NBC's Parenthood was never fair, but it was consistent. Not fair because, in its efforts to show an imperfect but strongly bonded family having very realistic problems and eventually solving them through the power of love and communication, it made real family life seem like a barren hellscape full of dysfunctional passive aggression and deathly boring texts about whether you renewed your car insurance.
The series ended Thursday night with a sweet, acoustic-guitar-soundtracked final episode, and I still can't decide if I feel like Parenthood was unrealistic in its dreamy realism, or stealthily manipulative in its quiet appeal to emotion, or kinda rang false in its unflappable familial bonds. But I do know that it made me cry every single episode, unfailingly, for five full years. And I know that I loved it.
I mean, who has a family as perfectly human in their perfect imperfections as the Bravermans? No one I know. Of course we sometimes felt a little envy at the poignant fierceness with which the Bravermans loved each other, the messily human resolutions to their arguments that still felt like the neat, familiar warmth of a cup of tea. But the reason it was an excellent show was because that envy was softened by the impression that the viewers were somehow a part of the show. It was engrossing enough that Parenthood did not feel complete without us. It felt good. It filled a hole in our own sad, barren existences. It was weirdly modern fantasy, a depiction of a halcyon, white liberal middle-class wish fulfillment for adults. Amber was totally going to raise her baby in a rusty-looking Oakland loft with no lock on the door.
Last night's finale was the perfect culmination of the show's huglike promise, with each character's arc neatly tied up and giving us the bittersweet oh-bla-di-oh-bla-da treatment we so wanted. Parenthood's always been a pointedly sentimental show, and it fully indulged itself for its denouement; there was a scene in which Sarah (Lauren Graham) and her dad Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) sipped tea on the porch at night to a soundtrack of Nick Drake. Cinema cannot get more sentimental than soundtracking itself to Nick Drake. And just like clockwork, when Zeek told Sarah that her soon-to-be-husband Hank—who, by the way, had just learned has mild autism (tying up loose ends!)—is "the guy," the one true love she's supposed to be with, I started fucking bawling. That's what Parenthood was there for, right? Catharsis, proxy TV affection, permission to effuse in a rigid, heartless world. When will we cry, now that it has ended?
Parenthood was not a flawless show, and sometimes its inconsistencies were strange to the point of hilarity. The kid-actors were often tasked with portraying notoriously annoying characters (#FreeSydney!); not so annoying, though, as when Adam (Peter Krause) would go on some kind of stress-and-control rampage about some dumb thing or another and we'd get contact-anxiety. Kristina (Monica Potter) was like, BORDERLINE helicopter mom, but on the other hand, Crosby (my white boo Dax Shepard) was not helicopter enough. The way this last season was headed, I was certain he was going to either teach Jabbar how to ride his Harley, or puncture a lung with his broken rib from the bike accident, or both. UGH GOD and Jasmine's (Joy Bryant) churchy mom tryna indoctrinate Jabbar into the way of Jesus: Don't you know this is Berkeley, Jasmine's Mom? Jasmine was chill, though, except for when she dated that extremely boring, hot, extremely buff doctor. Wait what was the problem, again? Also, that one time Amber (Mae Whitman) and Drew (Miles Heizer) drove to Wyoming to confront hot Luke Cafferty (Matt Lauria) about how she was pregs with his baby after they boned in a hospital bed, but he was still hooked on scrips? How did they drive there SO FAST?
Then there was that whole period where Haddie (Sarah Ramos) went off to college and went unmentioned for like two seasons, as though she had died and the Bravermans overcame it in the off season. (She eventually came back, and was present and glowing in the finale.)
I'm not even gonna talk about Sarah's wedding dress.
For weeks, everyone has known that a character would die, and we all assumed that character would be Zeek, who has been having heart problems. Zeek and Camille (Bonnie Bedelia) were the platonic ideal of grandparents, so in the weeks leading up the finale I found myself envisioning alternate scenarios, trying to think up who I would feel better about dying than Zeek. Zeek needs to live forever!
I won't divulge who I wanted to die in his stead because that's not the point and also, it involved most of the kids (I'm a terrible person). In each one of these scenarios I dreamed up, though, Parenthood ended with a Six Feet Under-style finale, where Nate/Adam and all the rest of them were fast-forwarded into the future towards their inevitable deaths. (I really did envision this, ask my co-worker and desk neighbor Meredith Woerner.) So when that actually happened, I felt not like a genius or a psychic, but further resolute in my opinion that all television shows should end with the same fast-forward and/or okay-now-all-the-characters-are-dead finale, especially if they have been airing for two or more years. They owe it to us.
But this goes doubly so for Parenthood. Not because I need everything tied up in a neat bow—hey, the Lost finale happened, and I survived—but because the Bravermans were our own family. To leave without letting viewers know how it all turned out, essentially abandoning us—well, that's just not the kind of thing the Bravermans do. And without them, I am pretty sure I will never cry again. Thank you, Bravermans.
Image via NBC