PARENTHOOD Ends – Biblically Reflecting on a “Secular” TV Show

“Boy, we did good, didn’t we?” – Zeek Braverman

NBC’s Parenthood just ended last week. Though my wife and I lament its end, thinking as show star Craig T. Nelson did that the show could have gone on longer, we both thought that the end we were given was as satisfying as it could have been. Parenthood was one of the few shows my wife and I watched together. In fact, we both watched it separately before we started dating, not really knowing that either of us did. The two of us waited each week during the TV season for the next chapter in the story of the Braverman clan. We cheered when something wonderful happened, shook our heads at the characters’ stupidity, and she shed tears at their sorrows.

The show was based on (more inspired by) the 1989 Ron Howard-directed film of the same name. While that film leaned more toward the comedic, the series retained the film’s sense of realistic, relatable drama. Ironically, the film ends on a slightly more tragic note than the series, yet still retains a shred of hope. The film has always been one of my favorites, and was the reason why I was interested in the series.

Parenthood was one of the few good shows on TV these days. The scripts were always great, and the story lines had a way of grabbing the viewer’s attention, and emotions. The acting was all around outstanding, especially from the Braverman kids. Max Burkholder, who played Max Braverman on the show, is an excellent young actor and really brought this child with Asperger’s Syndrome to life. Craig T. Nelson was always wonderful as the grizzled patriarch Zeek, and Bonnie Bedelia’s Camille was such a wonderful, steady rock for the entire family.

Aside from the top-notch production values and acting talent, Parenthood was good because it seemed real. Real in the sense that one could project one’s own family onto these characters. Somewhere, we’ve seen struggles like these in our own family or maybe the family of a friend. The characters all had their flaws, and lessons were learned – sometimes extremely difficult ones.The characters grew and matured through their experiences, both physically and psychologically. Some of them are completely different from when the series started.

What made the show particularly real, however, was that there were always consequences for the characters’ actions. Too many TV shows have characters that do incredibly stupid or illegal things, and yet there are no consequences.

Parenthood was also a very secular show, sometimes overtly. The family lived in liberal Berkeley, California – with all of the trappings of that culture on display. Several episodes dealt with the rejection of religion in one form or another (such as Crosby and Jasmine’s apprehension for letting Jasmine’s mother take Jabbar to church). Church activities, for the most part, were seen by the Bravermans as eye-rolling, ritualistic obligations to appease older loved ones.

Ironically, despite its purported secular bent, Parenthood explored spiritual themes and ideas better than many “Christian” movies or TV shows. It is a wonderful example of the universal biblical narrative emerging out of so-called secular entertainment. Because all of us are creations of a creative God, He shows Himself even in the works of people who may not believe in Him.

Watching the show, one could see the genuine love the characters had for each other, even when things seemed to spiral out of control. Their love for one another was unconditional, just as God’s love is for us. They loved each other enough to look past hurts and mistakes, just as God did for us by sending Christ to die.

I really had to think for a while about just why the show grabbed me from beginning to end. I attribute that to Parenthood‘s strongest moral theme: the positive portrayal of forgiveness. The characters are constantly placed into positions of forgiving one another – parents forgiving children, siblings forgiving siblings, spouses forgiving spouses. The show’s story lines present forgiveness as a common theme in all families and true, loving relationships.

“A happy marriage is a union between two good forgivers.” – Ruth Graham

As the characters demonstrated time and again, people (even those closest to us) are sinners, and will make mistakes. Some are small, such as when Sara and Amber fought constantly during the early part of the series. Others are more complicated, like Julia and Joel’s marital difficulties that stretched a whole season.

Forgiveness and reconciliation are things we long for – to feel that weight lifted, that burden dropped, that great peace. Indeed, forgiveness is the cornerstone of Jesus’ message of hope. It is what truly enables us to love one another unconditionally. If we can grant mercy and grace to those who hurt us, we can truly grow as people and grow closer to God. I firmly believe that our ability to forgive our children for their transgressions against us is God’s way to get us to understand what He goes through constantly with His own children – us.

The entire series of Parenthood is still available for streaming on Netflix as of this writing. If you haven’t done so already, do yourself a favor and give this 21st century family drama a look.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32


3 thoughts on “PARENTHOOD Ends – Biblically Reflecting on a “Secular” TV Show

  1. You’d think with so many marriages represented on one show, one of them could have gotten it right some of the time. Instead, this show can be a measuring stick to show you what not to do in a relationship. Just some of the worst people… It’s like the family version of Mad Men. People always making the worst decisions.

  2. Pingback: Streaming Weekly March 2017 4.0 | Reel World Theology

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