Jason Katims Is My Spirit Animal

I was home alone on a Friday night a couple of years ago, clicking through TV stations, bored and skeptical about my viewing choices, when I happened upon something that seemed pretty intimate and serious. It was the show, Friday Night Lights, which I didn’t really know much about. The particular scene was one with Connie Britton, playing Tami Taylor, talking to her fifteen-year-old daughter, Julie, played by Aimee Teegarden. Perfectly capturing the awkward and tense sex-discussion vibe, Julie shrugged off her mom’s concern about losing her virginity. But Miss Taylor pressed on, and in one beautifully revealing voice-breaking moment, as she fears her daughter slipping away, she snaps, “Don’t you do that! Don’t you smirk at me right now. I am very upset. You’re not allowed to have sex. You’re fifteen years old.” It was one of the most startling and urgent pieces of acting I’ve ever seen. As a parent, this was a “holy shit” moment, or an instance that seemed too real to be on TV–a view of a parent trying to talk to their kid about real life. It was also the moment that made me go crush-crazy on Connie Britton, the perfect coach’s wife (and currently, the sexiest country music legend on ABC’s Nashville).

When my wife got home that night I made her watch that scene too. And then we binge-watched as much Friday Night Lights as possible.

It become one of our can’t-miss shows. Jason Katims was the producer and writer behind FNL and it became, even through ratings struggles and schedule shifts, one of the best, most realistic dramas on TV. Katims is a master at evoking the struggles and emotional lives of regular people and his Dillon, Texas was a place so full of life (shot Dogme 95-style, using natural light and real locations, sometimes accompanied by swelling ambient guitar), it exuded a small-town Americana vibe, and even though it was about a high school football team, the sport merely felt like a device to get into the characters’ emotional lives. It felt like a lot of the films I like. Kind of slow, quiet, reflective, but with a funny (sometimes laugh-out-loud) charm.

Aimee Teegarden and Connie Britton in Friday Night Lights
Aimee Teegarden and Connie Britton in Friday Night Lights

While doing FNL, Katims started up another show, also on NBC, an updated (semi-inspired by the movie) version of Parenthood. I also fell in love with this show because of the way it portrayed people speaking to each other in a way that showed their humanity, their need to be understood and loved by their family. In fact, the clincher for me–the special detail that made me want to watch every episode–was probably one of the scenes where a parent spoke to their child about something serious. Maybe it was a scene where the Braverman parents talked to their autistic son, Max, or maybe it was when Jasmine (played by Joy Bryant) introduces her ex-boyfriend Crosby (Dax Shepard) to the son he didn’t know he had (played by Tyree Brown). Or maybe it was one of the scenes where Sarah (Lauren Graham) tries (probably haltingly and with too much single parent guilt) to reason with her moody teens (the fantastic, adorable duo of Miles Heizer and Mae Whitman).

Joy Bryant, who plays Jasmine on Parenthood, with my wife, B. Frayn Masters, after appearing on her show, Back Fence PDX, in 2013.
Joy Bryant, who plays Jasmine on Parenthood, with my wife, B. Frayn Masters, after appearing on her show, Back Fence PDX, in 2013.

The thing about these two shows–the kind of surprisingly mature (un-patronizing) mood that they establish–is that their beauty is in how they portray people trying to communicate with people. In honest, sometimes clumsy, sometimes sad, sometimes accidentally poetic ways. Through six seasons, Parenthood has tackled cancer, PTSD, breaking up and getting back together, failed careers, stalled dreams, birth, death, and so much more. Katims somehow reaches such an emotional height with nearly every show, that my wife and I don’t even try to hide our tears any more. We know for sure there’ll be some crying tonight, when Parenthood‘s last episode ends, we’ll probably be soggy messes. We loved watching Parenthood‘s large cast of characters through the years as they did what we all do–tried to create a life to be happy in, with the people they care for. I also find it totally endearing how much the casts of Katims’s shows obviously love each other in real life. If you follow any of the actors on Instagram or Twitter, you’ll often see them post photos of them goofing around off-set or in the studio. And many of the actors who were on Friday Night Lights have also been on Parenthood. Two beautiful worlds collide.

Mae Whitman and her TV mom, Lauren Graham
Mae Whitman and her TV mom, Lauren Graham

If I ever wrote or produced a TV show, I would strive for a level as high as Jason Katims. I found it interesting to see on his IMDB page, that Katims also wrote some episodes of a much-older TV favorite of mine, My So-Called Life (1994). In some ways, Jason Katims feels like my spirit animal.

In fact, I even like his sometimes corny but very funny TV adaptation of Nick Hornby’s About a Boy.

If you haven’t seen Parenthood and you want to dive into a great drama-comedy (yes, it was often very funny as well), better go find this treasure as soon as you can, and you better get some tissue as well. There’s a lot of TV shows out there these days but I’m not sure when another one as real and as emotionally engulfing as Parenthood will come along again. This was a very special show and it will be missed.

Jason Katims and his Emmy
Jason Katims and his Emmy

2 responses to “Jason Katims Is My Spirit Animal”

  1. Kevin, this is revelatory to me in that I was an incredibly devoted FNL and Parenthood watcher, and while I knew Katims was the genius behind Parenthood, which I agree has been my favorite and most heartfelt TV experience (basically besides FNL) in the past decade, I’d honestly never put the two together. I had noticed that a bunch of FNL players recurred on Parenthood, but that was just a passing thought. Wow. You’ve completely blown my mind here. And I 100% agree with you. I rushed home from a seminar followed by and a 50th-birthday dance party to watch the finale of Parenthood, during which I wept openly while sitting in my cold basement letting it sink in that I won’t have this to look forward to anymore in my life. Like you, I was endlessly struck by the authenticity of dialogue and storyline, the delicate handling that went into the construction of those scenes. Like the best constructed novels, the ones that really work, where you get so deep into the story and the emotional experiences of the characters that you forget you’re reading: you’re just living alongside those people. And also the commitment to a positive idea of how life could work without abandoning the difficulties it takes to get to many of the hardest won optimisms. Thanks for this. Such a gift.

    1. Thanks, Sara. It is pretty awesome that a TV show can become such an honest portrayal of real life. Shows like Parenthood should be celebrated. And yep–that finale was outstanding.

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