Ecclesiastes 3 sums it up like this: For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
Over the past six years, we’ve gone there and back with every one of the Bravermans, the large, diverse, multi-layered, dysfunctional, and yet completely functional family featured on NBC’s Parenthood. And we’ve done it gladly and willingly. Sometimes not knowing why. But most times knowing exactly why.
We are the Bravermans and the Bravermans are us. An ordinary family capable of doing extraordinary things. And just as capable of extraordinary screw ups that bring about extraordinary redemption.
At no time during its series run did Parenthood reinvent the wheel. It didn’t have to. Relating to a story in some way, even a tiny way, is what draws us in. How it plays out is what keeps us coming back. We want to know if the outcome will be anything like our own experiences, for better or worse. We’ve faithfully journeyed with this particular bunch because we see ourselves reflected in the mirror that is our TV screen.
What large family can’t relate to the kid who’s got it all together (Adam), the underachiever (Crosby), the down-on-their-luck (Sarah), or the eternal go-getter (Julia)? What large family hasn’t been affected, in some shape or form, by adultery, divorce, infertility, cancer, financial trouble, major career obstacles, or cognitive disabilities? The Bravermans had it all, lived it all, and came through it all — while we watched it all.
Last night’s series finale wrapped up – in brilliant, tear-jerking, satisfying fashion – the collective saga started by Braverman family heads, Zeek and Camille. We saw (spoiler!) Sarah finally wed to the love of her life; Joel and Julia fully reunited and adopting another child; Adam, Crosby, and Camille fulfilling their life ambitions; Amber thriving as a new mother; Max finding his place in the world; and in a not-so-shocking, yet shocking-to-the-core moment, we saw Zeek breathe his last. Arguably the most powerful and dominating character on the show, our final image of him was that of an old man slumped in a chair, a patriarch officially complete.
Aside from its excellent and believable acting, gripping tension, and heartwarming affection, what I believe this show did best was avoid exaggerated caricatures of often stereotyped situations. Instead, it worked hard to show the truth, which is often stranger than fiction. For example, Max’s Asperger’s Syndrome, revealed in the pilot episode, was revisited throughout the show’s run. Yet, the show took a very realistic approach to this difficult topic and simply allowed us to witness what living with an autistic child can be like, with all of its insanity and challenges, as well as its hilarity and triumphs. As someone with a close relative who lives with Asperger’s, I found Max’s portrayal to be both amusingly accurate and hopeful.
Additionally, the show dealt extremely well with Joel and Julia’s infertility and subsequent adoption journey. A few years back, when my wife and I were in the adoption process, we, like Joel and Julia, lost a placement at the eleventh hour when the birthmother of our would-be child decided not to go through with the adoption plan. The pain evident in their eyes was the same as ours at the time, which I can only imagine, must be on par with that of an actual miscarriage. When Joel and Julia did finally adopt Victor and eventually (spoiler!) his biological sister, I was pleased to see the show take the high road and not paint their birthmother as a horrible, incompetent floozy (as birthparents are often portrayed in the media), but as someone making excruciating, selfless decisions out of love for her children during very challenging times in her life.
A couple years ago, my wife and I finished watching The Office and were looking for a new show to enjoy together. We sat down to watch the pilot episode of Parenthood after having heard numerous accolades, figuring that if we didn’t care for it, we’d just keep looking. Forty-two minutes later, we sat staring teary-eyed at the screen, our stomachs twisted into pretzels as the credits rolled.
“Ah crap,” we said. “Now we need to watch the whole thing!”
And that we did. Through many tears. Through much laughter. And with much relatable joy and agony.
With last night’s series conclusion, there’s now a void I haven’t ever experienced after the finale of any other show I’ve previously watched. It’s like a real goodbye. A huge farewell after a massive family gathering. I actually miss the Bravermans, people who don’t even really exist, but feel entirely real at the same time. And if social media is any indication, I’m hardly the only one.
It’s only fitting then, that (last spoiler!) this amazing show ended with the scattering of Zeek’s ashes on a baseball field, the site of a game that symbolizes so much about life – where the entire end goal is to go home.
Alan Atchison is a Contributing Writer to The Rogue. He is a Senior Publications Editor at the Center for the Advanced Study of India (University of Pennsylvania), where he also earned a Masters of Liberal Arts in Creative Writing. He lives in Philadelphia, PA with his wife and two daughters. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.