The pilot of This Is Us opens with the following statement: “This is a fact. According to Wikipedia, the average human being shares his or her birthday with over 18 million other human beings. There is no evidence that sharing the same birthday creates any type of behavioural link between those people. If there is, Wikipedia hasn’t discovered it for us yet.”
Whether this type of connection actually exists, the series shows how life is a perfect mix of sweet and sour where we all share the same crazy, hard and exciting journey. At first, this NBC ensemble series directed by David Fogelman was supposed to be a movie entitled ’36’. Shortly after, it has become the show that touched millions of people worldwide. The Guardian has compared the experience of watching an episode of This is Us to “an hour reading in a hammock with a long-cold drink.” And it absolutely does make you feel that way.
One family, many timelines
This story is simply a realistic portrayal of relationships. In that way, it may look like the recent series Normal People, but rather than focusing on just one bond, it explores different kinds of love and human intersection. The plot revolves around the everyday life of three siblings: Kate (Chrissy Metz), Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown), and their parents Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore). Nothing charged nor groundbreaking in shape, but extremely polished and light in substance. This is Us is just as effective on audiences as an ointment is for a suffering body. It has all the typical elements of the umpteenth family saga but its success stands on the edges of narration, rather than at its core.
The narrative structure, built on three temporal axes, is the real ace in the hole. Thanks to flashbacks and flash-forwards, the series shows the connections between the past and the present of the family. This peculiar structure allows the viewer to see the family’s entire history. And therefore, to empathize with the characters. We love the 36-years-old Kate, Kevin, and Randall because we can follow them playing together as children and having their outbursts and first crushes as teenagers. All at once. The simplicity of the themes is only apparent, because characters and dialogues are all-round developed. Therefore, the audience can identify with them, feel their success and cry for their losses and failures.
Shades of love and never-ending growth
This Is Us analyses love in all its shapes in order to demolish stereotypes. It shows us romantic love, the unconditional love that parents feel for their children, and self-love. But also the one between brothers and sisters and the simple affection for a stranger, all without imposing ready-made models. Each episode proves that it doesn’t matter when or with whom you experience love, but rather how ready you are to embrace it and live at your fullest.
Fogelman re-writes characters that seem to be nothing but “good” with a fresh spirit and an up-to-date approach. Jack Pearson is a caring father and devoted husband. But he is far from being perfect, as he faces ghosts from his past and deals with its consequences. He shows how hard it is to be the good guy, and that there’s always time to change and evolve. Kevin does the same with his insecurity, Kate with her eating disorder, Randall with racism, and the search for his own identity. All the characters show how, no matter the age, we can always grow and question ourselves.
Wearing the lenses of kindness to investigate reality
Even though heart-melting and sorrowful, This is Us doesn’t portray a sappy and edulcorated version of reality. It faces important and urgent themes like adoption, addiction, grief, mental illness, racism, and LGBTQ+ issues in a profound way. The context may recall other family dramas like Years and Years and Shameless, but it walks away from the dark humour and irony by replacing both with deep empathy. It shows tenderness without sacrificing complexity, but rather getting to its bottom. And even if it often hurts, that’s what we should always do to remind ourselves that – In the end – this is (just) us.
This record was written in collaboration with TV Shows contributor, Sara Erriu.