Jack, Rebecca, Kate, Kevin and Randall visit living rooms all across America on Tuesday evenings and the nation is in love with them. The hit series This Is Us tells the story of complex familial relationships through flashbacks and the present. The show provides us with a look at the dynamics of an unusual family that manages to seem so real and so much like us. It has stolen the hearts of fans and critics alike. After each new episode Facebook and Twitter fill with commentaries from devotees whose emotions have been aroused once again by the sheer humanity of the writing and the acting of the ensemble cast, but there is more to the This Is Us phenomenon than talent. There is something so relatable about the characters and stories that it reaches deep into our psyche’s and pulls out thoughts and feelings we have experienced in our own lives. It is so very real.
The series begins with Jack and Rebecca, a young couple very much in love but struggling with the fears that are part and parcel of married life, a lack of ample funds, worry about differing beliefs and the surprise of becoming the parents of triplets. Almost immediately there are kinks in their best laid plans that both strain and bless their lives. Their family’s journey into the present day is littered with the ups and downs that we all experience. Sometimes they seem to hit home runs with their wisdom and at other times they fall far short, creating damaging secrets and hurts that affect everyone.
Kate, Kevin and Randall are the children. There is a brilliant twist in their story that I will not reveal lest I be a spoiler for those who have not yet tuned in to this acclaimed show. Kate struggles with her weight and more importantly, her confidence. She has fought the temptations of eating from her childhood, a difficulty made even more intense because her mother seems to her to be a perfect and exceedingly beautiful woman. Kate is giving and loving and never appears able to put her own needs before those of her brothers and even her boyfriend. She lives to please but finds herself continuously unhappy and confused about what her true role in life should be. She has her own beauty and talents but has subjugated them for so long that she doesn’t even appear to know that they exist.
Kevin is handsome and seemingly full of himself. When we first meet him he is an actor in a successful television series that is nonetheless ridiculously silly. He longs to be more than a shallow caricature and seeks a more serious part, quitting his steady job in a fit of pique. In spite of all of his attributes he is as unsure of himself as Kate. There is an emptiness in his soul that he doesn’t know how to fill. He relies on his family, particularly Kate, for the reassurances that he seeks.
Randall is the odd man out. He is far different from his siblings, highly successful and brilliant. He is the only one who has a family of his own with a gorgeous wife and two adorable daughters. Still, he too longs to know himself better and in his quest for his identity he discovers long buried secrets that test his relationships with the other members of his family.
This Is Us charts the dangerous waters of real life. It holds up a mirror to the human experience in which we see our own reflections juxtaposed with those of the very believable and lovable characters. They are us with their sibling rivalries, bad choices, and deep devotion to one another. We laugh and cry with them each week because we understand both their pain and their triumphs, for we have walked in their shoes both as children and as parents. We understand what it is to muck up situations when our intentions are so good. We have felt the same slights and unwanted jealousies in our own relationships. We all seek the best of ourselves but too often fall short of expectations. Our lives are wrought with failures and victories. We pick ourselves up from defeat over and over again and keep trying because that is who we are and how we are made. We feel the pain and the joy of Jack, Rebecca, Kate, Kevin and Randall in the most gut wrenching ways. We root for them as though they are real. That is how good the writing and the acting on this show is.
Even with the hundreds of channels and thousands of twenty four hour choices that we have for our watching pleasure in today’s media driven world television is still mostly a vast wasteland. This Is Us is one of those rare jewels that becomes an instant hit from the first moment that we meet the incredible and believable characters. It is a grownup version of The Wonder Years in which the angst of childhood has matured into the difficulties of being an adult. Human imperfections and resolutions drive a narrative that comes to life in the hands of incredible actors like Sterling K. Brown, Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore. Each week the ensemble cast provides us with a tour de force of raw emotion and laughter that we discuss over the water cooler and dining table until the next installment as though we are speaking about our own families.
At times I feel like Rebecca, a mom doing her best to provide her children with the finest possible upbringing but being equally unsure that I have done things properly. At other times I am Kate walking in the shadow of a mother who seemed to be perfection itself and two brothers who never really understood what it has been like to be a woman competing for attention with men. I have known Kevin’s frustrations and the sense that I might do better things with my life than I have already done. I have known the same feelings of being an outsider that stalk Randall. Mostly I have been totally and unapologetically in love with my family just as these characters are with each other. I know that at the end of the day no matter what has happened my brothers will be there for me and I for them. Together we share a bond built on a lifetime of adventures. It is who we are.
If you haven’t yet begun to watch This Is Us I highly recommend that you do so when it returns for the winter season. Previous episodes are now available for catching up with the story. Start from the beginning to better understand why they are who they are. You won’t regret letting this lovable family into your heart. Be sure to bring some tissue with you because the tears will surely flow as you tag along with them and recall your own family memories. Their story belongs to all of us.