With the success of reality series such as Teen Mom and High School Moms, TV is no stranger to teen pregnancy. However, it's still widely the exception rather than the rule that a scripted character — on a network show no less — will have an abortion. But after riding a wave of critical and commercial success thanks to its honest-to-life depictions of breast cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder, among others, Parenthood tackled the issue head-on in last week's episode. One minute, Drew (Miles Heizer) was worrying about college acceptance letters and the next, he was watching his girlfriend walk through the door at Planned Parenthood to take care of the unwelcome surprise. "We attempted to tell the story in a way that was balanced and would be fair to people watching the show who might have different points of view," showrunner Jason Katims tells TVGuide.com. "We've really been able to tackle difficult subjects in a way that is very honest and that's what we really were trying to do."
With just two episodes left in Parenthood's fourth season (Tuesday at 10/9c on NBC), Katims discussed the decision behind the shocking plot point, Sarah's (Lauren Graham) big decision between Mark (Jason Ritter) and Hank (Ray Romano), why there's hope for Amber (Mae Whitman) and Ryan (Matt Lauria) and previews one of his favorite scenes from the NBC drama's three-year run.
What went into the decision to depict an abortion on the show?
Jason Katims: Teen pregnancy is an issue that is out there, and anything that seems within the realm of things that people are dealing with, we try to lean in to. It really wasn't very different from the decision to explore any story, other than we understood that there might be a sensitivity to the subject matter.
Were there ever second thoughts about having Amy go through with it or hesitation from the network?
Katims: The network was very, very supportive of us telling this story that we wanted to tell as long as we were going to do it in a way that was responsible. I think that it was definitely something that was discussed and talked about, but there was never a sense from them that they felt like we couldn't do this story. We did do a story line on Friday Night Lights that dealt with abortion, so it was a not like we had not explored that before, though I understand it is somewhat rare to do.
Like any story, we went into it and thought what would happen if this situation came up with Drew and Amy? We tried to follow what we thought their reaction would be. It's hard for anybody to look at Miles' performance in that episode, I think, and think anything other than what a great performance that was. I was very proud of him and I thought he did an amazing job, as did everybody involved in the story line. I thought he really, really shined it.
How will Drew recover from the abortion and his split from Amy?
Katims: There's a very sort of bittersweet moment in the final episode between he and Amy. I think at the end of the episode on Tuesday he felt a little bit shut out of her life so we do come back to that in the final episode in a way that deals with a little bit of the aftermath.
After Mark's return last week, what can you say about what Sarah will be dealing in the last two episodes?
Katims: In the next episode, the triangle between her and Mark and Hank comes to a head and puts Sarah in a position of having to really go one way or the other. I think she's really torn and the final episode we see both the result of that — of Sarah choosing a road — and then we also deal with Drew's future and the idea of Drew growing up.
Ryan is set to return, so how does he come back into Amber's life and what will their relationship look like?
Katims: Sometimes you do a story and what you started out thinking would be a three or four-episode arc — you realize how rich it is and that's how we felt watching this story. They have a real chemistry, and also that story is very charged with Ryan's backstory and what he's going through and how it almost mirrors Sarah and her ex-husband's relationship. There's so much going on that we felt like we wanted to continue to explore that so Ryan does come back in the final two episodes. It becomes a question of whether or not the two of them are going to move forward despite the obstacles and despite that challenges that Ryan is facing. I think we're definitely keeping the possibilities of that relationship open.
Something that seems to be building towards more of a resolution is the Julia and Joel story line. How will they make a decision about adopting Victor?
Katims: Erika Christensen I think gives one of the best performances that we've seen in this week's episode. There's actually a scene between her and Dax Shepard and you don't get to see the two of them together in a lot of scenes, so it's really wonderful. This scene is so moving and it's really actually one of my favorite scenes that we've done on the show. That is something we will come to a resolution with, although, as we know from life, even though you decide something, it doesn't mean there are never going to be issues again. Julia is really questioning whether or not this is something she can go through with. It is obviously a wrenching thing for her, especially after we've seen over the last two seasons how important it is for her to get to do this.
Her character has evolved so much this season through this story line — going from a workaholic lawyer to a stay-at-home mom.
Katims: Its interesting because this scene with her and Dax — part of what I thought was so moving about was: this is a woman who when she was fired on the show, she was able to put up walls around her and compartmentalize and not let herself be vulnerable. So to see her in a place where she is so completely vulnerable is actually one of the things that makes the scene so special and that story so special. You feel like this has all been building since the beginning of the series to get her to this place.
The other big question is what is next for Kristina and Adam in light of her season-long battle with breast cancer?
Katims: I think that we are definitely moving towards a resolution with that story. My goal in trying to tell that story was to really reflect what that journey is like, what are the things that you go through when you go through something like that. But I also feel like basically that often winds up after about a year, so it is something that we definitely want to move toward a resolution for.
Parenthood airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on NBC. Check back in next week to read Katims' thoughts on a possible Season 5 and more.
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