"Parenthood" Finally Featured A Coming-Out Story But It Left A Lot To Be Desired
For a show that lets storylines linger over seasons, this was one reveal that felt especially rushed.
Haddie Braverman (Sarah Ramos) had been missing on Parenthood for a whole season. And unlike other absent TV children — Judy Winslow on Family Matters, Laurie Foreman on The '70s Show, and, of course, prodigal son Chuck Cunningham on Happy Days — the lack of Haddie (who, granted, was never the most liked character on NBC's tear-jerking drama) felt even less excusable. Parenthood seemed above the case of the missing milk carton television characters and it was disappointing, surprising, and unrealistic to see the usually dependable show fall short in that respect.
But even more so than Haddie's disappearing act, perhaps the most glaringly disappointing element of Parenthood was the fact that in five seasons, there had not been a single recurring queer character. For a show with an incredibly large and sprawling ensemble cast — and one set in progressive Berkeley, Calif. — it felt like a hugely missed opportunity.
The show hasn't ever shied away from tackling touchy subjects — Asperger's syndrome, breast cancer, alcoholism, PTSD, drug abuse, adoption, divorce, and multi-ethnic families have all been on the docket as Parenthood charts the struggles and issues that many families and individuals encounter. And yet, for all of that, the absence of a queer character seemed like a glaring oversight, a storyline that the show, operating under the watchful eye of executive producer Jason Katims, had somehow forgotten to include in its winsome portrait of the ebbs and flows of daily life.
And then Haddie reappeared in Parenthood's fifth season finale, which aired on April 17. She was last seen in the middle of Season 4, when she came home from Cornell to visit her cancer-stricken mom Kristina (Monica Potter) in the hospital, a tearful reunion that seemed all the more apt because she had been physically out of sight for so long.
The Season 5 finale saw a blonder and more grown-up-looking Haddie come home with her new "super-awesome best friend" Lauren (Tavi Gevinson). While it seemed strange that Haddie was bringing a friend cross-country for a visit, audiences (or at least those who hadn't seen the super salacious preview) quickly learned that Lauren was far more than a friend to Haddie.
Unbeknownst to Haddie's parents Adam (Peter Krause) and Kristina (Monica Potter) — who welcomed Lauren to their "West Coast family" — Haddie and Lauren were soon up in what once was her bedroom, talking about the big news she had to break to them. (That her room was filled with the detritus of Kristina's failed mayoral campaign seemed a deliberate move to remind the audience that the family had moved on in Haddie's absence, her room literally overstuffed with someone else's props, besides one photo that allowed Lauren to comment on baby Haddie's former "chubster" status.)
When Lauren joked about being referred to as Haddie's "super-awesome best friend," Haddie hid her head in shame about her struggle to tell her family that she and Lauren were dating. "You know they're not going to love you any less," Lauren told Haddie, who cringed and agreed. "So, what are you so afraid of?" Lauren asked. "I know. I'm being really stupid," Haddie eventually replied.
Coming out is rarely anything but difficult, and it's also especially challenging when the person trying to come out is in a relationship with an already-out partner. Lauren's complacency with being Haddie's "super-awesome best friend" just didn't ring true to the oftentimes harsh reality of Parenthood. In fact, it felt glossed-over, a plot that felt separated from the main storyline, encircled in a sort of queer limbo unto itself, particularly as viewers hadn't seen Haddie and Lauren meet or fall in love. While that's perhaps impossible, given Parenthood's budgetary and story arc restrictions, what did seem possible was a grand moment of revelation keyed to Haddie's coming out. But that's not how this played out.
Sure, it could've been the beginning stages of the couple's relationship, when the ability to be patient and the desire to please could not be higher. But, in actuality, it's hard to believe Lauren would've been so happy to sit on the "super-awesome best friend" sidelines, particularly when meeting her girlfriend's parents for the first time and traveling across the country to do so.
As the episode went on, Haddie tried to drop hints — telling Adam, "I never had a relationship that was like this before, like she really gets me and introduces me to new stuff and pushes me to be better and it's been really important and good for me" — but nothing explicit was said about her sexual orientation and Adam seemed more or less clueless about (or, at best, confused by) the breadcrumbs that Haddie was laying before him.
Still, it was only a matter of time before Haddie was pushed out of the closet, after her brother Max (Max Burkholder) walked in on his sister and Lauren kissing, and later casually mentioned it to Kristina, who seemed emotionally stunned and confused.
Eventually, Kristina sat Haddie down and told her, "I want you to know how much I support you and I'll always be here for you so if you ever wanna talk about things or..."
Knowing that Max revealed her secret, Haddie stumbled through her confession: "I was going to tell you obviously. I don't know. It's like I know you guys are open and super-Berkeley and all of that, but I also know you want your kids to have this standard of living and I just didn't want to scare you or freak you out 'cause nothing's really different," she explained in an almost apathetic fashion.
Kristina assured her daughter she just wanted her to happy and everything seemed PSA-levels of perfect. But that's not the tone that Parenthood has embraced these past five seasons: Situations are rarely perfect or neatly wrapped up in one scene or even one episode; feelings often bubble to the surface or violently erupt over time. The scene, despite Potter's always excellent performance, felt pat and almost contrived in its emotional neatness.
No matter how "Berkeley" the Bravermans are, that doesn't mean Haddie's coming-out would be easily digestible for them, and Kristina and Haddie's conversation would only be the start of a series of discussions. Which is why it was particularly strange not to see Kristina and Adam talk about Haddie's revelation together. Nor were audiences privy to the eventual conversation Adam and Haddie shared, which was seen while music played in Season 5's final minutes.
Those dialogue-less moments have been some of Parenthood's most powerful, including Kristina telling Adam she has cancer in Season 4 as Max picked out a new puppy behind them. But in the case of this seminal father-daughter discussion, it felt like the audience was robbed of something pivotal shared between these fictional family members with whom we've grown intimate over the course of five seasons.
Should Parenthood be picked up for a sixth season — and I seriously pray it is — it'll be interesting to see just how (or if) Haddie's storyline plays out. As viewers who've waited for some queer representation, especially for those who have come out or have had a family member come out to them, this story should have been given the same weightiness as the separation between Joel (Sam Jaeger) and Julia (Erika Christensen) that took up much of the show's fifth season, Max's school troubles that have existed since the series' onset, or even the love triangle between Sarah (Lauren Graham), Hank (Ray Romano), and Mark (Jason Ritter), which has now spanned two seasons.
Haddie's coming-out story should be more than just a hit-and-run. After Parenthood had Haddie disappear for a season and lacked a queer character for five, it felt like both she and the audience deserved more.