Friday, January 9, 2015

Jenn's Pick: Top Ten Most Emotional Moments in 'Parenthood'

When I first started my marathon of Parenthood, under the prompting of my roommate and my sister, they told me that I would cry. HA. That was the understatement of the century, perhaps. No show on television has made me overtly weep like Parenthood has throughout its six seasons. And as the show is gearing up to take its final bow (though I wish so much that it wouldn't), I thought I would try to rank some of the moments throughout the series that I found to be most emotional. Some of these will be familiar and some moments I chose are more "happy crying" than anything else.

And here's the reason that I think Parenthood has struck such an emotional chord within its viewers over the years: when people ask you what the series is about, you pause and contemplate for a moment, and then you tell them: "It's about a big family." That's it. That is all Parenthood really is about. But that is precisely the reason why it's such a stellar series. It is REAL. It is raw. It is full of the things that many of us encounter on a daily basis and it is is full of characters that we know in our real lives. It's a show about the human experience. If there ever was a show that completely encapsulated what it is like to be a normal, living, human being then Parenthood would be it. Nothing extremely out of the ordinary happens to these characters. They win some battles and lose others. They love each other. Marriages fall apart and are repaired. People cheat. People lie. People drink and drive. People get into college. Some people don't. Everything that happens on this show is real in a way that you'd be hard-pressed to find in any other television show. And because it feels so real -- because it IS so real -- the emotional moments are just that much more powerful than any other show on television. They feel more earned. They feel more justifiable. They feel more genuine.

So, below, let's take an emotional journey and revisit some of the most emotional moments in this series' history. If I were you, I would grab a handful of tissues because you're going to need them!

10. Haddie leaves for college. ("Family Portrait")

Kicking off my top ten most emotional moments in Parenthood's six years is the moment that Haddie leaves for college. Haddie was never my favorite Braverman. She was easy to identify with in the first season for me -- she was the good girl; so was I. She was the academic one; so was I. She was the oldest; so am I. But over the seasons (and, in particular, her arc with Alex where she acted like a spiteful teenager and moved out of the house until she got her way), I found Haddie to be a bit more grating and a lot less sympathetic. So when she went off to college, I wasn't expecting to feel a lot of emotion. And the truth is that I don't rank this moment as one of the most emotional in Parenthood because I desperately loved Haddie as a character. I ranked it as one of the most emotional because it perfectly exemplifies what the series did right in its run -- take a moment between characters and remind us of the universal emotion behind it.

Because as I sat in front of my television, tears slipped down my cheeks and I remembered what it felt like when my parents dropped me off at college. They helped me unpack and set everything up and then they hugged me and got into their car... and they left. And in the stillness and silence that followed them -- as I sat in my hollow dorm room -- I began to feel all of the emotions swirling within me that I had been too busy, too preoccupied with to process throughout the day. The thing about leaving home is that you're always ready and prepared until the moment you turn and walk away or the moment your parents get into the car. And then, you feel this overwhelming sense of sadness and it hits Haddie just as hard as it hit me. Haddie then turns around and runs back to embrace her parents because the truth of the matter is that no one realizes how difficult it is to leave until it's time to say goodbye.

And that, precisely, is what makes this moment so emotional to me: the universal feeling of having to say goodbye and finally be all alone is powerful.

9. Amber's Baby Shower. ("How Did We Get Here?")

There are a few rare moments in Parenthood that never fail to make me cry. The first is whenever the family -- the entire family -- is together. The second is when small clusters of the family gather together and share heartfelt moments. "How Did We Get Here?" finds Amber's baby shower derailed after Zeek is admitted to the hospital and suffers from not one, but two heart attacks. The women of the Braverman clan have an idea, though, and Camille, Sarah, Julia, Kristina, and Jasmine end up throwing Amber a makeshift baby shower in the hospital cafeteria.

