There will never be another “Parenthood.”
It is my favorite network drama so it pains me to say it about the trials and tribulations of the extended Braverman family.
But I’m not the only one saying it.
NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt essentially said the same thing recently during the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, Calif. Asked if “a slice of drama” like “Parenthood” can be done anymore on network television, Greenblatt said he couldn’t “definitively say yes or no.”
Which is another way of saying no.
“When you have a show as finely crafted as ‘Parenthood’ with that cast and that level of writing … it’s hard to do something like this,” said Greenblatt. “I think my knee-jerk answer is well, you can do it if you have the best auspices and best writing and the best cast; in fact we have that. I’m not sure. If something comes along that we love, I don’t think we’re just going to categorically say no. It does seem like it gets harder and harder.”
So my advice to “Parenthood” lovers is to sit back and enjoy the finale on Thursday of a series that has the theme that families will survive and support their loved ones during all their crises and disappointments.
While in Pasadena, I sat down with the show’s executive producer, Jason Katims. I’m a Katims fan. He also was the executive producer of another one of my favorite underrated dramas, “Friday Night Lights.” I told him it looks like the series is heading for some happy endings with Julia (Erika Christensen) and Joel (Sam Jaeger) getting back together two episodes ago after a long separation and Sarah (Lauren Graham) finally accepting Hank’s (Ray Romano) marriage proposal.
But I also know looks can be deceiving in Katims’ series.
“We definitely wanted it to be a hopeful ending,” said Katims. “But there are also a lot of tough things going on this season. I think there is definitely a bittersweet quality to this, but I think it is also very hopeful.”
He used the end of “Friday Night Lights” as an inspiration to how to end the Braverman story. The finale of “FNL” had a flash forward to see the future roads traveled by the football coach played by Kyle Chandler and his guidance counselor wife played by Connie Britton.
“One of the things that I really liked about the finale of ‘Friday Night Lights’ was it sort of showed the future,” said Katims. “And that’s one of the things that we wanted to do here.”
Katims was able to tell the end of “Parenthood” because of a unique cost-cutting deal with NBC that meant the main characters would appear in only 11 of the final 13 episodes.
“It was a very interesting experiment,” said Katims. “While it was challenging, there were a lot of happy surprises that came out of it because we focused on stories that we would not have had the time to tell.”
He said it enabled the show to have Hank dealing with his life “outside of the context of Sarah.”
“You saw him dealing with Max (Sarah’s nephew), his ex-wife and daughter outside of that,” said Katims. “And that kind of thing almost broadened the show out a little bit.”
The experiment also allowed Katims and the show’s writers to explore in greater detail the poignant relationship between family patriarch Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) and his grandson Drew (Miles Helzer).
“They are so wonderful together and we might have only been able to do one of those episodes,” said Katims. “That connection between the two of them had such a nice payoff.”
Erika Christensen, who plays Julia, explained that the experiment also was a little challenging to the cast.
“It was strange,” she said in an interview at the same NBC party that Katims attended. “I wasn’t so bothered when I wasn’t on the screen because I was so invested in everyone else’s storylines. But ultimately I wish we had been able to do it the way we normally did it.”
Still, she was happy with the payoff two episodes ago in which Joel met her and their children at a skating rink and sealed their reconciliation (it had a brief hiccup in Thursday’s semifinal episode) with a kiss.
“That was so satisfying,” Christensen said of the kiss. “We really earned that, didn’t we? It’s been a long time coming. Sam Jaeger and I were too happy not to be fighting and crying.”
She agrees with Katims that the finale is bittersweet.
“In a very concise way, I think (the series) is saying, ‘It is worth it. It is pain in the behind, but it is worth it.’ ”
Katims specialty is showing some of the strongest marriages on television like the Taylors on “Friday Night Lights” and Adam (Peter Krause) and Kristina (Monica Potter on “Parenthood”).
Two episodes ago, Adam appeared to unilaterally decide to save the struggling music business he started with his brother Crosby (Dax Shepard) even though Adam’s wife didn’t think it was a good idea. That happy moment dissolved in Thursday’s episode, but things could change again in the finale.
“That was an example of who Adam has been for the whole series,” said Katims of initially deciding to save the business. “This guy feels so much responsibility not only to his immediate family, but to his extended family. At that moment, he’s caught a little bit between a rock and a hard place. That’s what I like so much about that scene … When you have actors like Peter and Monica, it allows you to have moments like that because you feel so deeply how much those two people are connected to each other that they don’t always have to be agreeing.”
Katims feels a responsibility, too. It is to the show’s actors and fans to get the end right.
The question is how does he get all the characters together in the finale?
“In a very different way, we’re going to have a moment where the whole family interacts,” he said.
I suggested the usual way is to have a wedding, the birth of a child (the question was asked before Zeek’s great-grandson was born in Thursday’s episode and named in his honor), a funeral or a graduation. Any chance one of them will be happening.
“Maybe any, maybe all,” said Katims with a smile.