Is it possible to maintain a healthy family life as well as a successful career? What happens when it becomes too much to handle when both your work and home lives start to suffer from the strain? Can you bear the possible loss of a beloved family member in the process? That’s part of the premise behind the sixth, and final, season of NBC’s “Parenthood,” as it brought the journeys of one large family to a close in a somewhat realistically messy fashion without losing its charm.
“Parenthood” followed Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) and Camille Braverman (Bonnie Bedelia) as they dealt with Zeek’s health crisis as his health started to worsen. Zeek was trying to ignore his growing heart problem as he kept up a defiantly brave front, even though he was afraid that he could die. He had a close call in Las Vegas when he collapsed from a casino table for unknown reasons. Zeek didn’t want to stay in the hospital long enough to find out because he didn’t want to disrupt his birthday celebration with his daughter Sarah (Lauren Graham). While this was going on, Zeek’s sons Adam (Peter Krause) and Crosby (Dax Shepard) came to Vegas to keep an eye on their father, but they stuck around to enjoy some quality time with their father instead. Crosby and Adam went in the guise of supporting their father, but Adam likely needed an escape from the added responsibility of building a new school with his wife Kristina (Monica Potter) in order for their son Max (Max Burkholder) to have a place to go after his last school experience was so traumatic. Max’s Asperger syndrome made it hard to deal with being around people. Meanwhile, youngest Braverman Julia (Erika Christensen) struggled with coming back to the workforce and the possible collapse of her marriage to Joel (Sam Jaeger) after his betrayal last season. He was eager to reconcile while she appeared to be moving on with a work colleague. After returning from Vegas, Sarah had to contend with the revelation that her daughter Amber Holt (Mae Whitman) was now pregnant with a baby that she might be keeping. Will Sarah be able to help Amber cope with being a single parent as she had raising her and her brother? How will the Bravermans cope with a possible family tragedy?
In terms of questions, the show’s season premiere posed quite a bit as it geared viewers up to say goodbye to their favorite dysfunctional television family. Hopefully, the Braverman clan will get a reasonably happy ending without making it seem too unrealistic. It would ruin the show to have a series finale that ruined everything that the show worked to accomplish up to that point. The writers will need to be careful in how they design the series finale to pay homage to the cast without sacrificing its integrity at the same time. The show’s rumored storyline that one of the Bravermans will die is a sad plot, but the story could help to drive the storytelling in a different direction. The season premiere, a preview of future episodes, has indicated that Zeek might be a likely candidate due to his character’s obviously strong health problems as the character gears up for a risky surgery. The show has always excelled at telling many different storylines without bringing too much emphasis on one character for too long. The series has always managed to risk humor, drama and reality based stories to help make viewers relate to the cast. The season’s best stories so far were Amber’s pregnancy and Julia’s decision about whether to go back to her estranged husband or move on. The latter plot won’t likely be resolved until towards the end of the season to make viewers wonder for a while. Viewers will likely hope that Christensen’s Julia and Jaeger’s Joel will find their way back to each other, because they had a convincing rapport that made them an on-screen pair to root for. Sure, Whitman’s Amber had a very familiar plot of a possibly unwanted pregnancy, but she added a new spin to the clichéd plot as she expressed a sense of wonder, shock and utter excitement about being a new mother. Let’s hope that the writers will do the story justice. Only time will tell if that’s the case.
As for breakout performances, Nelson, Whitman and Christensen led the pack based on their stories in the season premiere which drew the largest focus for the time being. Nelson’s Zeek always embodied a sense of playful bravado, but his ailing health plot also added a sense of sadness and fear as his mortality started to come into play. His strongest scene came when he was in the doctor’s office and was given the worst possible news that would frighten even the strongest of men. Nelson gave that scene some sadness as he expressed his fear without having to openly verbalize every detail. He also had a strong chemistry with Bedelia’s Camille that wasn’t always brought to the forefront due to the very large cast. When they did share scenes together, both of them managed to give it their all every time. In the past, Whitman’s Amber always managed to get the short end of the stick when it came to strong storylines. Luckily, this season has managed to bring an end to that dilemma. Amber’s pregnancy has allowed Whitman the chance to play a character that was starting to truly grow up because she was bringing another life into the world on her own. She also had a strong rapport with Sarah Ramos’ Haddie and Graham’s Sarah, which allowed Whitman to express Amber’s feelings in a way that viewers could connect with. Her strongest scene came when Whitman’s Amber found out about her pregnancy at her doctor’s office and went through a wide array of emotions as she started to grasp the unexpected news. Christensen, on the other hand, had the challenging task of trying to make her once unsympathetic character someone viewers could relate to in some small capacity. The collapse of Julia’s marriage allowed viewers to see her softer side as she dealt with the heartbreak of her husband’s betrayal. She embodied Julia as someone who was conflicted about whether to move on or return to her husband as her family believed she would. It’s too early to tell what direction Julia’s story will go, but it should be an interesting journey nonetheless.
“Parenthood” premiered on September 25th and airs Thursdays at 10:00 PM on NBC.
Verdict: The premiere got off to a good start setting up the final season for NBC’s favorite television family. Let’s hope that the Bravermans get a proper send-off.
TV Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)