Parenthood has long been one of TV's best dramas (no matter what those myopic Emmy voters say), but Kristina's universally lauded breast cancer storyline seriously raised the bar for season five. Thankfully executive producer Jason Katims is more than ready to rise to the challenge.
Armed with an all-new arsenal of heart wrenching tales (fractured marriages, impending weddings, spurned love returns), Katims spoke, at length, with ETonline about his plans for the upcoming 22 episodes, and promises that Parenthood's DNA will not change one iota despite their new, high-profile timeslot. First watch this sublime sneak peek and then read on to find out what's next!
ETonline: The preview for season five makes it look like Ryan and Amber are headed down the aisle. What does their relationship look like this season?
Jason Katims: It looks like a couple of things. First and foremost, it's sweet and romantic, but also complicated. It was clear from last year this is a relationship that is not without its complications, and this was a story that we originally thought of as 5 episodes, but because of the way Matt [Lauria] approached Ryan and the chemistry he has with Mae [Whitman], we wanted to continue it. He inspired me to keep telling their story this year. I think we're going to see two people who are very much in love, but also very young. It brings up a lot of questions for our other characters, especially Sarah [played by Lauren Graham]. This is what I find interesting: here's a wonderful young man who served our country and is a hero, but Sarah knows that he's also had some issues that are very real. Plus, Sarah got married when she was very young to someone she was madly in love with and look how that turned out. The failure of that has informed so much of Sarah's life, so I'm excited to see Lauren strike the balance between knowing Amber's an adult now, but thinking "she's still my daughter and I don't care if she hates me, I'm going to speak my mind." That's what excites me. Like, when we're in the writer’s room and they start arguing, I know we're on to something. Last year it happened all the time with Hank and Mark. There were literally shouting matches and I saw the same thing play out online. To me, when you have people trying to put their best foot forward but facing conflict, that's when stories are the most interesting.
ETonline: Speaking of Hank, Ray Romano is back for a good portion of this season. What made you want to bring that character back?
Katims: A lot of what we're doing this year with Hank isn't about his relationship with Sarah. It's one of the things that makes me so excited about the show right now; we already have this incredible ensemble cast, and now we have these amazing recurring characters, so it makes the canvas of our world so big. It reminds me of Friday Night Lights towards the end where we had the amazing main cast, but these other characters, who were not series regulars, like Billy Riggins and Grandma Saracen and Herc and on and on. They were every bit as beloved as our series regulars and that's something I love about this season because we really get to expand upon the pairings. There's some great stuff with Sarah and Ryan that I think fans will love. There was a scene last year with Dax [Shepard] and Erika [Christensen] where Crosby and Julia were at dinner and he noticed that she was upset. It was really one of my favorite scenes we've ever done because we hadn't seen that much interaction between those two and it really tapped into a wonderful dynamic I wasn't anticipating. This year, we're really looking for those opportunities to expand beyond our normal pairings. We will absolutely do stories with Hank and Sarah, but Ray's arc is not kicked off with a Hank and Sarah storyline. What really brings Hank back into the fold is his relationship with Max.
ETonline: Jason Ritter is a fan favorite, but also on a new Fox show that shoots in NYC while Parenthood shoots in LA. Does that sort of take Mark off the table for the foreseeable future?
Katims: His schedule right now doesn't allow for it. I couldn't love anybody more than Jason Ritter; he's a wonderful person and always incredible on the show. We've been through this before when he did The Event but came back to the show. If it's possible and something we need for the story, I'll be the first person to call him.
ETonline: You're also bringing in two new characters -- Sonya Walger's architect Meredith and David Denman's stay-at-home dad Ed -- who could potentially come in between Joel and Julia. How will you differentiate that storyline from Adam's attraction to Rachel in season three?
Katims: This is a much different story from that. The architect and the stay-at-home dad are very important characters in their own rights, but this is a story that's very much about Joel & Julia's relationship and the role reversal that occurs this year. One of the things that's been very clearly established is how much Julia's been defined by her job. They've also had a tough couple of years with attempting to have a baby and then adopting Victor, which isn't suddenly easy either. I think they're in a place where there are all these changes and, historically, they've always triumphed over those challenges because of their deep love for one another. They still have that this season, but sometimes life gets in the way and we want to explore what happens when that no longer feels like enough. We will be challenging their marriage this year.
ETonline: Whether or not this happens, are you open to exploring one of your main couples getting divorced?
Katims: If we're going to explore these relationships in very real ways, you have to, theoretically, be open to everything. We are willing to present what would really happen, so in the pursuit of being as honest as possible, yes. We would go there.
ETonline: How would you describe the tone of season five? Is it lighter than last year?
Katims: I don't think it's lighter at all. I think we're always trying to find a balance. If an episode only has intense storylines, we'll actively try to find something to even it out. One of the things I love about what our show is capable of is that it can, seamlessly, go from the light to the heavy. I don't believe people are coming to our show for humor, I think they come here because it feels so emotionally bare. There's something about the alchemy of the show -- the actors, the writers, the directors, the editors -- that makes Parenthood unique. You get so deeply embedded with these characters because you go through life with them, and that's our priority.
ETonline: Parenthood is moving to Thursday nights at 10 p.m. -- a much more high profile timeslot. Did NBC ask you for anything special, storywise, this season akin to Tyra's assault arc in season two of FNL?
Katims: Not really. Putting us into that timeslot is such a show of support and belief in the show from NBC. Obviously we would all love it if we do decently there, and there is pressure for us to do well, but I think we have such a loyal fanbase that I believe our fans will find us. The question is, can we build on that? I do think we have a great potential with our lead-in and I think they're trying to give Thursday nights a family theme. As for the actual storylines, the network didn't tell me to bring in more rape. Which by the way, I take both the credit and the blame for Tyra's storyline. I know there's the perception the network made us do that, but that's actually not the case at all. It wasn't a network note. But in terms of Parenthood, they are as protective of what the show is as I am. Of course they're looking for opportunities to have a "promotable moment," but they would do that even if we were still on Tuesdays. The good thing is they know that the last thing we want to do is make that loyal audience feel like this isn't the show they've watched for four years. There will be surprises, but this will always be the show our fans have come to love no matter what night we air.
Parenthood premieres September 26 at 10 p.m. on NBC.