Warning: This post contains storyline and character spoilers for the Parenthood series finale.
In today's TV landscape, where grisly murders and shocking plot twists dominate the conversation, Parenthood is something of a small miracle. Here's a show that simply, humbly told the story of a modern-day American family, with all the laughs, stumbles, and (yes) tears that entails. It didn't need fire-breathing dragons or demented serial killers to keep our interest; it trusted that real human emotion was enough. And for six seasons, it was.
Parenthood wrapped up its run Thursday night with a sublime, immensely satisfying series finale: Yes, we said goodbye to Braverman family patriarch Zeek, who passed away peacefully in the episode's final minutes, but the overarching emotion here was joy. Joy that Zeek and Camille had built such a beautiful family, and that he got to enjoy their company (and they got to enjoy his) for as long as he did.
For more insight into the series finale, we turn to showrunner Jason Katims, who wrote the episode (and delivered an equally great series finale back in 2011 with Friday Night Lights). Katims takes us behind the scenes of that lovely final moment on the baseball field, reveals how he got FNL alum Scott Porter to make a cameo, and chooses his favorite "cry moment" from the whole series. (Well, he couldn't pick just one, so he gave us three.)
Zeek mentioned earlier this season that he wanted his ashes spread over a baseball field and to have the family play a game over him. So how long did you have that specific ending in mind for the show?
We had it certainly before he said that. [Laughs.] Basically, when we found out we were getting our sixth season and we knew it was going to be the final season, I think the very first thing we discussed in the writers' room was this storyline of Zeek dying. So we started with that.
And then the idea of spreading his ashes on a baseball field, it's one of those moments, like many of the moments that are in our show, that's inspired by life and stuff that has happened. And also, baseball has been an ongoing theme on the show. It's in the pilot; we've seen Joel and Victor connect through baseball; we've seen Drew play baseball and Max… all throughout the show. So it's something that has been an ongoing theme, and that's how we came to that.
There was also a certain power to not showing the funeral, and instead ending on a celebratory moment for the family.
Yeah, exactly. We were in this situation where we knew we were leading to Zeek passing away very late in the final episode. But I didn't want that to be the final note of the show, because I didn't think that was representative of what Parenthood is. And so that's when the idea started to form of an ending that was not only about the baseball game being played — which to me is about the family coming together in these very hard circumstances and finding strength and joy through that — but also these flash-forwards as you watch this family continue to thrive and grow in unexpected ways, even after losing this wonderful patriarch.
Was that baseball game the last day of shooting?
It was the next-to-last day of shooting. It was originally supposed to be the last thing we shot; we were going up to San Francisco to shoot that sequence. And then about two days before, we found out they were expecting the biggest storm in San Francisco in 15 years. [Laughs.] So we scrambled, and our locations people went out and found this field at the very last minute. So it ended up being the day before the final day of shooting.
But it was the last time that our entire cast was together, and we wrapped, I think, six or seven or maybe even eight of our series regulars that day. So it very much had the feeling of the final moment of the show.
What were emotions like on the set that day?
It was a very emotional day. It was joyous in a way, because we started with the scene of them burying the ashes, and then the rest of the day was all about shooting the baseball stuff, which was this really fun stuff to shoot. And it was all without sound. So when we were shooting that scene, we had a variety of songs playing, so it was very festive.
And then when we wrapped, it was extremely sad. I mean, it was very emotional. Everybody just stood in the infield and stayed there for a long time, basically until the sun went down. It was a very poignant next-to-last day.
Were there certain plot points, going into the season, that you knew you wanted to tie up? Joel and Julia, things like that?
Yeah, absolutely. I very much felt like we wanted to resolve that story; I didn't want to receive any death threats from angry fans. [Laughs.] So I knew I had to resolve that one.
Obviously, we were leading to this idea of Amber's baby being born, and Zeek getting to hold that baby in his arms as one of his final acts. That was a big one that we were getting to. We really didn't want to leave a lot of questions open. We wanted to resolve the storyline with the brothers [Adam and Crosby] and the Luncheonette. And part of the reason of wanting to do that montage at the end was, we really wanted to give a window into not only where we ended up with this family, but also sort of a little bit of a hint at where they were all headed.
