‘Parenthood’: Mae Whitman and Craig T. Nelson Improvised an Emotional Scene Between Amber and Zeek

It’s been six years since audiences said goodbye to the Bravermans. The NBC TV show, Parenthood, followed the California family through good times and bad. There were tears, laughs, and more tears. What fans of the series may not know is that Mae Whitman and Craig T. Nelson improvised a memorable scene between Amber Holt (Whitman) and her grandfather, Zeek Braverman (Nelson).

The ‘Parenthood’ cast often got the opportunity to improvise their lines

Mae Whitman and Craig T. Nelson embrace while sitting on a set of stairs during a scene on 'Parenthood'
Mae Whitman and Craig T. Nelson on Parenthood | Colleen Hayes/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

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Sticking to the script wasn’t a rule on the set of Parenthood. The people behind the show liked to have the option for the ensemble to improvise. 

“I like to leave room for improvisation,” Jason Katims, an executive producer on Parenthood, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in August 2010. “The beauty of doing a television show is that it’s a continuing dialogue. You write something. You put the script out there. Then you see what comes back in the editing room.” 

Katims continued, saying he’d consider altering storylines.

“I want to be able to respond to that so I don’t have tunnel vision about what the stories are going to be,” he said. “We definitely have ideas, but I also keep myself open to changing those ideas as we go.”

Over the course of six seasons, the Parenthood cast did get the chance to improvise. Although the writers behind the family drama penned a script there was often room for actors to put their own spin on the dialogue. 

Mae Whitman and Craig T. Nelson improvised an entire scene in ‘Parenthood’ Season 2

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One example of the Parenthood cast improvising happened in the show’s second season finale. In Parenthood Season 2 Episode 22: “Hard Times Come No More,” Whitman’s character found herself in a drunk driving accident.

Amber barely survived. Seeing her hesitation to learn from the experience, Zeek took his granddaughter to a junkyard to see the car she was in when the accident happened. 

What transpired was an emotional speech from Zeek, which Nelson improvised. Not knowing what her co-star was going to say in the scene meant Whitman made up all of Amber’s reactions on the spot. 

During an April 2018 interview on PeopleTV’s Couch Surfing, Whitman recalled filming the scene. 

“We improvised so much on Parenthood. So much of this stuff, we’d go into rehearsal and say, ‘Okay, what needs to come across here?'” Whitman said. “[Nelson] improvised everything,” she added, referring to the junkyard scene.

“So I went into that scene and I didn’t know what he was going to say,” she explained. “And he improvised this like, incredibly beautiful, honest, real, raw speech of like, pain and heartache. And stuff that I knew he really felt about his own family. So all of my reactions in that scene are totally surprised and genuine.”

Whitman and Nelson both starred in Parenthood Seasons 1 – 6 until the show ended in 2015. Whitman now stars on Good Girls, another NBC series. As for Nelson, he’s an actor on Young Sheldon

Watch ‘Parenthood’ on 3 different streaming platforms

Want to revisit the Braverman family and watch Parenthood from start to finish? The complete series is available to watch on multiple streamers. Amazon Prime Video has every episode for free with IMDb TV. Hulu also has seasons 1 – 6 available with a subscription to the platform. Parenthood’s also on NBC’s own streaming service, Peacock.