After NBC’s Parenthood hits its final, poignant note during tonight’s finale, loyal viewers will be left with memories of the many, many, many times the Braverman family moved us to tears, if not outright heaving sobs. With the series ending, we at Vulture thought this was the ideal moment to determine, once and for all, which Braverman is the official MVP of Parenthood crying.
To arrive at an answer, we ranked all 18 members of the Braverman clan* in terms of their EWA, or Earned Weep Average. To calculate each Braverman’s EWA, five factors were considered: consistency (was this a character who made us cry repeatedly throughout all six seasons?); intensity (how intensely did the character/actor convey emotion, and how hard did we have to yank facial tissues out of boxes because of it?); memorability (did the character make us cry during at least one key Parenthood scene or plotline?); anchoring effectiveness (was the character’s experience frequently central to emotional scenes in a way that caused other characters and viewers to weep?); and overall commitment to the Parenthood ethos of tears, emotional candor, and more tears during montages set to emo-alt-rock songs.
Just to be clear: This is not an evaluation of the acting on Parenthood. This list — which was compiled based on hard science, and also blubbering — is simply meant to put the source of all our Parenthood tears in perspective, so we can gauge which Bravermans are most responsible for the salty discharge that’s leaked from our eyes during the show’s run, and will continue to leak from our eyes when we rewatch it on Netflix. So hold on to your Kleenex and let’s do this.
18. Nora Braverman
Here’s the deal: The youngest Bravermans, who have the least heavy lifting to do on Parenthood with the least amount of screen time, tend to populate the lower spots on this list. That’s just how it is. And it’s why the adorable, well-behaved Nora Braverman — the second-youngest Braverman, at least until Amber’s kid arrives — is No. 18. Not only is she too youthful to have dealt with any life crises, she has (so far) demonstrated a remarkable amount of levelheadedness. Which is pretty impressive considering she’s the daughter of Adam and Kristina.
EWA, on a scale of 0 to 20: 1. Sorry, Nora. You’re still super-cute, though!
17. Aida Braverman
Same too-young rules apply to Aida, who is too infrequently present on Parenthood to really prove herself in the cause-of-verklemptness department. She did cry a shit-ton after she was first born, though. So we know she has it in her. Get back to us in eight to ten years, Aida.
EWA, on a scale of 0 to 20: 1.5. She gets an additional half-point due to her early demonstration of weepability potential.
16. Jasmine Braverman
Jasmine Braverman isn’t a cryer, really. Even when she broke down in front of Joel and Julia after Crosby slept with Lyla Garrity — er, I mean Gabby, Max’s behavioral aide, played by Minka Kelly, who will forever be Lyla Garrity — her emotional rupture was pretty muted. No, Jasmine deals with her emotions primarily by getting angry (either aggressively or passive-aggressively) or offering reassuring words to Crosby or Jabbar. Oh yeah, she also invented a particular form of expression known as Ashes of Rome House-Guest Protest, which she is very good at:
Crying or making us cry, though? That’s not really her thing.
EWA, on a scale of 0 to 20: 3.
15. Jabbar Braverman
Jabbar is like the smilingest smiley kid ever. Because he’s such a joyful human, sometimes his unabashed glee and innocence actually wind up making us cry, as they did when we saw him react to his parents’ second engagement. As sudden as it was for Crosby and Jasmine to reconcile and decide to marry late in season three — especially given that Jasmine was a U-Haul reservation away from moving in with Dr. Joe — it all made some kind of tear-inducing sense when Jabbar started jumping up and down and waving his sweet-little-boy arms after hearing the news.
EWA, on a scale of 0 to 20: 4. As an anchor of cry scenes, Jabbar pulls his weight just by being his sweet little self.
14. Victor Graham
Victor’s had to deal with some emotionally challenging stuff in his life, including being given up by his incarcerated birth mother, adjusting to a new family, and realizing the Brat Queen of the Bay Area, Sydney, will be his sister for the rest of his life. Sometimes he’s dealt with those challenges with stoicism. On other occasions, he has thrown baseball bats at people. And a few times — when Joel and Julia announced they were separating, or when he read his award-winning essay about working on cars with Zeek — he made his own contributions in the field of Parenthood tearjerkiness.
EWA, on a scale of 0 to 20: 5. Victor’s emotional response played a key role in the audience’s response to two of the most important decisions Joel and Julia made on Parenthood: adopting and almost divorcing. So he gets five points.
13. Sydney Graham
As previously noted, Sydney can be kind of a brat. To be fair, she has her reasons. (After being a fawned-over only child, she literally got a brother overnight.) Whatever you think of her behavior, you have to admit that when Sydney flips out and starts to cry — whether it’s when she’s begging her dad not to leave or blaming her brother for all the family’s troubles — she’s a very effective cryer, therefore intensifying the emotion in many scenes.
