Series finales are notoriously tricky things to pull off. Some shows are on for so long that the very idea of them wrapping up just seems ludicrous to think about, like Doctor Who or (regretfully) The Simpsons. Some are done not knowing that it’s their final bow, like Firefly or Deadwood. Some are done long after the series had overstayed its welcome, like The X-Files or The Office. Some shows are constantly on the bubble and never know when they’ll be finished, like Futurama which has “four” series finales. Some are given the knowledge that it’s their final year, but have so much pressure put on them that their resolutions backfire and piss off the majority of the fans that have stuck around, like Seinfeld, Lost or How I Met Your Mother. And very rarely, you get a finale that retroactively destroys everything that came before it. The utterance of the single word “lumberjack” is enough to make every TV fan see red and shudder at what it means. But every so often, you get a proper series finale. A finale that gives you closure on the emotional investment that you’ve given for how many years it was on, that satisfies you on every level and one that sticks in your memory for the right reason. Cable series, with their limited runs and stronger authorship, can pull these off much better. For me, the gold standard for series finales has always been “Everybody’s Waiting” from Six Feet Under. That series finale was such a perfectly calibrated and emotionally fulfilling finale for that series, it’s still being talked about to this day. So it’s no surprise that for “May God Bless And Keep You Always”, written by series creator Jason Katims and directed by series stalwart Lawrence Trilling, the Bravermans took a page from the Fishers (as well as the Friday Night Lights finale, which I still haven’t seen) and ended their series with a wedding, a death and a flash forward montage. So does the series pull it off? Of course!
In terms of plot for the finale, it’s telling that the episode doesn’t even have a “Previously on” montage to get us all caught up. Oh sure, things “happen”, like Crosby deciding to man up, keep The Luncheonette open without Adam and make Amber the “new Crosby”, Adam interviewing with Mountain Spring Water and getting the job before Kristina counter-offers by offering him her job as Headmaster of Chambers Academy while she works with a non-profit charity to build more schools like Chambers, Sarah and Hank get married and Joel and Julia are contacted by Victor’s old social worker and find out that Victor now has a half-sister that’s up for adoption. But they’re done so quickly and as matter-of-fact that it’s almost not worth it to write about.
What the episode wisely focuses on are the characters and their interactions. We open on Amber, Camille and Sarah getting ready for the wedding as Camille notices that Amber’s apartment isn’t exactly baby friendly. We see Max interrupt Adam, whose on the phone lining up a job interview, and letting him and Kristina know that he got his 1st paying gig as a photographer shooting Hank and Sarah’s, wedding. We see Hank first ask Zeke for his blessing (which not even Joel did when he married Julia) and then Drew if he could be his best man. We see Crosby and Jasmine visit Amber and baby Zeek and Crosby deliver Amber the bad news and a severance check, Crosby for once looking over a contract and then see Adam happily teaching the kids at Chambers how to properly chop onions. And then Sarah has one last evening chat with Zeke, in which Zeke tells her that she was his favorite and asks if he was a good father, to which she replies “The very best.”
While the 1st half toggles between the various branches of the family, the second half puts them all under one roof for the last time at Hank and Sarah’s wedding and their reception, including Haddie who shows up sans Lauren. While the various family members have their moments with each other, especially during a montage of the family and the various combinations having their pictures taken set to “You & Me” by Sara Watkins, the person who I’m glad they gave a good amount of time to was Max. We have one final scene between him and Haddie where Haddie tells him that she misses him and that it would’ve been easy for her to resent him for being a drama queen and for getting their parents attention, but she was wrong and that being his sister made her a better person and she loves him. Later on, as Max is taking pictures of Ruby and her friends at the reception, he catches the eye of a girl named Lynn and we end our time at the reception with Max dancing with her as Adam and Kristina look on. Along with what we see at the end, I am so glad to see that Max will slowly evolve and that things truly will be OK for him.