And then I promptly began to cry and continue to cry throughout the entire scene as the women presented Amber with a baby book where they each wrote a page of advice for her regarding motherhood. As the women read portions of their advice aloud, I kept weeping because I was reminded that every single female character on this show is so beautiful and strong and different -- each woman presents advice to Amber based on their experiences as mothers. You can tell, too, how differently each woman parented her children but how connected they were by a single thread: love. These women love Amber. She's a part of their family. And they know how scared they once were to become mothers and they know that she will need them each for different reasons. It was such a beautiful moment (Sarah's inability to get through her page without sobbing made me cry harder) and a reminder that Parenthood may be about family -- the entire family -- but these women are the Braverman anchors.

8. Max finds out he has Asperger's. ("Do Not Sleep With Your Autistic Nephew's Therapist")

Some of the most emotional moments in Parenthood aren't the ones that make you reach for the box of tissues, necessarily. Some of the most emotional moments are the ones that cause you to lean forward on your couch and suck in your breath so hard that you feel it sharply in your lungs. This moment -- the moment that Max finds out he has Asperger's -- was just so raw and full of such intense emotion that it had to make my list.

I loathed Crosby for a while in Parenthood. I thought him to be a reckless, selfish man-child who took what he wanted out of life without any concern for others. I couldn't fully hate him (due in part to the fact that he's played by Dax Shephard and I really do like him), but if there was any moment that I did... this would have been it. Because during a brawl with Adam, Crosby refers to Gabby as Max's "babysitter," which sets Adam off and the father begins to yell even louder at Crosby, reminding him that Max has Asperger's. He's not being babysat. He needs a behavioral therapist because he has real issues.

And then Max comes down the stairs. And it's just such a gut-punch moment that it knocks the air out of all of us, but especially out of Adam who has spent the entire series trying to protect Max to the best of his ability. It's a really fine moment of acting and while it's not an intensely tear-jerking emotional moment, there is so much emotion here -- anger, confusion, sadness, fear -- that I would be remiss to not include it.

7. Anything and everything with Zeek and Drew.

I've loved the bond between Zeek and Drew more than I can say. I've loved, first off, watching Drew grow from a morose, isolated teenager with a lot of angst into a mature, wise, and compassionate young man. Consistently this season, Drew Holt has been the voice of reason for the Bravermans. He's encouraged Amber and supported her even when she didn't know she needed his support. He's sacrificed his dreams in order to help his family. He's taken the time to bond with Zeek, even if he doesn't necessarily understand his grandfather. And the moments that these two share are so incredibly touching (in addition to the fact that Zeek fixed up the car for Drew), because they're always so poignant.

I get emotional watching their relationship unfold and develop and I have the distinct feeling that I'll get more emotional once the series draws to a conclusion. Zeek's always been an interesting character on Parenthood. He's tough and slightly demanding and he has expectations for his children and grandchildren. He was a bit calloused at the beginning of the series and still is, to a degree. But Zeek has grown and developed and as he's watched his family unfold like an accordion and then draw back together again, he's softened. He's become more loving and kind. He's become more selfless. (Which makes the end of this series so painful for me in the best way because Zeek is coming full circle just as it appears he's close to the end of his life.)

Drew has grown from being around his family and from dealing with circumstances that have altered him fundamentally (Amy's abortion being one of them). And I've absolutely loved watching Zeek and Drew start and grow in a relationship as grandfather and grandson. Lest we forget, Drew doesn't have a fatherly figure that he's bonding with at this point in the series and Zeek has become that figure to him. It's so beautiful and so touching and I'm just going to go cry in a corner over how much these two have grown, okay?

(As an aside, Drew's "I love you" in "How Did We Get Here?" was so gutting it made me cry all over again. I basically cried the entire episode.)

6. Amber's accident and spiral. ("Slipping Away"/"Hard Times Come Again No More")

In the final season of Parenthood, Amber is preparing to become a mother. She's scared, but she's also prepared because she's matured and grown and has an amazing support system of women and men in her family for help. But Amber Holt wasn't always so mature. She's the kind of character who has to be forged with fire -- she doesn't learn lessons the easy way like Haddie does. She had to suffer in order to earn her character growth. And suffer she did. When we first meet Amber, she's this stubborn, angry, and bitter teenager. She's rebellious because she can be. She plays her mother and dismisses her brother and all she cares about, really, is how she feels.