EWA, on a scale of 0 to 20: 7. She ranks a couple of points higher than Victor because she’s been in all six seasons of the show, and more consistently provoked emotion than her brother did.
12. Haddie Braverman
Clearly Haddie loses on consistency points since she was largely absent from seasons four through six. However, when she was part of the story, she showed some moments of real vulnerability, particularly after her breakup with Alex (Michael B. Jordan) during the freakin’ gut-punch that was her departure for Cornell, and even at the end of last season, when she came out to Kristina.
EWA, on a scale of 0 to 20: 9. If she’d been on the show for more seasons, she might have scored higher.
11. Crosby Braverman
I love Crosby Braverman. I love him for his reformed irresponsibility, his racial-spectrum flow chart, and the fact that, via Dax Shepard, he brings such perfectly timed comic relief to so many Parenthood episodes. Still, his Earned Weep Average is lower than his siblings’ because he’s the kind of guy who normally responds to crises by downing a bottle of bourbon, getting in a fight, or hopping on a motorcycle as opposed to, you know, emoting. That said, when Crosby Braverman does emote, it’s a thing of beauty. Go back and watch him in season three, right after he coached Kristina through her delivery of Nora: Dude can’t hold back his tears. And just watch him anchor the living hell out of this scene with Julia. She’s the one crying, but it’s Crosby’s words that really pack the emotionally moving wallop.
EWA, on a scale of 0 to 20: 13. Just watch that scene again. He’s the best brother!
10. Zeek Braverman
If Crosby is a chip, then Zeek is certainly his old block. A guy’s guy who likes his red meat and his liquor and speaking his mind, Zeek keeps his tears in check just like his younger son. But when he’s seeking approval from his own mother in the season-three episode “Road Trip,” he gets as wet-eyed as the most emotionally fragile Braverman. Above all else, as played by Craig T. Nelson, Zeek may be the ultimate Parenthood anchor, whether it’s cutting through the b.s. with Amber after her car accident or instructing Adam to bury his ashes in Marine Park.
EWA, on a scale of 0 to 20: 13.5. There’s a generosity in Nelson’s acting that speaks to Zeek’s sense of family; he’s okay with playing it low-key so that his kids and grandkids can shine.
9. Camille Braverman
In her marriage and in her role on Parenthood, Camille has sometimes been marginalized, crowded out by all the other Bravermans with stories to tell, but she’s the other rock of the family, and the more sensitive one. In the hands of Bonnie Bedelia, Camille has gotten to strike the right cry-notes at crucial moments, like when she gave Kristina her chemo sweater …
… and more recently, when she laid all her emotions on the table during the wrenching “Waiting Room” episode. And when she made the case that it was time to sell the house so she and Zeek could start their act two, many baby-boomer women could undoubtedly feel what she was feeling.
EWA, on a scale of 0 to 20: 14. Honestly, she earned her place in the top ten for what she did in “The Waiting Room” alone.
8. Joel Graham
In earlier seasons of Parenthood, Sam Jaeger’s Joel was the classic, sturdy, handsome, dependable husband. But as the cracks in his marriage and the divide over how to raise Victor deepened, so did his character. Really, the important question in the almost-divorce of Joel and Julia wasn’t whether they get back together. It was: Who made us cry more? The answer was both of them, pretty equally, which made it doubly clear that the state of their union would eventually be strong again.
EWA, on a scale of 0 to 20: 15. For evidence of why Joel scores so high on intensity, commitment, and other EWA factors, please watch him in this wonderful scene, where the entire Braverman family shows up for the finalizing of Victor’s adoption and Joel can barely keep it together.
7. Max Braverman
Since he has Asperger’s, Max is not exactly an open book on the emotional front. Often he responds to life’s obstacles by obsessing over and/or shouting at them. (See the way he handled the entire Dylan situation.) But Max’s initial confusion about his Asperger’s and his attempt to navigate it has been one of the most consistently moving elements in Parenthood, precisely because Max — both Braverman and Burkholder — underplays everything. That’s also what made his breakdown after that horrible season-five field trip ten times more heartbreaking.
EWA, on a scale of 0 to 20: 16. Seriously, that post-field-trip scene in the car is probably in the top five of Things That Have Destroyed Me While Watching Parenthood. Unfortunately, there’s no official clip on the NBC site or YouTube, but here’s a really blurry one clearly shot on someone’s TV.
6. Drew Holt
Drew — quiet, good Drew — has a tendency to swallow feelings until he can’t keep them down anymore and they come out in an unexpected blast of gasps and sobs. When Miles Heizer’s alter-ego has those moments, as he did in season three, during a conversation in which he broke down while talking to Mark Cyr; or as he did in season four, after Amy had her abortion, it feels like watching your own teenage son lose it, even if you don’t have a teenage son.
