It’s one thing when the Church urges young women to choose life, but it’s quite another thing to see one woman’s decision played out in a secular context on primetime network television. In some ways, it’s even more powerful, and deeply human.
On Friday, Nov. 7, NBC threw a party on the Universal Studios lot in Los Angeles to celebrate the 100th episode of its Thursday drama “Parenthood.” The landmark installment will air as the 10th of the total 13 episodes for the show’s sixth and final season.
After the laughing, lots of talking, the eating of a great deal of cake and the taking of many pictures, series executive producer Jason Katims (“Relativity,” “Friday Night Lights,” “About a Boy”) took a few minutes to talk to CatholicVote about one of the key storylines that he hopes will bring the story of Zeek and Camille Braverman (Craig T. Nelson, Bonnie Bedelia), their grown children, spouses and grandchildren full circle.
But first, a little background.
At the end of season five, oldest grown daughter Sarah’s (Lauren Graham) young-adult daughter, Amber Holt (Mae Whitman), had a tearful hospital reunion with her on-again/off-again love, Army vet Ryan (Matt Lauria). Apparently, despite Ryan’s injuries from a car accident (including a full-leg cast) and the limitations of a hospital setting, Amber became pregnant.
With Ryan out of the picture, at least for now, Amber chose to have her baby and is now facing the prospect of single motherhood — with the support of her family. On her side in a big way is brother Drew (Miles Heizer), whose high-school girlfriend aborted his baby over his wishes in season five (which generated attention from Catholic writers, including the episode’s relatively positive portrayal of a Planned Parenthood clinic).
Although most TV discussions about whether to terminate an unplanned pregnancy bring faith into the picture, that’s not the case with Amber, who didn’t raise religious issues while debating whether or not to have her child. The Bravermans don’t appear to be a religious family, so Amber made her decision based on what she thought was right, and on her desire to be a mother, despite the challenges involved.
Sarah also started having children young, with a man who had little interest in being a father, making for a difficult life. But, wanting to support her daughter, Sarah had to rethink some of her own attitudes.
In one particularly touching scene, Sarah brought out a photo album and began to share Amber’s childhood photos with her. She remarked that, in the midst of the struggles of life, she didn’t take enough opportunities to remember all the good things about her children and being a mother.
Asked about the thinking behind Amber’s pregnancy, Katims said, “We looked at a pregnancy story with Drew, and that was one thing. We thought it would be an interesting question for Amber if this happened, where she would come out on it, and what it would mean to her life.
“I was particularly moved by the idea that it would be difficult for her and her mom, because it somewhat reflects her mom’s journey. How do they deal with that and acknowledge that, so that it’s not about history repeating itself, but it’ about, ‘This is a different situation’?
“I was really intrigued by the idea of it. When I looked at Mae Whitman’s character, and how she’s evolved over the course of the series, she’s gone from this rebellious young teenager to somebody who’s grown and matured into such a strong young woman. I felt this would be a very interesting story to tell for her, and to see her go through this.”
At the same time, Zeek has been facing some health issues involving his heart, and there’s fan speculation that he might not outlive the end of the series.
Naturally, Katims didn’t address that specifically, but he did say, “I knew we’re going into the final season of the show, and one of the themes here is about how all this is shifting life. It’s about mortality. Life is messy, but it’s also about this generational thing, and the natural evolution of life.
“We knew we were going to be dealing with issues of mortality. I thought it would be really interesting to juxtapose that against the story of someone having a baby.”
The larger culture feeds the idea to young women that an unplanned pregnancy means the end of their hopes and dreams. But Katims, the father of two with wife Kathy — including a son who has Asperger syndrome, as does teen Max Braverman (Max Burkholder) on the show — doesn’t buy into that.
“It’s not necessarily true at all,” he said. “We wanted to tell that story — it’s not the end of her life, maybe just the opposite. As Drew said to her, ‘It’s not like you’re going to lose all those other things you want to do in your life, like finding a relationship and your career, you’re not going to lose that stuff.’
“It’s not like she’s not going to have that, it’s just she’s doing it in a different order. The other thing about it is, we wanted to lean into, while she was doing this on her own, she’s not doing this on her own. She has this incredible support system, in this family.
“We wanted to explore that as well, because that’s one of the most poignant aspects of the show, the strength of this family.”
Here’s the Associated Press’ video look at the on-set celebration: