Tonight we say goodbye to Parenthood and the wonderfully messy and complicated Braverman family. Fiercely beloved by the few who watched and not watched by NEARLY enough people, Parenthood has definitely been one of the best family dramas of the past decade. Parenthood never focused on convoluted plots but instead found the drama in the simple everyday things. Sure there were major life events and struggles like cancer, infertility, and infidelity but Parenthood also excelled in exploring the little moments like getting the kids ready for school every morning or how siblings can drive each other crazy. It’s WHY it has the capacity to make us ugly cry every week…because we see ourselves in the Braverman Clan. Their struggles are our struggles. Parenthood has always been about its characters and their relationships with each other. So what better way to send this show off to that giant TV in the sky (where Pushing Daisies is in its 7th season) than to rank the Bravermans in order of awesomeness?
With apologies to Hank, who becomes a member of the Braverman clan tonight, we kept it to spouses and offspring of the Bravermans only. So don’t yell at us for no Hank. We LOVE him.
18) Sydney Graham
It’s not entirely Sydney’s fault that she is the worst. She was Joel and Julia’s only child for nearly 9 years and she was clearly pampered and indulged for all of it. However. The way she initially couldn’t stand Victor being around stealing the spotlight from her? The way she taunted him and insisted that she was there first? The way she became a mean girl calling classmates fat and not apologizing for it?
Yeah, Sydney’s the worst.
17) Aida Braverman
Aside from the fact that she magically changed from a very white newborn (Crosby even SAID “She’s so white!”) into a very African-American toddler, Aida Braverman is SUPER cute, y’all.
16) Victor Graham
Joel and Julia’s son joined the family in season four, and his adoption ceremony was a beautiful instance of the Bravermans opening their arms to an outsider in need. He gets points for forcing the family to acknowledge their considerable privilege, but went down a few pegs when his deep-seated issues were completely solved with ice skating outings and regular homework help.
15) Nora Braverman
Baby, Cute. Delivered in part by her Uncle Crosby, so has every advantage in growing up awesome.
14) Jasmine Trussell
Ranking Jasmine was a tough one. Crosby’s baby mama and eventual wife has made some last-minute plays for our affection this season, and that hasn’t gone unnoticed. But I’m remembering that Jasmine used to have dreams outside of her husband’s, and I wish she’d spend an equal amount of time fighting for those. Hopefully that glimpse of her teaching at Chambers means that Crosby will look at the close of The Luncheonette as an opportunity to let Jasmine shine. The Trussell-Braverman School of Dance, anyone?
13) Drew Holt
Oh sweet little emo-boy Drew…what a polished and confident young man you’ve become. Drew’s always worn his heart on his sleeve and that’s never changed, even after everything he’s been through (the abortion storyline with Amy was one of the most sensitive portrayals I’ve ever seen on TV). And now from the way he wants to take care of his sister and her baby to snitching to Camille about Zeek’s plans for Paris, it’s clear that he’s well on his way to being another rock in the family to serve as the perfect counterbalance to the free spirits. You done good, kid.
12) Sarah Braverman
I LOVE Sarah, so don’t take this ranking as us hating on her. I’ve just always found her a little problematic as a character, mainly because most of her stories have always had to do with her romantic entanglements. Seriously…they went back to that Mark Cyr well too much. Remember when she was a playwright? What happened to that? I understand that in a show when the majority of your ensemble is coupled up that you need to explore a character being single, but Sarah became DEFINED by her various relationships instead of standing on her own.
One thing about Sarah that has never been in doubt is her abilities as a mother. Sarah, Amber, and Drew have been through the wringer together and Sarah has never wavered in her deep love for her children. I love the independence that Sarah gives her children and the way she allows them to make their own mistakes. She always stands by them even when she feels like they are making wrong choices (like Amber and Ryan’s engagement, for example) and her door is always open to them when they need her comfort (Drew seeking her out during the abortion storyline…she just saw him hurting and instantly wrapped him in her arms). Lauren Graham will forever be associated with Gilmore Girls and you can’t help but see Lorelai and Rory 2.0 in her relationship with Amber (as scene partners, Lauren and Mae Whitman have the same kind of quick-fire rapport she had with Alexis Bledel).
