The past six seasons of Parenthood have been bumpy, with moments of brilliance. Some scenes made you want to scream, “Everybody shut up!”, some made you laugh, and some made you sob uncontrollably while you reached for the phone to call your grandpa and tell him you love him. The last episode of the series airs this Thursday, and I have to say, I’m gonna miss it—but more accurately, I’m gonna miss the Bravermans. I’ll miss watching three generations of a very flawed, realistic, human family struggle and flounder and thrive and fail and get up again.
In honor of the ending (tomorrow!), I’ve charted the growth and development of each character over the past six years and assigned gold stars to the ones who have evolved and progressed and taught us everything in the process.
Hot-headed, childish, commitment-phobic, motorcycle riding Crosby is the Van Wilder of the Braverman clan. He gets in fights, sleeps with Max’s aid, does his laundry at his parents’ house, and stumbles through life. That is, until he meets his remarkable son and decides to shape himself into a worthwhile father figure. He buys and renovates a house, gets married, opens a business with his brother, puts in long hours, stays up at night with his new baby, listens to his wife, takes her advice, and learns to do what’s best for his family. He’s still got all that juvenile Crosby-style humor, but he becomes a shining example of someone who steps up to the task! (4 stars)
Adam has always been the button-down, play it safe sort of guy. He craves consistency and stability but what he gets is chaos and calamity. His bosses are impossible, he’s fired the same day his wife gets pregnant with their third child, his daughter’s dream is to attend a college that he can’t afford, his son is diagnosed with Aspergers, his wife gets cancer. . . These are the moments that make you strong, if they don’t kill you, and Adam not only grows strong in the face of them, he becomes more complex, takes more chances, and never stops fighting for the people he loves. (3 stars)
Julia starts out on top. She has a well-behaved little girl, a high-power job, and a doting stay-at-home husband. When she has difficulty conceiving and then adopting a second child, the lack of control drives her a bit mad. When she finally gets her boy, he’s much older, more difficult, and withholding than she’d imagined. It compromises her work, stretches the thinning rope of her marriage and Joel walks out. The way she puts her life back together in the wake of this shock is impressive, but when she eventually takes Joel back, it seems as though she’s still chasing a perceived perfection instead of finding strength and joy in what she has. (1 star)
While Sarah’s children both mature steadily, Sarah herself mostly just goes in circles. She jumps from job to job: interning at Adam’s shoe company, bartending (occasionally in a cat suit), writing plays, being the hapless superintendent of a building, taking photos. She dates inappropriate men (often at overlapping times): Amber’s teacher, Adam’s boss, her addict ex, one of the tenants in her building, and then, of course, her own boss. She makes attempts, but she consistently ends up right back where she started. Sorry, Sarah. (0 stars)
Zeek and Camille Braverman
Zeek and Camille have settled into their lives over the decades. They have children, grandchildren, and, in the final season, great-grandchildren. The changes that occur for them are subtle, but important. After a lifetime of unquestioning devotion, Camille finally insists on more opportunities to focus on her art, her hobbies, and travel. She wants to enrich the quality of her days and stop putting everyone else’s needs first. Zeek slowly and reluctantly comes to terms with how deserving she is of that and learns to listen and compromise despite his extreme stubbornness. They also both still have the love and patience to keep taking care of their children, who may be adults, but will never stop needing them. (3 stars.)
Max’s evolution is the hardest to chart because of his Aspergers (a form of Autism that stunts social development and emotional interaction). His character, however, presents an unusual learning opportunity for us as viewers. We discover what the restrictions and limitations of his condition are while his family members go through the process of educating themselves. We learn from their research, from their doctor, from their misinterpretations and from their attempts to integrate Max into “typical” social situations. As a teenager, he swings between violent outbursts and chilling silence. He is difficult to like and often difficult to watch, but his character and this show inspires patience and compassion in us. (4 stars for us!)
*We are also introduced to several other autistic characters, Amazing Andy (and His Wonderful World of Bugs), who proves that a child with Aspergers can grow up to have a successful company and an independent existence, and Hank, Sarah’s boyfriend (and future husband!) ,who is an artist with a child, a business, and a full, complex life.
Haddie is the only character to escape from the Braverman clan. Her childhood is about taking care of her difficult little brother, getting perfect grades, and being a flawless kid, but that isn’t what she wants for herself, so she goes out and chases what she does. (3 stars.)
Jabbar, Sydney, and Victor
They’ve had their rough spots and tantrums, but it seems like these three will turn out just fine. Sydney has a competitive streak a mile long that goes into overdrive when she’s forced to share her life with an unexpected sibling, and she’s on her way to being a bit of a mean girl throughout high school. Victor has a tough time adjusting to a new life, a new school and a new family, but he learns to trust and integrate and thrive and is aging gracefully into his big brother role. And Jabbar, dream-child, Jabbar is just a consistently open-hearted, even-tempered kid, who seems to feel the compounded love and support of both Crosby’s and Jasmine’s extended families. Let’s hope things don’t get too bumpy in the teenage years! (7 combined stars.)
Drew is a sensitive, quiet boy. He’s treated like the baby, given questionable advice and pushed around by everyone. The Bravermans are a stubborn, outspoken bunch, and, for years, Drew gets buried in their strong opinions. As things start to escalate, though, he steps up. In high school, when his girlfriend Amy gets pregnant, he allows himself to be pushed away, even takes her back when she finally wants him again. But by the time his sister gets pregnant a few years later, he’s much stronger and does everything in his power to step up. He helps her prep for the birth, convinces her that Ryan is a bad bet and that she should come home, and switches his major in hopes of becoming qualified for a more lucrative career. He even stands up to his grandpa a few times, which takes nerves of steel to do! (4 stars.)
Amber wins all the gold stars. Her arch is incredible. She starts out as the single most rebellious, selfish, self-defeating, angry teen imaginable and turns into someone nurturing, responsible, and caring. She’s momma bear protective of her little brother, she gives mature advice to her own mom, she finds, loses, and then has the strength to walk away from an epic love affair, and she even, occasionally, gets through to Max. In the second to last episode, she brings a beautiful baby boy into the world and the saddest thing about Parenthood ending now is that we don’t get to watch her become the world’s best mom, which she will be! (6 stars.)