustration with how some of the scheduling has worked out with our show this year. Obviously we haven't been doing as well as we were doing last season. I'm hopeful that they're going to continue to support the show. I'm accustomed to being in this situation; I certainly had my moments with Friday Night Lights when didn't know whether we were going to make it through certain moments through the run of that show. And we had the same thing with Parenthood. I feel like the network has a lot of faith in the show and About a Boy continues to get stronger as we go. While the numbers are challenging, we do have our solid fan base. We've been doing really well even when our live numbers are slipping a little bit and we've been doing well with DVR. So I'm staying positive about it. Obviously this is a challenging moment but I know the network loves our show creatively and when that's true, figuring out the best way to schedule it is just something that will happen — even if takes a little time.

Have you ever thought about expanding it to an hour?

No. I've never thought about that because I designed it to be a half-hour and think it works well. It's a smaller cast than one like Parenthood or Friday Night Lights, and that's something that I've really been enjoying. It makes it different from those shows. You don't have that many balls in the air, in terms of stories, but you can lean into the stories you're telling. Even though the characters are really grounded and you feel for them and it is a poignant and emotional show, the half-hour format gives you the permission to lean into the comedy and do things that are more comedic and a little bit broader tonally than you would be able to do even in a comedic hour.

The series finale of Parenthood airs Thursday, Jan. 29 at 10 p.m. on NBC. Stay tuned to THR's The Live Feed for more final season coverage. Click here to see what Ray Romano had to say about Hank's proposal.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
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