I think it’s interesting that the impetus for the pilot was Sarah moving home with her kids and now the series is closing with her wedding (and she’s a grandmother!). (Also, let’s take a moment to appreciate Ray Romano’s performance as Hank. How he didn’t have Emmys thrown at him I’ll never know.) Earlier this season, Camille described her eldest daughter as her “rootless child”. (Really? More than Crosby?) In coming home, Sarah FOUND her roots…they had been there with her family all along.
11) Haddie Braverman
I miss Haddie, you guys. Teens on TV are a mixed bag, but the drama of Adam and Kristina’s eldest daughter was totally believable. Who could blame her for falling for mature and sweet Alex (Katims alum Michael B. Jordan) and calling her parents out for showing the true limits of their upper middle class liberalism? That experience matured her (as did caring for her autistic brother Max and bearing witness to cousin Amber’s mistakes), and she returned from Cornell a totally together lesbian on her way to full-functioning adulthood.
10) Jabbar Trussell
The most believable thing about Parenthood is that little Jabbar would completely disarm his rootless dad. That kid is adorable.
9) Joel Graham
If Parenthood had ended with season four, Joel would have certainly been in our top 5. He was the perfect stay-at-home dad, all hunky and endlessly having tea parties with his spoiled brat of a daughter. He was unerring in his support of Julia as they struggled with trying to have another baby. He was the best. And then season five happened. Joel went back to work and spent way too many hours with Penny from Lost, who clearly wanted to jump his bones. (I mean who wouldn’t?) He grew resentful of both Julia and the time he spent at home all those years and became deaf to his wife’s pleas that she was DROWNING at home.
Season five was ROUGH for the Grahams and as a viewer it was very hard to reconcile a Joel who had always been nothing but open and warm with the calloused Joel demanding that it was “his time now”. Julia, desperate for adult connection, had an emotional affair with Ed, while Joel danced around it with Penny…erm…Meredith, spending more and more time away from home. When he found out about Julia and Ed…he just…left. He quit. It was incredibly painful and tough to swallow and it was oh so desperately real. And I hated him for it.
Joel realized what he lost though, and season 6 has been about him fighting to get it back. He showed up when he needed, without being asked. He started fighting for his family again. He promised Julia he would never ever leave her again. Naturally, Julia was distrustful, with the pain of his emotional and physical abandonment still very real in her mind. That didn’t deter him, which shows the strength of his character. When he showed up at the ice skating rink (after talking to Julia just to hear her voice) and extended his hand to his wife, I wept tears of joy. Joel knows what he almost lost forever and he’s never going to let it go again. These two crazy kids are gonna make it after all.
8) Max Braverman
First of all, I have to shout out Max Burkholder’s extraordinary performance as Max Braverman over the course of these six seasons. It blows my mind every week. He’s perfectly captured Max’s confusion, rage, frustration, despair, and triumphs as he’s struggled with his Asperger’s diagnosis (the way he found out about it via overhearing Crosby and Adam arguing remains one of the biggest gut punches of the series). Max’s stories are uncomfortable and they are stressful. They are often hard to watch…which is what makes them so important. It’s a triumph of acting and it’s a triumph of writing that Parenthood so vividly captured Max’s journey. The show has never tried to show the “softer side” of Asperger’s and they have never shied away from the constant “one step forward, two steps back” journey that Max makes as he finds his place in the world. Max will always be difficult. Adam and Kristina will always have a hard time understanding him. He will always have a constant battle ahead of him. But Max Braverman is a fighter (he gets it from his mama). He gets right back up when he’s been kicked down by people who don’t understand him (don’t get me started on that overnight trip). That’s the Braverman spirit.
7) Camille Braverman
Milly is a rock. In a world where her artist’s soul doesn’t move her to do other things, Camille would be a pretty kick-ass President. Or at least Secretary of State.
It takes a woman with Camille’s strength to birth and nurture this sprawling family without losing one iota of herself. (And that’s tough, especially when married to Zeek Braverman – not exactly a pushover.) I respect the way she fights for her own independence and never feels guilty for leaving something for herself. (I mean, she dubbed her wireless network “Villa Camille.”) As a wife and mother, she’s never vilified for the show by feeling conflicted. And all of her struggles have put her in an even better position from which to advise her various offspring and off-offspring. A heart-to-heart with Camille heals all things.
6) Julia Braverman-Graham
Julia is a mess, and I’m glad.