And still, Amber is passionate. She's compassionate, too. And she's smart. Like... really smart. As the series progresses, we get to see Amber develop. She becomes closer to Drew and actually ends up being best friends with her little brother. She and her mom break and repair their relationship, each time making them stronger. She works for a political campaign. She becomes independent and gets her own apartment. She is strong enough to walk away from a relationship that she knows is toxic. But in season two, when Amber got rejected from Berkley, she began to spiral. The thing about Amber is that spiraling into alcohol and drugs was her default response to pain. She threw herself back into a whirlwind of self-destruction because it was easier to deal with all of the heartache and rejection of life if she couldn't feel it.

Then, Amber got into a car accident. A really bad one. And she was lucky to escape with her life. But she still didn't care. She was angry at the world and angry at her mother and angry, I think, at herself for screwing up her life. But she couldn't pull herself out of the spiral. So she continued to swirl until Zeek -- of all people -- managed to pull her out. And the moment that he does has got to be one of the most powerful emotional moments on this series ever and had me reaching for a pile of tissues. Here is Zeek's speech (listen to it above, though, because it's A+ acting from Mae Whitman and Craig T. Nelson):
Amber, you know, I was two years in Vietnam. Do you know what I thought about, what I dreamt about? Coming home, having a family, having grandkids. I dreamt you, Amber. And Haddie, and Drew, and Sydney and Max. We almost lost ya, Amber. You’ve had some bad breaks. You’re not feeling good about yourself. You didn’t get into Berkeley? Well boo friggin' hoo. You got to suck it up girl, you’re a Braverman. You got my blood in your veins. If you ever do something like this again, if you even think of doing something like this again, I will kick your little butt all the way from here to the Golden Gate Bridge. You do not have my permission to mess with my dreams. Are we clear?
This speech was so utterly emotional because it came from a person whose default response is never to coddle someone. Zeek Braverman is a straight-shooter. He's often gruff and gritty and hard to love but he cuts straight to the point. There's sentiment in his speech, but it's the kind of sentiment that Amber NEEDS. It's not sap. And it's not a lecture. It's tough love, interjected with some dark humor. It's a reminder that the people in her family who are the toughest care about her and love her and have loved her before she was even born. Amber is Zeek's dream and I love that he takes this moment and makes it about HIM because that is precisely what Amber has been neglecting: thinking about her family. It's a speech that causes Amber's defenses to absolutely crumble and it may or may not have reduced me to tears. (It did. It really did.)

5. Kristina tells the family about her cancer. ("There's Something I Need to Tell You")

Pretty much everything from this point in the list down has to do with Kristina Braverman and if that's not okay with you... get off the blog! (Kidding, just kidding.) Monica Potter was a champion throughout the entire fourth season of Parenthood. This woman seriously carried some of the heaviest material the show has presented and did so with believability and grace and poise. Let's talk about the moment that you all reached for the tissues, right? With an episode titled "There's Something I Need to Tell You," and the previous episode revealing to Adam that Kristina had cancer, I waited with bated breath the entire episode for Kristina to tell the Bravermans. And when she finally did, the most powerful emotional moment in the episode occurred -- silence.

The brilliant decision that Parenthood made was to see only visually, not audibly, the reactions of the Bravermans. Sarah gasps and covers her mouth. Joel's eyes well up with tears. Zeek and Camille are stunned. And it makes the emotion in that moment so chilling and so powerful. The scene could have been overwrought with cliches and tears and hugs and it would have been very sad and sappy and extremely sentimental. But what the series does in this moment is so much more powerful and gut-wrenching as we see Adam and Kristina standing and being brave together while the family receives the news.

Kristina's entire arc was so utterly stunning and powerful and moving in so many different ways and this was just the kick-off of many more emotional moments (and many many more piles of tissues) to come in season four.

