Despite big name stars, a Golden Globe nomination, and the pleas of TV writers everywhere, Parenthood, the NBC drama currently in its fifth season, has never been a high-rated series. Week after week, the show fails to bring in viewers, and its core fan base, while vocal, is barely large enough to keep the series afloat. Yet the thing about Parenthood that's most to blame for its poor ratings is the same thing that makes the show one of the most critically acclaimed on TV — its realism.
For five seasons, Parenthood has stayed committed to being as realistic as possible, tackling relatable storylines like autism, drug use, and adoption with un-sugarcoated honesty. This season alone, we've seen one character deal with PTSD, another learn he's getting held back at school, and a once-happy couple edge painfully towards divorce. These plotlines are difficult to watch, but their brutality is what makes Parenthood so special; the series, unlike so many others, is unafraid to get dark, because it realizes that emotional resonance with viewers is more important than playing into a fictional world where all problems get fixed by the end of an hour.
Yet during the last season and a half of Parenthood, it's become apparent that the show isn't as dedicating to maintaining realism as it once seemed to be. While most recent storylines have stayed true to the show's morals, one major one has not — the disappearance of Haddie.
For those who don't remember (because, believe us, it's been awhile), Haddie Braverman, played by Sarah Ramos, is the daughter of Kristina and Adam, the oldest of the couple's three children. For the first three seasons of Parenthood, Haddie was a key figure on the show, her plotlines and character development integral to the series. Storylines like her fight with Amber, her frustration over Max, and her relationship with Alex often consisted of some of the best writing and acting on Parenthood. When, at the beginning of the fourth season, Haddie left for college in New York, it seemed all but certain she would return to the show before long. While it wouldn't make sense for her to be in every episode — Parenthood, being real, wouldn't have a Cornell freshman come home to California every weekend — it seemed unfathomable that Haddie would stop being a regular member of the show just because she moved across the country. In some way or another, the Parenthood writers would give her character something to do.
And for awhile, they did. During the first half of season four, when Kristina dealt with breast cancer, Haddie played a major part in the show's continuum. We saw Haddie find out her mother was sick, vent her frustrations to her father on the phone, and, most movingly, make a surprise visit home to California. All of this stayed true to Haddie's character and situation — questions about her classwork and college life were frequently raised by her family — while also giving her enough screentime to keep audiences (and, presumably, Ramos) happy.
But then Haddie went back to school. After a few episodes in which she dawdled around the Braverman house, hesitant that her mom would be okay without her, she was finally convinced to go back to Cornell. It was disappointing to see her go, but it kept with the show's realism; straight-A student Haddie wouldn't just drop out of college to hang around Berkeley, and her parents certainly wouldn't have let her. Haddie's exit wasn't too sad, though, because clearly, it wasn't permanent; whether through another family crises or simply because of holiday breaks, Haddie would soon return home. If she was leaving for good, never to be seen or heard from again, it would go against everything Parenthood stood for. It's not realism if a character — a kid, especially — disappears into thin air.
And yet it's exactly what Parenthood's done ever since Haddie walked out the door. For an entire season and a half, there's been no sight of Adam and Kristina's daughter, no word of her whereabouts or a mention of her homecoming. There's been no "have you talked to Haddie lately?" or "is Haddie coming home for Christmas?", no "gee, it'd be good to see my daughter more than once a year" or "hey, I wonder if Haddie's happy at Cornell." Yes, she's at college, and yes, that college is across the country, but it's ridiculous that we haven't even heard her name mentioned in what, Parenthood time, has been over a year.
Haddie's disappearance can't be blamed on a lack of opportunities. Kristina's mayoral run, Camille's return from Italy, Amber's broken engagement — all of these would've been perfect reasons for Haddie to make a return home from school. If none of those worked out, Haddie could've come home just for a long weekend break; it would've been in character, and it wouldn't have disrupted the flow of the series' other, more central plotlines. Whatever the reason, there's no question Parenthood could've had Haddie return, if only for an episode or two. They just chose not to.
As for why, we might never know. When asked in September about the possibility of Haddie's return, Parenthood creator Jason Katims answered-by-not-answering, saying that "it's always a question of finding the right story combined with Sarah’s availability." Four months later, there's no sign that anything's changed. Haddie is still gone, and Parenthood is still ignoring all realism by pretending that's totally normal.
We're not saying that Haddie has to drop out of school and be a regular member of the cast again. As long as she's in college, that wouldn't make any sense for her character. Yet it's not too much to ask that Haddie come home every so often, or, if off-camera factors like Ramos' choosing not to return prevents that from happening, at least gets a shout-out once in awhile. Otherwise, it just makes the series look sloppy, and worse, unrealistic; and for a show as committed to being truthful as Parenthood, going against its own morals is the worst thing it can do.