About a month ago, my husband asked, “Have you been hearing about this new show, This is Us?” I had heard of it on Facebook once or twice but I really didn’t know much about it. We found it on Hulu and after the second episode, I was hooked. Now, I’m not really a big TV watcher. But the following weekend, he and I somehow managed to binge 10 episodes. It was that good. Now it seems like all of America is finding itself having that same conversation.
But why do we love it so much?
There is the of course the obvious — the writing is brilliant and the acting is authentic. But as with any work of art, to really grab us it has to contain something beyond just being technically “good.” There has to be something about it that speaks to its audience. So WHY do we love this show? I think it’s because we can so easily see ourselves in it.
We might see ourselves in Kate as she battles a demon that she just can’t get a handle on. Maybe ours isn’t weight or food, but maybe it’s depression or anxiety or debt. Whatever it is, every woman has something that makes her wonder, “Am I good enough?” We feel Kate’s pain as she tries so hard to prove her worth to others — the good sister, the good employee, the good daughter — but most of all needing to make herself believe it.
Maybe we see ourselves in Kevin. Appearing to have it all. Receiving attention from others and praise for what is on the outside. But behind the scenes, knowing that the public face isn’t at all who he is, and he wonders if he would still be accepted if everyone knew the real person. Surrounded by so many people and still very lonely.
Or maybe we identify with Randall. Successful to the point of perfection but always wondering who he is and where he belongs. Struggling to reconcile what he always thought was true about his life, with the reality that he now understands.
And through all of the facets and layers of each of these characters is the family as a whole. They are good people. They love each other deeply and protect each other fiercely. But they aren’t perfect. There are flaws, dysfunctions, failures and secrets. But through it all, there is a deep love and closeness. They love IN SPITE of the shortcomings. And in doing so, the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.
At the center of the family is Jack, the dad we all want our husbands to be. Jack and Rebecca’s pictures can be found in the dictionary under relationship goals. Jack is a breath of fresh air compared to the ubiquitous sitcom-dufus dad. He’s not rich or perfect, but he does the two things that kids need the most: he loves their mother completely and is dedicated to doing whatever it takes to keep their family strong.
Likewise Rebecca is not the resentful, disrespecting “my husband is just another child” wife that we so often see in family-based television shows. Jack and Rebecca are easy to watch, and it makes us feel good to see them together. Even in the present scenes, Jack isn’t there, but he’s there. His influence is everywhere (poor Miguel).
The Beauty of Family
This is the beauty of family, for those of us who are lucky enough to have one. Family is messy. There are disappointments and loss. We are entangled into dynamics that we know are there but we can’t quite understand. We are affected by our pasts and our childhood in ways that we often do understand but still can’t seem to shed. We struggle to find our place and define our role. Our relationships and relative position among siblings shape our personalities far more than we’d ever want to admit. But through all of that, family is the one thing that is constant. We love our people. We love them even when they aren’t perfect because that’s what family does. Or should do.
When you and I think about who we are, we can see ourselves not just as the person who exists today. We know that there was a long and winding path that took us though childhood, teen years and into adulthood; through relationships and homes, cities and jobs, tragedies and triumphs. The past is the present because the past still matters. We know that about our own story but rarely get the privilege of fully knowing someone else’s. This show allows us to do that through its past/present setting. And by doing so, it creates a feeling of unity with the characters because we know WHY they are the way they are.
And on top of all of this, television perfection is that fact that we are watching it against a backdrop of national divisiveness. In a time where negativity is the dish being served by every media outlet and where intolerance is the underlying tone of the majority of social media posts, it is refreshing to see something on TV that displays the goodness in people. We need that reminder that goodness still exists in people. We need that escape. It is medicine to our weary souls. Even if it’s just for one hour a week.
This is a show that gets it right, at the right time.
This is Us is US.