4. Gwen dies and Kristina breaks down. ("I'm Still Here")

I cried when Gwen died. I cried more than I thought I would cry over a character who we barely knew and saw with only slight frequency throughout the entirety of the fourth season and Kristina's cancer arc. And so, when Kristina went into remission, I presumed that we would not see Gwen again and that she would -- like so many other minor characters in television -- fade into existence in the background somewhere. But then Gwen resurfaced in "I'm Still Here," toward the end of season five and her prognosis wasn't good. As Kristina got healthier, Gwen got sicker. And the moment that Gwen died, Kristina became an absolute wreck. And so did I.

The thing about Kristina and Gwen was that when they were at the oncologist, they were equals and friends. They were both battling the same horrible disease and they were doing it together. It didn't matter who they were outside of that room; when they were in it, they were partners and comrades in the same fight. And as Kristina got healthier, she continued to maintain her friendship with Gwen. But it was never quite the same. The woman appeared during Kristina's mayoral election and supported her friend. But you could tell that Gwen was getting weaker and that Kristina was desperately trying not to think about it.

And then she died.

Gwen's death and Kristina at her bedside holding her hand? That broke me. It broke me so much that I was certain I wouldn't see anything sadder happen on this show. And then Kristina and Adam have the conversation above and I broke into more pieces, because no one talks about survivor's guilt when it comes to cancer. People talk about survivor's guilt when it comes to war... but isn't cancer just like a war? There are survivors and there are casualties and no matter how hard you fight, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Monica Potter was interviewed at Buzzfeed about some of her most emotional scenes in Parenthood and this is what she said about this particular one:
I really loved that scene, but it actually scared the crap out of me. That was a scene that I had to sort of figure out because I wanted to not over-think it, but it was a scene where I was telling him that I am still here. That one scared me a little bit, but I felt like I got through it.
I think I was trying to make sure that it didn’t sound like I was complaining. I didn’t want it to be a whiney scene, but then, at the end of the day, I was like, I don’t care if it sounds whiney because I never want to make apologies for the way [Kristina] is feeling or what she does. I don’t care if the audience doesn’t like her or likes her. Whatever! That’s just who she is. And sometimes I’ve not liked [Kristina]. I’m like, Oh god, will you shut up? But I think that a lot of the stuff that she does comes from a good place and I think so many women can relate to her. And that’s what I love about Kristina Braverman.
What Monica Potter said about not wanting to make Kristina whiney was so great and honestly, watching this scene, I don't feel like she's being whiney or complaining. I think that she, as a character, is trying to make sense of a world that does not make sense. She's wondering aloud why SHE gets to be a mother and a daughter and a sister and Gwen doesn't. What makes one person blessed enough to have life and not another. And the thing about this scene -- the thing about Parenthood, really, as I said above -- is that it felt so genuine and so true to life. We all look at the sky and, for one reason or another, ask God: "Why me?" Gwen's death was sad, but this moment was even more so because there was absolutely no way for us, as an audience, or for Adam to comfort Kristina. We are answer-less.

And the utterly gut-wrenching way that Monica Potter played that scene -- so earnest and so confused and in pain -- is why it makes my list.

3. Zoe keeps the baby. ("Remember Me, I'm the One Who Loves You")

You'll notice that Julia Graham isn't on this list. It's not because Julia is heartless and it's certainly not because she doesn't have emotions. Julia is more stoic than most of the Braverman clan, though. She internalizes her emotions and she often resorts more to a default response of anger than sadness. Only in the last few years have we really seen Julia emotionally break during her intense arc with Joel and the dissolution of their marriage. But "Remember Me, I'm the One Who Loves You" absolutely and positively broke me in regards to Julia's character. And it had me reaching for all of the tissues.

Zoe is Julia's faux surrogate. She's a pregnant young woman who works in Julia's law office and she is prepared to give her child up for adoption. So Julia and Joel -- after quite a few awkward moments and fights with Zoe and her boyfriend -- decide to adopt her child and all seems well, after those few tense episodes. And then Zoe goes into labor. And she takes one look at the little baby boy in her arms and she looks at Julia through the window wordlessly and both the Graham matriarch and the audience just KNOWS. We know Zoe isn't going to give her son to Julia and Joel after all. We know that she's holding her son in her arms and she's going to keep him.

