NBC's "Parenthood" is many things: a finely crafted and achingly authentic family drama; a triumph of ensemble casting; the best hour-long series on network TV. But mostly, it's a relentless tear-jerking machine, turning us all into blubbering messes on a weekly basis. (Last season's Christmas episode, with a cancer-stricken Kristina recording a video for her kids? We're still not ready to talk about that.)
We thought if anyone might be immune to "Parenthood's" cry scenes, it'd be TV veteran Craig T. Nelson, who's a pillar of stoicism as Braverman patriarch Zeek. But nope: As he confessed to Yahoo TV last month during NBC's summer press tour, even he tears up while watching "Parenthood."
"All the time. Yeah, it really touches me sometime. Hell, while we're doing a scene, I'll get it. Sometimes it's so close that I can't do it. I can't pull it off. I'll have to make a change," he admits, crediting the show's writers (led by creator Jason Katims, whose "Friday Night Lights" also made us sob uncontrollably) with constructing a TV family that hits painfully close to home. "Some of it is really, really close. I mean, I've got these kids. I've got a Crosby. I've got an Adam. And I've certainly got a Sarah. I've always thought, 'There's someone spying on my life!'"
Another element that adds to "Parenthood's" naturalistic feel: the overlapping cross-talk of the family scenes, which comes from plenty of on-set improvisation. "A lot of people tell me, 'I can't keep up with it. Everybody's talking,'" Nelson says. "And I say, 'Well, listen more.' A portrayal of a family like the Bravermans, it's almost essential that you have that. There's a lot of dysfunction, there's a lot of rage and anger and temper, and there's a lot of funny things going on, too. So it is a cacophony at times. And then it gets very mellow and has its quiet moments."
Last season, Zeek began volunteering at the local veterans' center, which sparked a romance between his granddaughter Amber (Mae Whitman) and hunky war vet Ryan (Matt Lauria). So what's next for Zeek in Season 5? "The kids are moving out of the house, so it's alone time, it's rethinking time, it's mortality time," Nelson hints. "It's time to think about what you can afford and what you can't afford. What are we going to do? And there's a divergence of opinion about that, in terms of where we see each other being." Uh-oh… is he predicting a marital rift between Zeek and Camille (Bonnie Bedelia)? But they just got Sarah out of the house!
We're just happy that we're guaranteed a full, 22-episode fifth season of "Parenthood," after years of abbreviated seasons and cancellation rumors. While Nelson commends NBC for getting behind the show this year, he's still baffled by "Parenthood's" perennial underdog status. "It's always really confounded me. I've always felt like it's such a well-written show, and well-acted. I never understood why it wasn't being given that chance. But then again, who f---ing cares? We're still doing the work, you know?"
And we're still stocking up on Kleenex... just in case.
Get a sneak peek at the new season of "Parenthood" right here:
"Parenthood" premieres Thursday, September 26 at 10 p.m. on NBC.