By the closing shot of Parenthood’s fourth season all of the storylines had been smoothly wrapped up and the Braverman clan had a new addition in successfully adopted Victor (Xolo Mariduena). If NBC chooses not to renew the show (I will literally cry and eat an entire box of Trader Joe’s Maple Cream cookies in protest), then showrunner Jason Katims and his crew of savvy writers have left its loyal following of five million plus with a heartfelt saga that was worthy of 68 hours of my time.
The double-edged sword of this episode was that its very assumed purpose (wrapping up all loose ends in case NBC pulls a bonehead move and doesn’t renew) could possibly be its downfall. As an individual episode it lacked the dramatic turns that had left me both giddily smiling and misty eyed throughout the season. Storylines like Kristina’s (Monica Potter) cancer battle, Julia (Erika Christenson) and Joel’s (Sam Jaeger) struggle with adopting Victor, and Max’s (Max Burkholder) campaign for student body president, were just a few of season four’s ever changing plot-scape. The finale managed to leave this onlooker without many unanswered questions, but still left unsatisfied just the same.
The standards that I had come to expect from a Parenthood season four episode were not met, if only because there was so much going on the writers struggled to satisfy the dramatic needs of a story. Far be it from me to criticize a writing staff that has consistently delivered my favorite drama on television in recent memory (step aside, all you legions of cop dramas, medical emergency shows, and various other dramas that try and shock us with gore, sex, and rampant debauchery), but in its potentially final episode the show underachieved (by Parenthood standards).
In a nutshell, the writers attempted to do the following in one hour:
a.) Wrap up Victor’s adoption.
b.) Finalize Kristina’s cancer battle.
c.) Fix Crosby (Dax Shepard) and Jasmine’s (Joy Bryant) “mother-in-law” problem.
d.) Force Sarah’s (Lauren Graham) hand on the Mark/Hank (Jason Ritter/Ray Romano) decision.
e.) Close out Drew’s (Miles Heizer) relationship conundrum.
f.) Reconcile Amber (Mae Whitman) and Ryan’s (Matt Lauria) tumultuous relationship.
That’s a whole lot of story to cram into such a short time…and set up a few new arcs for a potential next season (which I wont give away for spoilers’ sake). The mountainous puzzle piled before the show’s writers must have looked un-climbable at first sight. While I am unfortunately not privy to insider information on the show, I would like to believe the staff had some inkling that their contracts might not be renewed for a fifth season prior to laying out a plan for a fourth. A contingency plan had most obviously been put in place, and the writers (specifically Jason Katims, who’s credited with the finale) must have come to the conclusion that it would be better serving to Parenthood’s audience to finish story arcs to satisfy the show’s overall plot rather than risk the show’s plug being pulled before its most pressing narratives had been resolved.
To use a delicious metaphor, an episode of a television program is like a pizza. Every “pizza” (episode) is built basically the same way based on the recipe of its creator: crust (premise), sauce (setting), characters (cheese). Each individual episode is “topped” (plotted) a different way. If you take just a few lovingly prepared ingredients (storylines) and layer them on in an understandable way, the “pizza” is satisfying and invigorating, yet still resembles the original “pizza” which you have grown to love. Should the “pizza makers” (writers) decide to take their delicious recipe and throw every ingredient imaginable on top, the “pizza” will have too many confusing flavors, fill you up way too quickly leaving no room for more, and worse, may be undercooked. Unfortunately for the pizza makers of Parenthood, the delivery guy (NBC) may have just quit on them and the little pizzeria may have had to make a mega pizza hoping to satisfy its entire customer base in one gloriously over-topped drama-pie.
Fortunately for Parenthood Pizzeria loyalists, a door has been left open. A handful of new chapters have been presented for a potential season five, and each of them has a nail-biting premise. Whom will Sarah choose? What’s next for Adam (Peter Krause) and Kristina post cancer battle? How will Joel and Julia cope with post adoption concerns? Is Crosby finally all grown up and ready to be a man?
I just don’t know.
Like a junkie, my drama cup will runneth low if NBC cancels my hourlong glances into the Braverman family portrait album. I needs me another few seasons to figure this all out. Come on NBC, who you fooling? You know, you know, YOU KNOW, you want to give me some more Parenthood.
If you’ve been fortunate enough to watch up to this point, do not judge the series by its season four finale. While the episode had lovely moments, nice conclusions, and an overall pleasant ending, it failed to deliver the emotional seesaw that previous episodes had provided. Over the course of 68 episodes, showrunner Jason Katims has delivered a whole lot of 9’s and 10’s; hopefully NBC doesn’t make him go out with an 8.2.