SPOILER ALERT: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR “THIS IS US” BECAUSE IT IS LITERALLY AN ARTICLE ABOUT “THIS IS US.”
Hello, if you are reading this you probably don’t watch “This is Us,” because those who do are still choke-sobbing into their shiraz or dismantling their Crock-Pots before their fictional-character-death support meetings. Allow us to explain everything.
Why is everyone talking about “This is Us” right now?
The beloved NBC family drama isn’t even through its second season, but it feels like every week brings another emotional climax or character birth/death/breakdown/revelation/triumph so wrenching or life-affirming all of your social media feeds immediately devolve into a series of cry-face emojis.
But one of the biggest moments happened this week when viewers found out how one of the main characters may have died, even though they KNEW he would die at some point for about 20 episodes now, and all of the clues to how he’d probably die were introduced quite clearly a few episodes back.
Regardless, people were still totally satisfied and impressed, as evidenced by all of the cry-face emojis.
Give me the basic plot details, because from the outside this show just looks like a bunch of people hugging and talking.
“This Is Us” centers around the lives of the Pearson family. Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) are mom and dad. They have three adult children: Kevin (Justin Hartley), Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown).
Take a deep breath, because it gets real, fast:
In 1980, Rebecca was pregnant with triplets but one of the babies died. So, she and Jack decide to adopt a third baby who was dropped off at the hospital the same night.
These three children grow up to be three very different people in the present:
- Kevin, a dissatisfied hot actor haunted by what may have been
- Kate, his equally-haunted twin who’s exploring the connection between her emotional trauma and her weight problems
- Randall, the adopted brother who’s black and brilliant and dealing with serious anxiety and abandonment issues.
Mix all together, stir well, let set and eat by the spoonful whilst crying.
That… is a lot.
It doesn’t stop there! The show bounces back and forth in time, using younger versions of Jack, Rebecca and company to explore the main couple’s love story as well as the small threads of early-life trauma that eventually become giant rat’s nests of issues for their children. Oh, and it is by this convenient structure that we learn that dad Jack – at some point when his kids were teens – died.
AND, we also find out that Rebecca, the love of his life, is now remarried to his best friend… and also Randall meets his biological dad just in time for him to die in Randall’s arms and… frankly, there are a lot of alcohol and substance abuse issues all around.
So it’s about a complex family dealing with the highs and lows that make us human?
That is a fair assessment, yes.
Why do so many people I know allow themselves to be emotionally victimized by this show?
Die-hards will tell you the tears they shed are a great emotional catharsis. Plus, the constant roller coaster of bad things (Dead dads! Miscarriages! Regrets!) and good things (Family! Good husbands! The Super Bowl!) makes it hard to let go once you’ve hopped on.
I’m still having trouble pinpointing why THIS show, of all the dramas, pierces people directly in their feelings week after week.
First of all, there are plenty of well-wrought characters in which to invest. There’s devoted husband Jack, relatable Kate and inspiring Randall, plus a host of relatives and partners so charming and perfect they’ll make all of your current relationships look like trash.
Not only does the large family roster allow for an expanding fractal of dramatic possibilities, the drama is goosed at every opportunity.
There are evocative piano interludes. There are long, contemplative shots of everyday tableaux suddenly rendered so tender and precious you’ll find yourself sobbing over a 10-second camera pan of wainscoting.
Oh, and the music! “This is Us” has basically weaponized Sufjan Stevens. If there is a sparse, melancholic folk ballad to be found, “This is Us” will find it. And it will use it against you.
This frankly sounds awful.
Tell it to the trophy case! The show is ridiculously well-regarded, and has snagged SAG Awards, Golden Globes, Emmys and other accolades during its two-year existence.
It also has a loyal and vocal following. The season 2 premiere brought in 12.9 million viewers – some seriously solid numbers for a sophomore debut.
Mostly, though, it’s about the crying.
If sobbing until you puke is your idea of a healthy emotional endeavor, this is the show for you and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. If you have enough angst in your life and can barely stand to witness your own family talk out their occasional issues, let alone a fictional family doing so on a weekly basis, you might want to skip.
Noted. So wait, how does Jack die?
It’s looking like.. .house fire by busted Crock-Pot
Yes! And it happens during a montage set to “To Build a Home” by The Cinematic Orchestra, a song so soft and sad you’ll listen to it once and then choke up at the mere mention of the title for years to come. This show ruins good music AND kitchen appliances!
I find this hard to believe.
Then you’ll love the Super Bowl tie-ins! The Pearson triplets are conceived during a Super Bowl. The Crock-Pot inferno goes down after a Super Bowl! In “This is Us” world, the Super Bowl is a legitimate and weighty narrative touch point and even worse, everybody roots for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Okay, I’m a masochist and I’m in. When can I find out what happens next?
The details of Jack’s demise and the future of the Pearson family will be revealed – we kid you not – on February 4 right after… the Super Bowl.