NBC has been home to some of television’s most emotional series. It has brought us “Friday Night Lights,” “Parenthood,” and now, “This Is Us.” We cared so deeply for the Taylor family of “Friday Night Lights” that they might as well have been our own family. We quickly fell in love with the Braverman family on “Parenthood,” as we watched them tackle life’s challenges and wear their hearts on their sleeves. These shows resonated with viewers for a reason: They were heartbreaking, genuine, and relatable. The acting was superb. The characters were beloved. Needless to say, NBC was due for another tear-jerker once we had to bid a final goodbye to the Bravermans on “Parenthood.” Luckily, writer Dan Fogelman filled the void with the Pearson family in his hit show of 2017: “This Is Us.”
At first glance, “This Is Us” may seem like your typical cliché rom-com-esque drama. Beneath the surface, however, its portrayal of the interconnected nature of the human experience is surprisingly refreshing. The pilot introduces us to four characters celebrating their 36th birthdays: Kate (Chrissy Metz), frustrated at her fridge full of junk food, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), whose wife Rebecca (Mandy Moore) is pregnant with triplets, Randall (Sterling K. Brown), a broker in an elite office, and Kevin (Justin Hartley), an aspiring actor in an unfulfilling sitcom. We spend the course of the episode trying to figure out how the characters relate to each other, either biologically or behaviorally, and discover that Jack’s wife gives birth to twins (Kate and Kevin) on Jack’s birthday. After losing their third child they decide to adopt Randall.
The show expertly toggles between present-day Kate, Kevin, and Randall, as well as the “Big 3;” siblings growing up in 1986 with Jack and Rebecca. The continuity is flawless. The beauty of watching their lives unfold lies in Fogelman’s focus on the unglamorous aspects of family life, while also exploring the power of simple connections of parent-child, and sibling-sibling relationships. Throughout the course of the show, we learn of Jack’s mysterious death, Randall’s quest to find his biological father, Kate’s struggle with weight loss and self-discovery, and Kevin’s pursuit to make something of himself. We also learn about Rebecca’s role as a matriarch and her dealing with the loss of her husband and child, while also committing herself to being the emotional backbone of the family.
“This Is Us” is the mac and cheese of television; it comforts us after a long day, putting us at ease and leaving us wanting more. It tackles issues not always discussed on TV in a genuine and personal way. We watch young Randall struggle with being black in a predominantly white neighborhood and we witness his parents (Jack and Rebecca) struggle with providing the support and relatability he needs. Our hearts ache for Randall as he tracks down his biological father, William, because he is haunted by the image of being left at a fire station as a newborn baby. Kate’s journey with weight loss has us conflicted, as we wish her happiness yet also want her to be defined by more than just her weight. We root for Jack and Rebecca as new parents and can feel their pain during their marital troubles.
The Pearsons support, forgive, love, and grieve with each other through birth, death, adoption, heartbreak, and familial and work-related tension. Be warned: “This Is Us” will steal your heart. You will curl up on the couch and cry for and with the characters. It fills us with hope and love, which is a necessary remedy for the divisive, intense, and pessimistic vibe that other shows have adopted from our current culture. The evocative performances, particularly between Jack and his children, make us feel in the way as if we are not watching a TV show but rather like we are watching ourselves. The characters are flawed. Their struggles resonate with us. But at the end of the day, they remind us of the power of family and human connection. Season 2 of “This Is Us” premiered Tuesday, September 26, and lived up to its promise to be a revealing and heartbreaking continuation of the Pearsons’ lives. If you are looking for an uplifting yet tear-inducing show to fill your free time, stock up on some Kleenex and settle down with “This Is Us.” You will not regret it.