Now, more than ever, it’s time to embrace and celebrate what we love. We here at Paste TV believe there is no such thing as guilty pleasure TV. If you love a show, there’s nothing to feel guilty about.
So I’m here to tell you there’s no shame in loving This Is Us. The TV landscape is vast and there is room for all types of shows and all types of viewers. Loving a show means giving it some room to make mistakes, though, so I will concede that This Is Us should never have attempted to weave the global pandemic into its storytelling for its most recent fifth season. The Pearson family could have existed in a parallel, non-COVID universe. We all would have been so okay with that. I’m not looking forward to more clunky dialogue about who has been “tested” or who had been “strictly quarantining.” Also how many cross-country trips are they going to have to take this season in an RV?
But you know what? None of that matters. I’m here to tell you This Is Us remains a great show. It’s like a family member you still love despite of or because of all their quirks. And particularly now as This Is Us consistently pulls on our heartstrings, it offers us a much-needed cathartic outlet.
My five-point defense as to why This Is Us is the series for our time:
1. The pop-culture references: They usually come from Kevin (Justin Hartley), but the series reminds us it lives in our world because the characters watch the shows we watch. In the recent season premiere Kevin (Justin Hartley) talks about how the hospital he’s in isn’t like Seattle Grace and, in the pièce de résistance, Toby (Chris Sullivan) and Miguel (Jon Huertas) discuss how One Day at a Time is an excellent show. “You don’t cancel Rita Moreno,” Miguel says. The season premiere seems tailor-made for viewers at the center of the One Day at a Time / Grey’s Anatomy / This Is Us Venn diagram (Hi! That’s me!). But it also gives us a level of immediately familiarity with the characters and the family. They watch what we watch and love the shows we do.
2. The way the show deals with grief: Grief is a permeating emotion that may dissipate over time but always stays with you. This Is Us understands this human phenomenon at its core. The death of family patriarch Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) in a house fire (check your crockpots people!) is something that his grown children, the Big Three, continue to wrestle with. Their father died when they were seniors high school, changing the trajectory of their lives and leading Randall (Sterling K. Brown) to become the family fixer/caretaker. It led Kate (Chrissy Metz) into an unhealthy relationship, and Kevin down a path of creating a carefree persona that belied that real man underneath the facade. The series also began with Rebecca and Jack losing one of their triplets, and that loss is something the show never forgets. And two seasons ago, Kevin went to Vietnam, after which he forged a relationship with his estranged uncle Nicky (Griffin Dunne) to try to understand his father more. In many ways our losses and how we handle them make us who we are, and This Is Us understands this.
3. Randall: Easily the best character on the show, Sterling K. Brown as Randall exists on a whole other plane. Not only do Randall and his wife Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) provide the show with comic relief with their marital rat-a-tat, but Randall’s character provides the show some much-needed depth. A highlight in the fifth season premiere came when Kate attempted to talk to Randall about the civil unrest, the Black Lives Matter movement, the death of George Floyd, and all that is happening. “If I made things better for you then where does that leave me? I’m sorry but I can’t do that. That has been my pattern all my life, and honestly Kate it is exhausting. I’m exhausted,” he tells his sister. While the show is not well suited to tackle something like a global pandemic, it is particularly well poised to have Randall wrestle with his identity and how being raised in a white family has informed his life.
4. The soap opera plot twists: I’m not going to lie, these used to bug me. But now that the show is going to bring a second character back from the dead I’m kind of loving it, and just giving myself over to the whole experience. First they brought back Jack’s brother Nicky—who was not dead yet and feeling much better—and now it’s Randall’s birth mom who is still alive. Yes it’s ridiculous and preposterous, but I love it because it’s such a pure, unfettered escape. Plus as Randall’s therapist so succinctly put it, Randall’s life has been defined by the mother he never knew and the mother who lied to him for years about his birth father. There’s lots to unpack here.
5. Everyone is the star of their own story: Life is interconnected. I’m sitting here writing this article in my home office, but 50 years from now who know who will be sitting here and what will their story will be. What kind of adults will my children become? If they have children, what will they know and understand about me. What about their children’s children? These are questions This Is Us wrestles with. In last season’s finale, we spend a lot of time with Dr. Mason (Josh Hamilton), a character we’ve never met before. Finally we see him as the doctor treating Madison (Caitlin Thompson) who is pregnant with Kevin’s twins. Everyone you meet and interact with during the day has their own story to tell. Life is interconnected. Be kind.
This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).
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