And then Julia breaks down in an empty hospital room and it's absolutely stunning how unhinged Erika Christensen becomes in that moment as Julia. We're not used to seeing Julia come undone or unraveled emotionally and yet there she is, uncontrollably sobbing for a few moments before she pulls herself together and leaves the hospital. The thing about Parenthood, again, is that it often uses wordless moments in order to convey the most powerful emotions. There are no words spoken between Zoe and Julia in this scene. There are no words that Julia says to anyone in that empty hospital room. And yet, because of that, this scene is so gripping and raw and real and probably made me use at least half a dozen tissues.

2. Max is bullied. ("Fraud Alert")

When my sister watched "Fraud Alert," she warned me that there would be a moment involving Max Braverman which would make me cry. I kind of dismissed her a bit because there have been very few moments in the course of Parenthood's history that have involved Max and my tears. But this moment in the car with Adam and Kristina was one of the most emotional moments in the entire SERIES. And here's why: we're so used to Max being detached from reality and from the people around him. Asperger's has made him this way -- made him unable to truly connect with the world like other people are. He's not empathetic, usually. He's stoic and logical and because he views the world that way, he's often oblivious to the emotions of others and to things like physical tics and body language. In a world where people never say what they mean, Max is lost and confused. And when people begin to surround him at school, asking him to solve math problems in his head, all he understands is that they're paying attention to him. He doesn't understand WHY they are.

And when Max goes on a field trip and has a meltdown, Adam and Kristina pick him up. But he won't talk to them. He won't tell them what happened and he won't explain why he's so upset. We're used to seeing Max melt down on Parenthood. We're accustomed to his tantrums and -- admittedly -- for the first few seasons, I had a difficult time accepting and relating to Max. I found him to be frustrating which is, of course, the point. I couldn't understand him, why he behaved the way he did. But slowly, I saw Max through the eyes of Adam and Kristina, not through my own. And in "Fraud Alert," I wept because this conversation happened:
Max: Why do all the other kids hate me?
Kristina: Honey, nobody hates you.
Max: Is it because I'm weird?
Kristina: Honey, you're not weird, okay? I think sometimes... I don't know. Kids don't understand your Asperger's and they misinterpret it as being weird or whatever. But you're not weird. You're so smart and hilarious --
Max: If I'm so hilarious, then why do they hate me?
Kristina: They don't hate you, I promise.
Max: Trevor peed in my canteen.
Adam: I'm gonna kill him,
Max: He said he did it because I'm a freak. I am a weirdo freak.
Kristina: You're not a freak.
Max: I think he's right. [...] I think I am a freak. I try to understand them but I can't. Asperger's is supposed to make me smart. But if I'm smart, then why... why don't I get why they're laughing at me? They all do it, even the nice kids. Even Micah. And I don't understand why. I don't understand.
And then, Max breaks down into tears and it's so utterly heartbreaking because while he is frustrated -- frustrated that he cannot understand why his classmates make fun of him -- you can tell that he is mostly just sad and distraught. It was so emotional to me because I'm not used to seeing Max like this: so vulnerable and so scared and so utterly sad. I'm not used to seeing a broken child; I'm used to Max who challenges other people and walks among them like he's set apart (because he is). But this moment, so beautifully and wonderfully played by Max Burkholder, is so sad because we feel complete and total empathy for Max in the moment. Like Kristina, we want to wrap him in a hug even though he resists because while a part of his brain doesn't want to be touched, another part of his brain desperately searches for that comfort and that companionship that he finds so difficult to acquire.

This moment was so painful but beautiful because it reminded us that even Max -- seemingly the most confidently detached member of the Braverman clan -- is still a human being; he's still a child who wants to have friends and to be accepted. And he's still insecure and scared and convinced that he is broken. And that, truly, is what makes this entire scene so downright tear-inducing.

