Last night, after six seasons, TV’s most emotional drama ended with a grand parade of happy endings. Some were more likely than others, but the Parenthood series finale was a time for the kind of crocodile tears that come when someone you love — someone good — gets what is deserved. From the Luncheonette thriving through Adam’s departure to Chambers Academy financially supporting both Adam and Kristina, the “Well, wait, how does that add up?” logic lingering around many of the brash decisions made in the series finale was easy enough to ignore. That’s sort of always been the deal with Parenthood: sometimes, the solutions to the Bravermans’ messy problems seem to work a little too well, so much so that it’s easy to forget that Zeek and Camille were dealing with infidelity a few years ago, that Kristina beat cancer pretty recently, and that Amber went from troubled teen to brave young mother kind of fast.
In the end, this buffet of happy endings was enough to make you forget that the show’s patriarch, Zeek Braverman, dies. Zeek’s peaceful passing in an armchair not only didn’t make me cry, but it was shown so close to the end of the episode that it almost felt like part of the epilogue. The family honored him a way that felt appropriately corny: a good old-fashioned baseball game, with Zeek’s ashes scattered on the field. No hospitals, no funeral scenes, no fear of death. No, Parenthood did Zeek’s death right: by allowing the family to come to terms with it for the entirety of Season 6.
Zeek tells Sarah in the beginning of the episode that she was always his favorite, then asks, “Have I been a good father?” She responds, “The very best” and proceeds to tell him that none of this — her marriage to Hank, her photography career, her kids turning out OK — would have happened had she not moved back home in Season 1. What a subtle, sweet way of allowing Parenthood to come full circle.
The bulk of the episode — Sarah’s wedding — was a classic Braverman excuse for a family party. I wonder if anyone in this family has friends outside of each other, because you sure as hell don’t see them at Sarah’s wedding to Hank. The wedding is beautiful — too beautiful to have been thrown together in a week — besides Sarah’s terribly-Sarah garish opera gloves. It’s at the reception that the Bravermans set all their big life changes in motion: Joelia decides to adopt Victor’s baby half sister! Amber is the new Crosby and the Luncheonette rises again (with the Iron and Wine dude??)! Max dances with a girl to Paul McCartney! Baby Zeek and Grandpa Zeek under the same roof!
It’s only Adam who takes a little time realizing what we all saw coming for weeks: he loves teaching at Chambers Academy. Once Kristina magically reveals that a nonprofit has been begging her to open more Chambers branches (again, too easy a solution), Adam is free to turn down another well-paid but mind-numbingly boring job at a water company.
Flash-forward to the epilogue, which tends to be the big takeaway of any series finale in which one appears. In Parenthood‘s case, I think it was the right decision to show how the decisions made at and around Sarah’s wedding came to fruition. I keep coming back to the flash-forward at the end of another ensemble drama focusing on the love and dysfunction of a family, Six Feet Under — but it’s not just because of Peter Krause’s involvement in both shows. After five seasons with the Fisher family, the life cycle of each member is played out, briefly, culminating in death. It’s what I remember most clearly about the entire series. I feel the same way about the flash-forward on the Parenthood finale.
I’ll always remember that Amber married Jason Street (well, another character played by Scott Porter) from Friday Night Lights, Parenthood showrunner Jason Katims’ other show — a thoughtful nod to all us viewers who came to Parenthood because of FNL. I’ll remember that Crosby and Jasmine had another baby, and Joel and Julia had two; that Camille made it to that French inn like Zeek wanted. Basically, I’ll remember that the Bravermans overcame personal struggles to achieve more happy endings in the span of the series than most families see in a lifetime. It is a little corny and predictable, but then again, that’s Parenthood.