Camille and Zeek’s baby, Julia is a total Type-A. For the first part of the series, she’s a high-powered corporate lawyer with a total babe of a house-husband who stays home with the kids. After Victor joins the Braverman-Grahams, Julia gets more and more uncomfortable with the way her work encroaches on their family life. A working mom’s transition to staying at home with the kids is another little-discussed problem that Parenthood explores, and it leads to Julia nearly losing herself. Obviously she deserves some blame for what happened with Ed – let’s not take away her agency – but the root of the problems with Joel and Julia’s marriage is that they didn’t prepare or treat this massive shift with the care it deserved.
Joel and Julia reuniting is the happy ending we all want and expect from an overwhelmingly optimistic show, but it also makes sense. (Not that I’m not also pleased that Julia got some in the interval.) Whatever else she is, Julia is no dummy. She’s grown out of her youthful obsession with competition and made peace with compromise. One of my favorite scenes from last week was Julia and Joel totally having it out in the car – out of earshot of the kids – and then sleeping peacefully next to each other, all feelings and opinions out in the open. Because when you don’t get that stuff out? One of you might end up kissing Roy from the warehouse.
5) Zeek Braverman
Zeek Braverman is a bulldozer of a man. He sucks all the air out of the room, in both good and bad ways. He is all bluster while Camille is the quiet strength (which is why they make a good team). I imagine he was a tough father. Not because he doesn’t love his kids but because he loves them SO MUCH that he can be overwhelming. He expects the best from them because he believes in them. Camille is the parent you go to for a hug and a good cry. Zeek is the parent you go to when you know you need a swift kick in the ass. I’ve always suspected Sarah was Zeek’s secret favorite because he’s always been a little bit softer with her (Dads and their first daughters, you know?) but Zeek obviously sees what’s special in all of his children and they love and respect him FOR his bluster.
Where Zeek has really blossomed has been in being a grandparent. It’s like he was always called to be one, which is why he had kids in the first place. From the way he adores the little ones (I love how he calls them all “grandkids” as if he relishes saying it out loud) to the special relationship he has with Drew (who didn’t cry when he eventually gave Drew the car they had been restoring all season?) you can tell that this next generation is where he finds himself truly fulfilled. This is never more evident than in his relationship with Amber (again his secret favorite, being his first grandchild and all). Without a reliable father figure in her life, Zeek has stepped up to be that person for her. Zeek was the one to kick her in the ass when she nearly died in an alcohol induced car wreck and his “I dreamt you, Amber.” remains one of the most touching moments of the series. Until Amber told him she was pregnant. And then until he held his great-grandson Zeek in his arms as Amber looked proudly on (hopefully THIS is the “circle of life” moment Katims talked about all season, NOT Zeek dying and Adam becoming the Braverman patriarch). I imagine he’ll be an even better Great-Grandparent.
We’ve feared for Zeek’s health all season. A death in the family is the ONE thing that Parenthood hasn’t covered after all. BUT YOU DON’T KILL ZEEK BRAVERMAN IN THE FINALE OKAY? OKAY.
4) Crosby Braverman
Of all the characters, save Amber, Crosby has done the most maturing over the course of the series. When we first met him, he was a bit of a ne’er do well, drifting through his life coasting on his considerable charm and enjoying having no responsibilities. Then Jasmine showed up with Jabbar and Crosby’s world was rocked. He wasn’t all prepared to be a dad…but it was also love at first sight with his son. So Crosby was forced to grow up and grow up fast (remember when he lived on a boat???).
The path to maturity wasn’t an easy one for Crosby. He’s reckless and impulsive by nature. He screws up a lot (sleeping with Max’s tutor was an EXCELLENT life choice but not) and he’s maddeningly stubborn. However, you can’t help but love him. He’s also a dreamer and he dreams big. It’s why he and Jasmine work so well together because she grounds him (and he loosens her up a little). Like his father, Crosby tends to take up all the air in the room, which is why, as Sage said earlier, Jasmine’s dreams have had to take a bit of a back seat as he’s poured everything into the Luncheonette. I think he’s realizing that it’s Jasmine’s turn though, as he has struggled with the fact that Jasmine is in a job that she doesn’t want to do in order to help them pay the bills. I hope their story ends up with them both on their way to being fulfilled.
Honestly, the reason Crosby ranks so high has everything to do with Dax Shepard. He brings such warmth and complexity to Crosby that you can’t help but love him and root for him even when he’s being a jackass. Before Parenthood, Dax was mainly known for his work in comedy, and I had no idea he had this kind of dramatic performance within him. He’s been the biggest surprise to me over the course of the series and it’s been a pleasure watching him grow as an actor over the past six seasons.