1. Kristina's goodbye message to her children. ("What to My Wondering Eyes")

So here's the thing: I cry a lot. Like, I cry at movies and television shows frequently because I'm extremely emotional. I can say with certainty, though, that no scene in a television show or movie in recent years has made me sob like the goodbye message Kristina recorded in "What to My Wondering Eyes" did. I didn't just cry. I bawled. I was legitimately hiccuping because of how much I was crying. I actually had to pause the scene when I was watching on Netflix in order to go into my bathroom and grab more tissues.

Now that I've set the scene for how much I was ugly crying when I watched this episode, let's explain why it earns my top spot on my most emotional moments in Parenthood. Kristina's entire season four arc was sad. It was phenomenal in how realistic it was, but it was heartbreaking. It was heartbreaking to watch her tell Adam she had cancer. It was heartbreaking to see her tell the Bravermans. It was gutting when she shaved her head. It was sad when she dealt with all of the emotions and physical ailments that occur in conjunction with cancer. But throughout it all, Kristina tried to remain a pillar of strength for her family and Adam continued to remain her optimistic husband. Adam and Kristina have always been my favorite relationship on this series. When I told my sister that, she scoffed. "You WOULD like the perfect, goody-two-shoes couple." I laughed, then, and I still do because in a way, Adam is the golden child of the Braverman clan and it makes sense that he has a wife who is as well.

But Adam and Kristina are much more than just the "golden children" of the family because they're deeply flawed. They're NOT perfect because they're human beings and no human being is. They try to do right by their children and each other and sometimes they succeed and sometimes they fail. They're optimistic because they know they have to be. Because they know how cruel and confusing and hard the world is and they want their children to always be stronger than that. So when Kristina is rushed to the hospital on Christmas Eve and the prognosis appears grim (as in, she may not even make it through the night grim), Adam is beside his wife every moment and he is trying to be strong for everyone.

And then, he discovers Kristina's video. It's a message she recorded for her children after she's gone and it is so gut-wrenching and heartbreaking because even though Adam and Kristina keep being optimistic about her odds at beating her cancer, they both know -- deep down -- that there is a chance she might not. There is a chance that they might lose her. And the thought terrifies both of them so much that they try to not even dwell on it too much for fear that it might become a reality if they do. But as Adam plays this beautiful, touching video he does break down. Because Kristina pinpoints everything about her children -- Haddie, Max, and Nora individually -- that makes them special. We don't see this often in Parenthood. We aren't privy, as an audience, to all of the pep talks and all of the lovely and uplifting words and in this moment, we are. In this moment, Kristina tells each child and each audience member exactly what makes her children special and why the world needs them. It's so heartbreaking and so touching and such a Kristina Braverman thing to do, really: to think of her family first -- always first -- and to take care of them, even when she's gone. Because that's what she's trying to do in this scene, really. Kristina is trying to make sure that her children will be loved and safe and happy after she is no longer with them.

If that isn't heartbreaking enough, the part of this episode that caused me to choke on my own sobs was the moment after Adam finishes the video and completely breaks down, pleading with God over and over: "Please don't take her. Please don't take her from us." I don't give Peter Krause enough credit in this show but I cannot even articulate how beautiful and raw and exceptional that moment of acting was and how stellar Monica Potter (who deserved to win every single award possible for season four) was throughout this entire arc and never more so than this moment.

Whew, friends! Well, there you have it. Once Parenthood's series finale (*sob*) airs, I can bet that some of these rankings will change. But for now, these are some of the most emotional moments in an intensely emotional and beautiful show. Do you agree? Did I miss some? (I know I did because there are many more than this!)

Hit up the comments below and let me know your thoughts and what some of your favorite tissue-grabbing moments are from Parenthood. Until then. :)


  1. Wow I don't even watch this show and you had me tearing up.

    1. Awwwwwwww! Thank you for reading. You should definitely watch the series if you get the chance. It's incredibly realistic and really moving. (And sometimes really really sad but that goes without saying, haha.)