You did a flash-forward in the Friday Night Lights series finale, too. Is that just a nice way to skip ahead and show some things that you didn't get to cover in the series?
Yeah, on Parenthood, I was definitely inspired by the Friday Night Lights ending, in terms of those flash-forwards. Obviously, what we're seeing is kind of different. But I think it was great to see where everyone is headed. Especially since you're seeing this all in the aftermath of spreading Zeek's ashes and losing Zeek. So I think just the juxtaposition of this very sad thing happening over these images of watching this family continue to be strong, continue to grow... it felt right. It felt like what this show is about.
And in that flash-forward, we got to see Scott Porter from Friday Night Lights pop up as the new man in Amber's life. How did that come about?
Well, we knew that we wanted to get a special actor for that role, and yet the role had no lines and it was one scene. And we were trying to figure out how to do it. It just felt wrong to me to bring an actor in that I didn't know and had never worked with before.
So we thought of Scott, and he was just incredible about it. No hesitation. He just said, "Yes, whatever you want." And he also knew the show, so I think that helped a lot. And of course, everybody on the show who was working with him, especially Mae, knew him from Friday Night Lights. So he just walked on and was able to become a part of the family immediately.
We also get to see that Ryan and Amber have patched things up to some degree.
We definitely do. And we see that Ryan also looks healthy, and he's gotten himself together. I think probably having a son really motivated that. That was a very hopeful moment, to get that glimpse of Ryan as well.
The music is always amazing on this show, and it was great to see Sam Beam of Iron & Wine singing "Forever Young" in the finale. Who was the female singer with him?
That's Rhiannon Giddens. What happened was, we decided that we wanted to do this version of "Forever Young," because that song has been such a part of the show. So we had the idea of getting someone to do it. And Sam Beam came up, and I've been a huge fan of his. We've used his music a lot. We use it on Parenthood. One of my favorite needle drops ever was on Friday Night Lights, when we used an Iron & Wine collaboration with Calexico.
And then Rhiannon Giddens, she was in this Showtime movie about Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes, the Bob Dylan thing. So she was part of that band. And I had never seen her before, but I had gone to the premiere and they had an impromptu concert afterwards, and I thought her voice was beautiful, and her violin playing was beautiful. So we thought of bringing the two of them together. And it all came together very quickly. I was so excited about it, I actually went to the recording session where they pre-recorded the song. It was really great.
Parenthood is famous for making viewers cry; we did our own roundup of our favorite cry moments. Looking back on the series, is there one moment that made you cry, that really affected you on a personal level?
Yeah, there are so many moments that stand out to me. It's hard to narrow it down, so let me give you just a few. Because I can't really do one. [Laughs.]
One moment was Max in the back of the car after he's had this field trip, and the kid peed in his canteen. That moment was really devastating to me, and I felt like all the actors were so great in that. Another that has always gotten me was the scene where Kristina has breast cancer and Haddie calls from college. And she talks to her dad and says, "Please tell me the truth. What's really going on with Mom? Treat me like an adult." That one has always got to me.
And then the scene after Amber has a car accident, where Zeek brings her to the wrecking yard where her car is and essentially tells her, "You almost died. You and the rest of my grandchildren are my dream, and don't mess with my dream." So those are the ones that sort of immediately stand out to me. But as I said, it's weird because there are so many. I feel bad even narrowing it down to three.
No, those are good ones! Two out of those three are on our list.
Oh, really? Awesome! [Laughs.] That's great.
Finally, it's a little early for this, but is there any chance for a Parenthood reunion movie? Do you have any leftover plotlines in your back pocket that you'd like to tell down the road?
You know, it's a funny thing. It's not like I have a particular plotline, because we really tried in this finale to not only tell all the stories we wanted to tell, but also literally flash-forward and tell stories that we haven't told. [Laughs.] So it's not like I have any stories I'm dying to tell. However, I personally love the idea of, at some point in the future, trying to get everybody back together and do some version of the show again. Because I think the show lends itself to that. You know, I want to know where these people are a few years down the road, five years down the road.
And you know, logistics will probably make it impossible. But because everybody on this show loved doing the show so much, and loved their characters and the process so much, I feel like... you never know. It's possible. And we're also living in a world of television now where it feels like there's so much more possibility. If everyone got together and really wanted to do this, it feels like we'd be able to find a home for it.