It takes a lot to walk off with “biggest emotional twist” honors in a Parenthood episode that features a pregnancy, a cancer resolution, an adoption and two admissions to college.
Congratulations, Sarah and Amber. You killed us during the Season 4 finale Tuesday night. Now can you please pass the Kleenex?
Here, showrunner Jason Katims discusses the heartbreaking dissolution of Sarah’s Hank/Mark love imbroglio and Amber’s major move toward finally finding happiness. The Parenthood boss also weighs in on the possibility of a fifth season for the NBC drama — and previews which up-in-the-air cast members might return to take part.
TVLINE | Was there ever a scenario that had Sarah choosing Mark over Hank?
It was up in the air. We definitely had a theory of where we would go in the end, but this one was something we explored all different options for. We did like the idea that she would wind up without either of the two of them in the end. Even though she made the choice of Hank, he was leaving so it wasn’t all tied up in a bow. That just felt right for where it was going. So, where we ended up was the direction we had kind of mapped out from the beginning — but we did think about changing that. A lot of the moves that we made story-wise along the way were different than what we started out thinking would happen. It wasn’t a straight line at all.
TVLINE | It almost seemed as though Sarah was trying to convince herself that Hank was the right choice — even as she was saying goodbye to Mark. Was that purposeful on your part? Or just the way the actors played it?
That’s one of the things you get when you have actors like Lauren Graham and Jason Ritter playing those scenes; you get nuance and layers that are beyond what you could have imagined when writing the scene. I felt like Sarah was struggling with the decision even as she was making it, absolutely. And I think that made the story feel even more real. I felt very much with her as she was making those decisions, as opposed to thinking, ‘Oh my god, how could you talk to Mark that way?’ I do think that it was what we intended, but as you see the scenes, it’s even more wrenching than what the writers had intended.
TVLINE | Should the show receive a fifth season, is the door officially closed on Mark? And what’s the plan for Hank?
When it comes to both Jason Ritter and Ray Romano, I feel like we have to think about those stories in a way where it’s a possibility that it will end their arc. The availability of those actors we just don’t know. They’re both wonderful actors, very much in demand. We’ve been so lucky to have both of those guys on the show — Ray for the whole season, and Jason for a good chunk of the series. And as you can see with Jason’s arc over the course of the series, he’s come back and forth based on his availability. [Laughs] We didn’t really intend for it to close the door on either of the actors…. We don’t know what’s going to happen next year because we don’t yet know if we have a next season, but the process will hopefully be that we do get an other season and at that point we’ll let story drive these decisions.
TVLINE | On the other end of the spectrum, Ryan left off in such a great place, particularly with Amber. Is the hope to bring Matt Lauria back so that you can explore a new chapter of their story?
Again, it goes to all of those questions about whether Matt’s around and available and interested, and also there’s a storytelling point of view. But I do think the relationship between Amber and Ryan was much more than what we had ever imagined. Those two actors together, there was such great chemistry and it was so wonderful watching them do scenes together. As a result, the storyline with Ryan started expanding over the season, and we wanted to [end with] the promise of it expanding further. I hope that it does work out to explore that relationship more because I think it’s been a really great one. I talk about this with Mae [Whitman] all the time: if you look at Amber, where she started in the pilot episode to where she’s come, it’s been such a coming-of-age story. To see her becoming a young adult and watching Mae find every layer there is to find in that is really great and something that isn’t often depicted at that particular age — at least not the way we’re attempting to do. And this relationship with Ryan has been a huge step for Amber, in watching her grow and mature.
TVLINE | It was no doubt a packed finale, but was there anything you would’ve liked to include but just didn’t have enough time for?
Well, we always knew it was going to be 15 episodes, so we knew how to design the season. So, if something felt too fast, you can’t really blame me. [Laughs] No, we knew all along, and more of less, we knew what it was going to be. It’s the nature of the show [for a lot to happen] because there are multiple storylines. You do feel that you owe the audience to get to somewhere in the end. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a complete resolution and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a huge cliffhanger, but I do feel like you want to get everybody to a place where you feel like there’s an end to their journey that season.
TVLINE | One rumor floating around is that NBC will renew Parenthood, but for a fifth and final season. Have you heard anything about that? And what would your thoughts be on ending the show next year?
Selfishly, I really love this show. I love the process of doing the show, I love the process of telling stories that mirror the things that are important in life. I actually feel like this season we’re just growing creatively, especially as the season went on. So, if we did get another season, I don’t personally feel that it has to be the final season of the show, from a creative standpoint or from my investment in doing the show. And I think the cast and the crew would agree with that. It’s a show everybody loves to do. There are many factors involved, however, that I don’t influence. I have not heard that rumor — that if they order another season it’d be the last. I will say the one thing that I would like is that when it does come to it being our final season, I would love to be in a position of knowing that early on. I would love to be able to write toward however we want to leave these characters that we’ve grown to love so much… That’s not always a possibility, and I think it’s probably rare in television to have that. [Laughs] But I would love to be able to know ahead of time. The network [is in] the thick of pilot season, so I don’t think the future of Parenthood is what they’re thinking about at the moment; they’ll get to that in a little bit, and we’ll see.