EWA, on a scale of 0 to 20: 16.5. Not as consistently cry-worthy as the Braverman family members who rank above him, but always powerful when it counts.
5. Julia Braverman-Graham
So many times Julia has gotten to us: more times than I can even count during this whole Joel-separation business, especially when she finally told her parents what was happening; a ton of times when she was struggling with doubts about going through with the Victor adoption (see clip above, of her talking to Crosby). Still, the ultimate Julia Graham “rip your heart right out of your chest” moment of all Parenthood time has to be when she realized Zoe — remember Zoe?!? — would not allow Joel and Julia to adopt her baby after all. This clip doesn’t even begin to show how sad things got, and it’s still titled “Utter Devastation.”
EWA, on a scale of 0 to 20: 17. High marks across the board for consistency, intensity, memorability, anchoring effectiveness, and overall commitment. Julia: always the overachiever.
4. Adam Braverman
I honestly can’t decide what I like more: Adam when he’s emotionally wrecked, or Adam when he’s completely silly. (Have you recently watched this clip of him crashing Jasmine’s bridal shower while totally baked? Oh, you should! Because Peter Krause is magnificently out of his mind!) Because Adam is always trying to be the responsible, sensible, in-control Braverman, there’s something particularly shattering about watching him try to keep it together when you know he’s breaking inside. He’s had to do that in various ways in virtually every episode. But certainly it was most apparent in season four, when he was trying to support Kristina during her cancer treatment. I mean, dear God, just watch his phone call with Haddie, when he says he’s fine but his face tells about seven different stories that contradict that information. (Disclaimer: Don’t watch this clip at work unless you want to explain to everyone in a nearby cubicle why you’re bawling at the office in the middle of the day.)
EWA, on a scale of 0 to 20: 18. If you just watched that clip, you don’t need me to explain this score.
3. Sarah Braverman
Sarah Braverman, with her failed marriage to a recovering alcoholic, has always been the single mom trying to do her best, which has to be one of the most empathetic roles that exists on TV and life in general. Lauren Graham has also infused Sarah with such humor and warmth that the fact that she cries — a lot — just makes you love her more. Obviously Sarah’s heart-to-hearts with Amber have been a cornerstone of the show. But her relationship with Mark Cyr and all of its breakups and reconciliations was incredibly emotional because it still seems like such a shame that it didn’t work out, even if she is allegedly happy with Hank. Adam’s narrative arcs may have been more core to the show, but no matter what Sarah was going through, you always wanted to open a bottle of wine and weep with her.
EWA, on a scale of 0 to 20: 18.5. The Holt portion of the Braverman family tree may be troubled, but damn it, they know how to bring on the cries.
2. Amber Holt
As we all know, Mae Whitman is one of the great criers in television history. Sometimes all Amber has to do is enter a room during a Parenthood episode and I can already feel my tear ducts start to get a little jiggy. Amber’s had a lot of good reasons to get upset over the years, whether she was frustrated with her dad or upset about Ryan or just plain lost and thinking it was a good idea to do it with Bob Little. Instead of seeming like an overwrought mess, though, Amber’s been someone we’ve continued to root for because Mae Whitman made her hurt and her tears seem justified and real, over and over again.
1. Kristina Braverman
I realize that not everyone endorses Kristina’s mega-helicopter-parenting style, nor the way it’s resulted in her starting an entire school to educate her son (oh yeah, and also, technically, other kids). Yet what are the two most central story lines to Parenthood, the ones most personal to its creator, Jason Katims, and the ones that best illustrate the tenuousness of the bond between parent and child? Max’s Asperger’s and Kristina’s breast-cancer bout. Season four was probably the most weep-inducing season of the entire show, and much of that was because of Kristina. Say what you will about her sometimes-impetuous decisions and her frequent inability to put herself in the shoes of others; with Monica Potter acting as her conduit, Kristina has forced more tears to roll down more cheeks than anyone else on this show. Why? Because she’s a parent trying, and not always succeeding, to do the right thing, just like so many of the viewers who have loyally followed this show since it began. The show’s called Parenthood, and she’s the parent who has most often left us in a heap of weeps. I could post 100 clips to illustrate that, but will go with this good-bye video to her kids because that should crush the hell out of you for at least a week.
EWA, on a scale of 0 to 20: 20. Congratulations, Kristina. You scored perfect scores on all possible metrics and are officially the MVP of Parenthood crying. Celebrate the way a Braverman should … by having a good cry.
* Hank, who is technically not a Braverman and, as of this writing, not married to Sarah, was omitted from this list. So was Seth, even though, as the father of Amber and Drew, he is technically part of the Braverman family tree.