With the beginning of a new year comes the end of Parenthood, the warm family drama that has lived through six seasons on NBC despite average ratings and mild critical attention. Over the course of its run, Parenthood has garnered a reputation fairly unique among today’s television landscape: that of a quiet tearjerker. By observing many types of familial relationships, from aunts and nieces to grandparents and grandchildren, the show manages to elicit emotions from overwhelming joy to authentic sorrow. Below are the most affecting moments from each season, and a look at how each of these scenes prove what the show is capable of at its best:
Diner in the Rain: “Lost And Found” (Season 1, Episode 13)
The first season of Parenthood was wobbly. Much of the show’s appeal came from knowing these characters and caring about their often-minor exploits. That’s a difficult feat to pull off in thirteen episodes, but by the end of the first year, the show managed one of its first transcendent moments. After a story arc that saw cousins Amber (Mae Whitman) and Haddie (Sarah Ramos) fighting over a boy, their reconciliation comes when the former hits one of her many nadirs. Haddie and her mother, Kristina (Monica Potter), find Amber at a diner. The music swells and the rain pours as all diegetic sound cuts out. Haddie and Amber make up, the camera zeroing in on their clasped hands. Outside their parents observe how much their still-young children have already grown.
The scene captures one of Parenthood’s greatest skills, really a skill almost any good TV show must have. Nearly any two characters can be dropped in a scene together and their unique combination pays great dividends. Here is a relationship the show uses semi-rarely but well, the two cousins that would never be friends if not for their familial bond. From here on out, the show could be counted on to pair siblings, a parent and their child, uncles and nieces, always with a deep understanding of how their interactions would feel. This examination of two different people coming to terms with their inherent bond continued throughout the show, nearly always causing misty eyes.
Emergencies Compound: “Hard Times Come Again No More” (Season 2, Episode 22)
Occasionally it feels like problems are cascading, and life is merely a collection of things to overcome. At its best, Parenthood captures the way that crises can intersect, playing the needs of loved ones against each other. As “Hard Times Come Again No More” begins, the entire Braverman clan rushes to the hospital after Amber is badly damaged in a car accident. The scene features a flurry of hugs, a Parenthood staple, in loving support of Amber’s mother, Sarah (Lauren Graham). Then, the rest of life begins to seep in. Some of these intrusions are welcome, such as Haddie’s boyfriend comforting Sarah. But then Max (Max Burkholder), the autistic son of Kristina and Adam (Peter Krause), demands the breakfast food that he was previously promised. The show was nearly always adept at handling the character of Max, and this scene shows how sometimes he must be appeased, because what else are his parents supposed to do? They want to be there for Sarah and Amber, but the world doesn’t cease spinning just because of a single emergency. This is a lesson Parenthood learned quickly and in its frequent visits to the hospital, poignantly never forgot.
A Toast: “My Brother’s Wedding” (S3.E18)
One aspect of family that Parenthood has a keen sense of is that the relationships of our childhood never truly leave. The core of sibling relationships often stays in tact throughout time, even if the context around them shifts. The brotherhood of Crosby (Dax Shepard) and Adam was constantly explored as the two went into business with each other at the Luncheonette. They often faced business problems that bled into their personal bond, and the workplace often served as a potent foundation for whatever they happened to be facing at home. In this scene near the end of the third season, Adam reciprocates the affection Crosby clearly has for him in a wedding toast that hits their relationship head-on. Crosby, the younger of the two, always looked up to his older brother, even if he would rarely admit that out loud. Adam could be even less forthcoming with his emotions, so this speech provides a nice, clear moment of connection between the two. Though they’ve aged from the days when they lived together with mom and dad, their brotherly love has only grown.
Kristina Tells the Family: “There’s Something I Need to Tell You” (Season 4, Episode 5)
Often, the events on Parenthood unfold slowly, but then a single moment slows everything down and brings everyone into a singular orbit. This happened early in season four, after Kristina was diagnosed with cancer. This is the storyline that the show will be best remembered for, and the following is one of the many powerful scenes that exemplify why. After a triumphant baseball game, the Braverman family relaxes at a pizza parlor, when Kristina decides to tell everyone about her diagnosis. Another moment played wordlessly and in slo-mo, it could have easily felt false, but the show built to the moment perfectly. This is the most wrenching scene in the show’s history, as every actor digs into their deepest reservoir of tears and emotional overflow. Impossible to watch without weeping, the end of “There’s Something I Need to Tell You” proves that Parenthood is capable of delivering pathos on the level of the best shows on television.
Victor Calls Julia: “Just Like at Home” (Season 5, Episode 15)
In season five, married couple Julia (Erika Christensen) and Joel (Sam Jaeger) drifted apart and eventually separated. Their children were then forced into a new environment, switching between houses, and the fallout was powerfully rendered by the actors onscreen (this is the season where Christensen proved she is among the best of a strong cast). Though the arc was unfairly maligned, it provided gorgeous moments, such as when Victor (Xolo Mariduena) calls his mother Julia late at night. As she comforts him with a story from her past, she walks through the house and tucks in her siblings, who have come over to keep her company during one of the worst times in her life. Victor falls asleep before Julia is through, proving that all he needed was to hear her voice. As the title promises, Parenthood is adept at capturing the bonds between parents and their children, knowing how the relationships morph over time but rarely ever break. Even the older Braverman kids often turn to their parents for advice, or simply comforting arms. Sometimes people just need their mom.
Baby Shower: “How Did We Get Here?” (Season 6, Episode 10)
And just as people need their mother, they often need everyone else that makes up whatever one thinks of as their family. With only a few episodes left, Parenthood provides one of its best scenes, as the Braverman women throw a baby shower for the pregnant Amber. Jasmine (Joy Bryant), matriarch Camille (Bonnie Bedelia), Kristina, Julia, and Sarah present the soon-to-be mother with a book full of the knowledge they’ve accumulated over the years. This is exactly the kind of thing that Parenthood constantly excels at, the true heart of the series. This has always been a show about a group of people coming together for those that they love. There have been obstacles and tragedies, good times and bad, and yet the family knows that the love will continue to go on, passed down through generations. If this sounds cheesy, it kind of is, but Parenthood is never afraid of presenting its beating, open heart to the audience. When the Bravermans leave the television landscape, something will truly be lost. This is a family, full of love, and they will be missed.
– Josh Oakley