3) Kristina Braverman
If you were to look up “Mama Bear” or “Alpha Mom” in the dictionary, you’d find a picture of Kristina Braverman. (Someday Sage and I will publish this dictionary.) She’s Type A. She’s difficult. She’s tenacious. She’s a worry wart. And she’s wonderful.
Kristina Braverman loves deeply and she loves ferociously. The way she fights for Max to be accepted and the way she believes in him is an inspiration. She’s such a strong advocate and she views her struggles in raising him as not a failure on her child’s part but a challenge for her to DO BETTER. She freaking founded a school so Max and other children like him can flourish. The woman is a beast and a force to be reckoned with.
Kristina Braverman is a survivor. So often on TV shows a cancer storyline can be maudlin. But like Dana Scully before her (can you imagine if they were friends? I can’t get it out of my head now), Kristina refused to be broken by her cancer diagnosis. She kept her sense of humor (one of my favorite moments of that arc was when Kristina found relief in medical marijuana) and she didn’t let it take over her life. She fought her cancer with the same dogged determination that she fights for everything with. Even in her darkest moments, you never doubted that she would fight to stay alive until her very last breath. Her greatest fear was not dying, it was leaving Adam and her children alone. If you didn’t weep at the video she made for her kids when she thought she may actually LOSE her battle, then you’re dead inside. Monica Potter’s work that season was exquisite and the fact that she didn’t run the table that Awards Season is criminal. Shame on you, Awards Bodies.
2) Adam Braverman
I binge-watched Six Feet Under for a very harrowing two months, so it’s been a relief to watch Peter Krause share his inner dorky dad. Adam Braverman is not cool, as Crosby and his Luncheonette crowd continually remind us, but what’s so wonderful about him is that he doesn’t try to be.
Kristina and Adam have the show’s most solid relationship. Yeah, there was that slip-up with fill-in secretary Rachel (Alexandra Daddario and her “crazy witch eyes”), but what’s an un-returned kiss compared to months of cancer treatment? Or to co-parenting a child with Aspergers? Krause and Monica Potter are so well-cast – you can just imagine them when they got together: young, well-off, smart, and so very good-looking. From that vantage point, life must’ve looked like a cakewalk. And yet they’ve weathered these storms like champs.
Adam has come a long way in learning how to be a father to two teenagers with their own lives and loves and problems. My heart grows a few sizes every time I see him interact with the Chambers kids in their school kitchen, and his support of Max is constant and unbreakable. But my very favorite Adam Braverman moment came last season when he used his dad-tuition to decode Haddie’s new friendship, and then proactively went to her with his acceptance.
That, my friends, is how we do it in Berkeley.
1) Amber Holt
When Kim and I decided to put this list together, we started at the top. “Amber, obviously.” There was no dispute.
We just discussed 17 other Bravermans, but sometimes it feels like Parenthood is truly Amber’s story. She’s certainly the most changed since the pilot. And she internalizes and interprets her missteps and misjudgments better than any other family member. Also, Mae Whitman is an incredibly sensitive, intuitive actress, and it’s clear that she treasures this character.
With a mother facing a situation like Sarah (at the start, at least), Amber had every right to be a chaotic teen. Somebody had to be the show’s “bad kid,” but Amber’s good heart has always shown through everything she does. I also submit Whitman as the best scene partner in the show. Put any other character with Amber and it’s interesting. Her close, respectful relationship with Drew; becoming an adult right along with her mom; feeling frustrated and helpless with Max; being Zeek’s baby, not matter what – his beloved first grandchild.
If anyone is ready for single motherhood, it’s Amber. Having been raised by all these women – these messy, incredible women – she has very much seen it all. And whatever she hasn’t, she will meet with her own unique blend of compassion, vulnerability and strength. Team Amber forever, the end.
Getting the finale right for a family drama is tricky, but as he proved with Friday Night Lights, Jason Katims has it in him to stick the landing. We don’t need little bows put on every single story. That wouldn’t be true to the spirit of Parenthood. The Bravermans don’t end just because their show does. All we need to know is that they are all going to be okay and that life goes on. And you know what that means?
NO ONE DIES TONIGHT, JASON KATIMS. NO ONE.
Let’s Braverman Dance party it out. Leave your thoughts in the comments.
(If the finale doesn’t end with the Bravermans dancing, I may cry.)