‘Parenthood’ has taken on a variety of health issues, from Asperger’s syndrome to infertility and heart problems. Now, they’re taking on breast cancer. Last night’s episode ended with what Salon writer Willa Paskin calls “the fastest mammogram-to-diagnosis sequence in TV history,” setting us up for a season in which Kristina (who gave birth last season and saw her oldest daughter off to college in this season’s premiere) battles one of this country’s most common killers of women.
Parenthood’s showrunner, Jason Katims, knows firsthand what this struggle should look like: “My wife went through it a couple years ago and it’s a story that I’ve been, in the back of my mind, wanting to tell,” he told Hollywood Reporter. He gave a similar explanation to Entertainment Weekly:
“Breast cancer is such a prevalent thing and many people have gone through it. It’s something that’s very personal to me, and I thought it was a story that we could tell because of what the show is and because of these wonderful actors involved in doing the show.”
While Salon’s Paskin hopes that the storyline doesn’t push the show (which already has a reputation as a tearjerker) into overly-maudlin territory, we mostly just hope that they actually get breast cancer right, instead of turning it into a pink ribbon-wrapped made-for-tv party.
Katims says that he plans for the storyline to be realistic, but without making the entire season all doom and gloom. He told Hollywood Reporter:
Suddenly you’re confronted with your mortality or the immortality of a loved one and you have to face that. We were really adamant about telling the story in a very real way, including the joyful, silly moments and the times when you’re not giving in to your emotions about it. We are exploring the story in a way that is very human and real, taking it very seriously but at the same time, Kristina really needs to be brave for her children. This isn’t just going to be them sitting around feeling sorry for themselves.
Given his first-hand experience with breast cancer (and the likelihood that he’s not the only one working on the show who has it), it’s easy to believe that they’ll do a good job of portraying the funny moments…and the not-so-funny moments.
Shows like Sex and the City have dealt with breast cancer, but rarely have they shown anyone actually feeling sick (or even depressed), let alone dealt with things like hospital bills, and explaining illness to kids (or kids with Asperger’s).
Between their struggle to pay for college tuition, the extra costs of having a child with Asperger’s, and Adam’s unstable income as a new business owner, the family is already in a financial pinch; the cost of breast cancer treatment on top of all this could leave many families in financial ruin. But the mundane and depressing details of healthcare costs hardly ever make it onto television; the only show I can think of to have dealt with the cost of cancer is Breaking Bad, where it drives the main character to cook meth… I’d love to see Parenthood portray how the rest of America handles it.
But even if they want to avoid the politics of health care costs, there are plenty of challenges ahead. The show has received critical praise for its portrayal of Asperger’s syndrome–also inspired by Katim and his family’s personal experiences–so we hope that they portray the difficulties of explaining illness to Kristina’s son, Max.
Then, there’s just the sad reality that breast cancer is a terrible thing to go through. We can already imagine the Braverman family organizing an all-hands-on-deck effort to race for the cure (as they did to show their support for Max), and we’re sure that Camille will be over to help with laundry and dinner when things get rough. But will they show Kristina at her worst in the hospital? Will they show the family struggling to cover daily costs when faced with her medical bills? In between the funny and inspirational moments, we hope they do.