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Sunday, February 1, 2015

"May God Bless and Keep You Always," PARENTHOOD

Article first published as TV Review: 'Parenthood' Series Finale - "May God Bless and Keep You Always" on Blogcritics.

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The one word that best sums up NBC’s Parenthood series finale, “May God Bless and Keep You Always,” is beautiful. From start to finish, it’s chock full of moving moments, paying off character relationships, and setting up the various players for bright futures. It’s sweet and tear-worthy, sad, and promising. It makes me miss the show already, and it’s only just left us.

The meat of “May God Bless and Keep You Always” revolves around Sarah’s (Lauren Graham) wedding to Hank (Ray Romano), which is a natural place to go. For one, it allows Sarah a romantic ending, something that eludes her over the six seasons of the show. For another, events like this bring everyone together and make them rethink their priorities. It spurs big decisions and tender moments.

One of the best moments of Parenthood is Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) asking Sarah if he’s a good father as the two sit on the porch together. They’ve had their ups and downs, as everyone has on Parenthood, yet they come through stronger than ever. It’s a familial bond echoed among all of the characters, and while it may be inappropriate for Zeek to tell Sarah that she’s his favorite, it’s true enough in the moment, and it means everything to her.

There are a myriad of other examples of the same throughout the too-short hour. Adam (Peter Krause) shows Crosby (Dax Shepard) he’s proud of him as Crosby steps into his own. Zeek and Camille (Bonnie Bedelia) ask Amber (Mae Whitman) to move in with them, providing much-needed help with her infant. Haddie (Sarah Ramos) returns and tells Max (Max Burkholder) how much she appreciates him being her brother. Hank asks Drew (Miles Heizer) to be his best man, leading to an awkward, in-character speech. All of these are homeruns.

Some viewers have complained that everyone gets their happy endings, but optimism has always been a central tenant of the show. We get flash forwards showing where each character is just a few years down the road, and no one is sad. But how is that any different than Kristina (Monica Potter) successfully fighting her way through cancer or Joel (Sam Jaeger) and Julia (Erika Christensen) making their marriage work? It’s not. Having Joel and Julia end up with four children, echoing the Braverman clan, makes it even more perfect.

There’s sadness in “May God Bless and Keep You Always,” too. Zeek’s season-long arc comes to an end when he passes away. This is necessary because it’s realistic and it serves the story Parenthood has been telling in year six. But interspersing his memorial baseball game with the flash forwards emphasizes the cycle of life, and that this marvelous family Zeek and Camille built will keep their heart-warming traditions alive, continuing to grow and being loving towards one another. 

Parenthood is a sappy series, and never more so than its final episode. That isn’t a complaint, though. It’s the perfect family drama, giving us authentic relationships with usually-genuine conflict, but showing how such can be overcome. In a world where this type of family is rapidly disappearing, I’m lucky enough to belong to a clan very similar to the Bravermans (as the eldest grandchild), and I’ve very much enjoyed seeing that experience shared with the viewing public in general. This does exist, and can for more families (though not all) if they really work at it.

If I have one complaint about the final episode of Parenthood (and about the series in general) is that it’s too short. Each of the many players are served, but we’re left craving more. How does Amber meet the man she settles down with (Friday Night Lights’ Scott Porter)? What does Max make of his life? Does Drew marry Natalie (Lyndon Smith)? Many popular recurring characters show up at the wedding, too, and they don’t have time for story. An important cameo with Seth (John Corbett) is completely cut for time, though thankfully available online.

I would have liked to have seen further glimpses farther into the future, too. But the reason that isn’t done is clear, because Parenthood wants to keep its fantastic young actors, who would have had to be recast for such scenes, at its core.

Honestly, though, I do have one more complaint, and that is that it seems off that Kristina steps away from the school she builds and hands it over to Adam. It’s not that she doesn’t love her husband or that he doesn’t deserve to be happy, but couldn’t they have run it together? She worked so hard creating it, and then she just walks away. A single regrettable misstep in the almost flawless hour.

Now, Parenthood’s finale does echo Jason Katims’ previous show, Friday Night Lights, ending, but I don’t see that as a bad thing. Despite sharing a number of performers, Parenthood and Friday Night Lights also briefly share characters (as does Katims’ slightly inferior About a Boy), so they are in the same universe, thus making it acceptable to share DNA. Knowing this, I cannot wait to see what movie Katims turns into a beloved show next, and which actors cross over to it.

Thank you to all involved in Parenthood, which also starred Joy Bryant, Savannah Paige Rae, Tyree Brown, and Xolo Mariduena, for six years I am likely to revisit and will never forget.

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