8:00pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
'Parenthood's' Craig T. Nelson on Zeek's Fate: "The Journey He Took Was Extraordinary"
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the series finale of NBC's Parenthood.]
NBC's Parenthood wrapped its sixth and final season Thursday with an episode that delivered a memorable ending for every one of the Bravermans — especially Craig T. Nelson's patriarch, Zeek.
Following a season that opened with a focus on examining mortality, Zeek lived to walk his youngest and "favorite" daughter, Sarah (Lauren Graham), down the aisle in a wedding perfectly suited for the Bravermans. (Of course the wedding came after Hank formally asked Zeek for his blessing in one of the multiple "pass me a Kleenex" scenes in the finale.)
Perhaps even better, he also saw his granddaughter, Amber (Mae Whitman), and great-grandson and namesake, Zeek, move into the home he shares with Camille (Bonnie Bedelia) for a fitting "third act."
His advice to Crosby (Dax Shepard) also played a huge role in shaping the future of the Luncheonette, which was all but closed before the eldest Braverman told his son that he was more than capable of reopening the studio on his own. It helped create a future not only for Crosby, but also for Amber, who became the "new Crosby" after the former became the "new Adam."
But as the Jason Katims drama moved beyond the wedding and Camille was reviewing Max's stunning wedding photography at their home, she calls out for Zeek and finds that her husband had passed away in his sleep, sitting comfortably in his chair at home. That came after Nelson had perhaps the best line of the finale, when Zeek turns to Camille at the wedding and says of his family, "Boy, we did good, didn't we?"
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Nelson to discuss the events of the finale, Zeek's fitting baseball-themed farewell and leaving the Bravermans behind.
Are you happy with how Zeek's journey ended?
No. I think the series should have gone on. I still don't know why it was pulled. Jason and I talked about it, and I never got on board with [Zeek's death]. I thought the way he did it was really dignified, nice and emotional. It's just a difference of opinion; I think in terms of thematically how you want to see it go. It was a new chapter. The whole thing was predicated on that this was going to be the last year, and that set everything up. In other words, you would have started out completely differently. But that wasn't the way it was. Jason certainly did the best with what he had. I had no problem with that. I just had a problem with dying. It was really hard to do. The last four or five weeks were really difficult and very emotional. You get in touch with your own mortality, and it was hard emotionally for a lot of the actors. For myself, I dreaded going in there. I never came to grips with the fact that he was going, and I didn't want him to. The journey to do that was eye-opening as an actor to explore.
There were so many instances where Zeek's fate could have gone either way this season. How early in the season did Jason tell you what Zeek's journey was going to be?
The whole thing started with selling the house last season. I was so adamantly against that. I said, "Gosh, you don't do that." If you're going to downsize, what are we going to? This Victorian mansion? We talked about that, and I got an indication that the show was in trouble [ratings-wise] and that bothered me. … Jason came and said this is what he wanted to do. I said, "Oh, brother, here we go." At that point, you cede to someone who is that creative and that good at what they do and trust them. It's not that you disagree; I disagreed with having to end the show, period.
Zeek passed at home, quietly in his sleep. As a viewer, it felt almost as if he had accomplished everything he wanted to in life. Would you agree?
Heck no. That's the tragedy of it, isn't it? That's also what happens is that life gets cut short. There's a lot of other stuff that I would have loved to have explored, the time just wasn't there. What we were given, I felt Jason and the writers really dealt with very honestly. Saying goodbye to a group like that is really tough. You don't get 15 people like that together who are able to work like that and have a copacetic relationship. It was a really extraordinary group of people and I miss that. I would have loved to have had continued that. But Zeek's journey was done better than I thought it would be.
Zeek played such a major impact in the future for all of his children — offering advice to Crosby with the Luncheonette, which in turn, helped Adam stay at Chambers and created a professional future for Amber. What kind of legacy do you think Zeek will have? Do you think he ranks among the best TV dads?
That's a hard one to answer. I loved playing him and thought he had a lot more to give. The journey he took was extraordinary. Through his kids and all the things he had to change in his life, he was courageous and he kept his reserve a lot of times. I thought there was probably three or four things going on with him that we never got deeper into. But that's OK. He serviced and was a servant for his children, and that's what he lived for.
Zeek's ashes were spread on a baseball diamond before the Bravermans played one last game with him. Do you think that's a service Zeek would have appreciated?
Yes, because he tells Adam in a moment of, not anger, but he's a bit petulant, that in the kitchen this season, in the second or third episode, when Adam is telling him about the rate of success for the operation — and this is before Zeek has the first one — Zeek tells him, "That's nice, you've got all these percentages." And Adam says, "Listen, what am I going to do if something happens to you? What about me, what am I going to do? And Zeek looks at him and says, "I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'll be dead and you can take my ashes and spread them on a baseball field and play a game of baseball over it."
Were you on set for that?
I was going to be nowhere near there. We were going to go to San Francisco, and we had those horrible storms come in, and we had to abandon that and shoot here [in L.A.]. I thought about going, but I didn't want to be there. It was really like saying goodbye to something you really, really love, and you look back on it and think, "Oh my gosh, this is one of those extraordinary shows. What happened?! Where did we go? How come we're not doing this more?" I'm still perplexed by it. Coach [ending], I understood; The District, I got; but this one, I don't. So many people come up to me and say how much the show has meant to them; they're so passionate about it. It happens a lot, and that throws me.
This show has meant so much to so many people. Do you have one final message to fans?
Just thanks for being there and supporting this show. Because of you, we stayed on. We wanted to finish it the best way we could.
What did you think of how Zeek's journey ended? Where do you think he ranks among the best TV dads? Sound off in the comments below. Click here to read our Parenthood series finale postmortem with Jason Katims and here for more on the guest-star surprise.