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NBC's "Parenthood," one of broadcast TV's last family dramas, airs its final episode tonight after six seasons. NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans says "Parenthood" gets the finale it deserves, mining laughter and tears from the small moments that bind a big, noisy family.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: It happens at least once every episode, a scene in "Parenthood" comes along that's carefully crafted to make you cry. Like this moment, when devoted parents Adam and Kristina Braverman - played by Peter Krause and Monica Potter - try to console their autistic son Max after a school camping trip goes bad. Max is played by Max Burkholder.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PARENTHOOD")
MAX BURKHOLDER: (As Max Braverman) Why do all the other kids hate me?
MONICA POTTER: (As Kristina Braverman) They don't hate you. I promise.
BURKHOLDER: (As Max Braverman) Trevor peed in my canteen.
PETER KRAUSE: (As Adam Braverman) I'm going to kill him.
BURKHOLDER: (As Max Braverman) 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?
JASON KATIMS: I remember when I was deciding whether to include this story about autism...
DEGGANS: That's Jason Katims, the executive producer of "Parenthood."
KATIMS: ...I thought, well, is this going to be something that people are going to see and be like, well this has nothing do with me, you know, and just - I think the opposite happened, first of all. I think like, that was the story that in the beginning of the show really grabbed people.
DEGGANS: Katims, who also created TV adaptations of the films "Friday Night Lights" and "About A Boy" has a child with Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism. He says using storylines crafted from his own family's experience helped distinguish NBC's "Parenthood" from the 1989 film it's based on and also helps amp up the emotion.
KATIMS: It leans into the idea that you might not be autistic or have a child with autism or know somebody like that, but everybody's got something. And it's about the curveballs that are sort of thrown at you in life.
DEGGANS: Like the movie, NBC's "Parenthood" centers on an extended family called the Bravermans, featuring an older couple, their four adult children and their families. It's one of the last broadcast dramas where the plot centers solely on the family. Other shows, like CBS's "Blue Bloods" mix family drama with cops and crime stories. Fox's "Empire" mixes family drama with music. The curveballs they've overcome on "Parenthood" include Kristina Braverman's breast cancer, which led to a fight when her husband Adam brought a wig to cover her hair loss.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PARENTHOOD")
POTTER: (As Kristina Braverman) Obviously you want to cover me up, so this is more for you than it is for me.
KRAUSE: (As Adam Braverman) Honey, that's not what this is.
POTTER: (As Kristina Braverman) Actually, it is.
KRAUSE: (As Adam Braverman) I think you look beautiful. I thought this was something that you wanted.
POTTER: (As Kristina Braverman) Please admit to me that you hate that I look sick. A portacath's in my chest, I have bruises all over my body and scars, my head is bald.
KRAUSE: (As Adam Braverman) I know you do. You're beautiful to me.
POTTER: (As Kristina Braverman) OK, stop it.
KRAUSE: (As Adam Braverman) Hey...
POTTER: (As Kristina Braverman) Stop it. Just take it back.
KRAUSE: (As Adam Braverman) ...Honey, I'm not the enemy here OK? I got this for you.
POTTER: (As Kristina Braverman) You got it for me, or for you?
DEGGANS: Monica Potter, who earned a Golden Globe nomination playing Kristina, said programs exploring the bittersweet moments in families have a long tradition in TV.
POTTER: I sort of relate to the shows of yesteryear - "Eight Is Enough" and "Family" and "The Waltons." We don't have that so much anymore.
DEGGANS: But "Parenthood" has struggled in the ratings every year, prompting NBC to cancel the show after a shortened run this season. NBC entertainment chair Bob Greenblatt gave a simple explanation to reporters at a recent press conference.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BOB GREENBLATT: If it's something that is just slice of life, or - you know, it's just hard to get attention from people who have a million choices.
DEGGANS: Executive producer Jason Katims said he often wrote the end of previous "Parenthood" season so they could wrap up the series if NBC decided to cancel it without warning.
KATIMS: We came very close to the show ending last year without us knowing it was going to be the end. So the great thing about this season is we knew that it was going to be the final season. We were able to sort of drive toward an ending and give the audience a great ending for the show.
DEGGANS: "Parenthood's" ending has centered on the fate of patriarch Zeek Braverman, played by Craig T. Nelson, who's struggled with heart problems. Potter won't dish on his fate, but she says a definitive ending isn't really "Parenthood's" style.
POTTER: If you really think about it, we just sort of caught up with them as they were living life and we went on this journey with them. And at the very end, you know, they're going to continue on.
DEGGANS: It's not quite "The Sopranos" cut-to-black conclusion, but something close. It's also a fitting end for parenthood, a show which always insisted great families will endure and the small moments between family members can provide the grandest drama around.
I'm Eric Deggans.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FOREVER YOUNG")
BOB DYLAN: (Singing) May God bless and keep you always. May your wishes all come true. May you always do for others and let others do for you. May you build a ladder to the stars...
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