Which brings us to the final 6 minutes of the series. After Joel, Julia, Sydney and Victor welcome a new addition to the family, Amber and Camille coo over baby Zeek in their house (they asked Amber if she could stay with them) and Adam becomes Headmaster Braverman, we follow Camille as she discovers Zeek slumped down in his chair facing away from the window and the setting sun. The king is dead. Long live the king. Or more specifically, his legacy as they each take turns scattering his ashes on center field at Marine Park and then play a game of baseball over him. And as they play the game and hear our final Bob Dylan cover (“Forever Young” done by Sam Beam and Rhiannon Giddens), we see the fates of each of the branches of the family. Camille continues on her globetrotting as she visits Chez Marie in France. Crosby has resurrected Luncheonette Studios with his family in the recording booth (with Aida sporting a huge afro) and Jasmine pregnant with their third child. Julia and Joel one Christmas morning with Sydney, Victor and their third kid getting a puppy as Julia holds a fourth baby (a boy) in her arms, thus recreating The Original Six. Hank and Sarah hosting dinner with Ruby and Drew at the table along with Amber and her new husband (played by Scott Porter of Friday Night Lights fame, thus bringing the number of former FNL cast members that have showed up on the show up to an even 10. I’d be more excited about this cameo if I had actually seen the show.) and his daughter as a cleaned up and healthier Ryan drops off Zeek at dinner. And finally, after seeing Nora run to home base and hug Max (which showed that Max acknowledges and loves his really little sister), we see him graduating from Chambers Academy and actually smiling. With the pilot revolving around a baseball game and Max playing baseball and Adam’s doubts about his son’s future, we come full circle in the final shot of the series as Max picks up the ball and bat on home base and joins in with his family as they walk off the field and accepts his father’s arm around his shoulder as we fade to black.
As many TV critics have been pointing out in various articles leading up to the series finale, Parenthood may very well be the last of a dying breed of TV show. While all the shows that we proclaim as the greatest TV shows ever are considered dramas of action, where the concepts are high, the twists and turns are constant and the characters are larger than life, Parenthood was very much a drama of emotion. Where what the characters were feeling and experiencing was much more important than what was happening to them or the intricacies of what was going on. This is a very hard thing to pull off over a long period of time, especially since these kind shows historically have never been huge ratings grabbers. It would not surprise me in the least if in the coming years, the show becomes more popular once it goes off the air, since some people over the last five years might have taken one look at the show and say “Oh it’s people experiencing real life? Boring! What else is on?” And I will admit that like the Bravermans, the series was far from perfect. It’s characters could be unlikeable and do stupid things and give massive oversight to pressing issues and go on narrative tangents that lead nowhere. And the show itself always existed in this fairy bubble of white, affluent society where whims and businesses could be started and everything works out in the end for everyone. But when this show was firing, it was at full capacity and on all cylinders. As I mentioned in my article on their Christmas episode “What To My Wondering Eyes”, Parenthood is the only series in 25 years of watching TV that made me cry. So much of the series, from Max’s struggles to Kristina’s breast cancer to Zeke and Camille selling their house and beginning the Act 3 of their lives resonated with me like nothing else on television had before. And I imagine years from now when I have a wife and kids that different plots and characters will have a deeper meaning than they do now. Even Six Feet Under (which is one of my three desert island TV shows), another great family saga with an even deeper well of emotion, was much more specific with its focus and stories it told. Parenthood, like it’s title, was much more universal in its scope and emotion. It relished in the every day and the mundane. It made small achievements into great victories. It mined the depths of despair for hard won treasures to cherish. And it made normal life the stuff of great drama and in return made me appreciate the life I have with my own family.
I would like to thank you all for following me on this journey across this most underrated of network TV dramas. It’s been a Hell of a ride and I can’t wait to do it again with another series (I’m thinking Fargo, with a Season 1 retrospective before Season 2 starts in April). I’d like to thank Christopher Misch for opening up Next Projection to cover television so that I can keep my writing skills sharpened. And I’d like to thank Jordan Ferguson, our TV editor for letting me spend the last year and a half or so going on and on about this series. And thank you to all the people who I chat with on social media about the show. May the series work its way into the pantheon of the Second Golden Age of Television and like the Bravermans in spirit, may you all stay forever young.
"May God Bless And Keep You Always" brings the series full circle and the Braverman clan (and this type of show) a beautiful goodbye.