Though the Bravermans love them some baseball, “Parenthood” never had a regular sports component like producer Jason Katims’ previous NBC drama, “Friday Night Lights.” Perhaps to make up for this, “Parenthood” fans added a competitive aspect to their viewing: trying to outdo their fellow fans over how much a given episode made them cry.
It was really something to witness these past six seasons, as comments and tweets and messages would fill up the internet the night and morning after each new episode aired: fans boasting that, truly, their sobbing at Kristina’s cancer, or sniffles over Max’s struggles to fit in at school, or their weeping over Amber’s weeping, was the most possible of anyone watching. Not even “FNL” – that beautiful, ruthless tear-jerking machine – ever made its audience quite as intent on announcing the state of their tear ducts.
While I never felt that competitive spirit myself, I also never tried to hide the emotional effect “Parenthood” could so often have on me – an effect so profound that I was willing to ride through many bumps over the years, including this final season, just to get to those dusty, cathartic moments Katims and company provided. But in solidarity with all the other Braverman cultists out there, let me say this:
There is a moment in tonight’s series finale (10 p.m., NBC) that made me bawl as much as anything in that show’s history, if not in the combined runs of this show and “Friday Night Lights.”
And I suspect it is not the one that will make many of you cry the hardest, or at all.
One of the most interesting aspects of “Parenthood” – and one that could well make it the last of its kind on the broadcast networks – is the way that its sprawling ensemble cast provided so many different ways into the show, depending on the interests of a particular audience member. Some were drawn in by the struggles of Adam and Kristina to deal with the Asperger’s diagnosis of their son Max, while others appreciated Julia’s struggle to balance work and motherhood (and the tension her career created at times with stay-at-home dad Joel), or enjoyed seeing Crosby grow from an irresponsible manchild into a caring father and husband, or could relate to Sarah’s struggles as a single mom raising a difficult teenage daughter, or to Zeek and Camille dealing with an empty nest, or to the problems of the respective grandkids when they actually got storylines of their own.
It was never exactly a show with something for everyone – the Braverman clan represented a very specific, primarily white, affluent and Berkeley liberal slice of life – but the broader themes about parenting and family provided multiple access points, and allowed for a much greater diversity of opinion than often comes from ensemble dramas. I would encounter fans who couldn’t tolerate Max, and others who felt great sympathy for him. Discussion of the Joel and Julia marriage – and then their separation in recent seasons – would often resemble partisan political discussion, where Team Joel and Team Julia seemed to be watching wildly different series.
As a result, the moment that wrecked me in the finale may roll off your back, just as the 10 tear-jerking moments that Drew McWeeny and I chose for the list below may make you raise an eyebrow at the absence of so many of your own favorite moments or characters.