How 'Parenthood' thrived, despite a spoiler-addicted society
In the age of live-tweeting, the most talked-about shows on television tend to be those that give viewers (and Twitter users) plenty of big, bold moments that inspire strong, immediate reactions. Which, in turn, means that the most talked-about shows inevitably end up being labeled TV’s most successful shows. Think about it: There’s Game of Thrones, with its Red Wedding, Purple Wedding, and continuous stream of unexpected deaths. We have Shonda Rhimes, who’s arguably the queen of the WTF moment with Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, and How to Get Away With Murder. And then there’s the ever-more-popular True Detective format, which is built entirely around solving a mystery—preferably one with a surprising result. Essentially, TV’s best dramas must, on some level, be edge-of-your-seat thrillers.
That is, unless they’ve got the Bravermans.
Heading into Parenthood‘s sixth and final season, series creator Jason Katims didn’t hide that the show would deal with losing a loved one. This was never a secret. And by the end of the season’s first episode, beloved patriarch Zeek Braverman had been rushed to the hospital with heart issues. Cut to the second episode, when Zeek’s son Adam asks what he’s supposed to do if his father dies. Zeek’s reply: “If I die, you just take my ashes, you scatter them at center field at Marine Park, and you play a game of baseball over me.”
At that moment, Parenthood‘s last scene was basically spelled out for fans—yet many still speculated that, at the last moment, Crosby’s motorcycle accident would result in internal bleeding, and he’d be the one to die. Why? Because we’ve been programmed to expect twists, to never believe what seems obvious. But that train of thought never applied to Parenthood. The “what” was never what made Parenthood powerful. On this show, it was the “who,” the “how,” and the “why.”
Unlike most dramas on television, Parenthood focused on normal, day-to-day life. The circumstances were the opposite of extreme—there weren’t affairs with Presidents or kidnappings or mass murders. Parenthood followed the Bravermans as they dealt with bullying, first love, infidelity, money issues, sibling rivalries, and other issues that likely affected the majority of its viewers. In its most dramatic moments, the worst the Bravermans had to face were car crashes, heart attacks, cancer, PTSD, and Asperger’s Syndrome. It was a very human show, a very relatable show—and a rarity. Which raises a question: When did real life become too boring for television?
Obviously, extreme circumstances make for good, juicy TV. Scandal‘s “bitch baby” speech never would’ve happened without a foundation of murder, prostitution, and blackmail. But as great as that speech was, Zeek telling Amber that she can’t mess up his dream is just as powerful—and all it took to get to his speech was a teenager making a poor choice and getting into a car accident.
And in Parenthood‘s final hour, which aired Thursday night, the show ended on the exact note fans expected: Zeek’s ashes being spread on a baseball field, followed by the family playing a game. Once again, the show proved that it didn’t need “spoiler alert”-worthy moments to create scenes worthy of conversation. It’s a testament to both the show’s writers and its actors that they could turn any mundane activity into must-watch television.
So yes, the ending of Parenthood was utterly predictable. But that didn’t affect its impact. This show thrived most between plot points—in the glances shared by these incredibly complex characters, in their everyday tasks, in the moments when life slows down. It was about the connection viewers felt to this family. We all wanted to be a Braverman—not because the family’s life seemed overly exciting, but because they nothing but try to be the very best they could be, always supporting one another along the way.
That connection fans felt to these characters—and not the action of the show—is why Parenthood became known as the drama that made you cry each week, whether you were weeping at something as big as a death or something as small as a Braverman dance party. At the end of the day, the action—the doing—didn’t matter, so long as the Bravermans were the ones doing it.