When NBC revealed a new family drama this past fall, the attention of many Americans fell to their flat screens as they watched This Is Us unfold—and for good reason. Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia grabbed audiences with a gripping plot about a group of people who share the same birthday. The show was so successful that NBC has already scheduled a second installment to its first season, arriving Tuesday, January 10.
A talented cast and a well-written script always make for excellent television, but I believe the astounding success of This Is Us lies in its powerful themes. Here are some threads in the show you just may find as striking as I did.
This is relatable.
The characters of This Is Us mourn, rejoice, suffer, and yearn, in such a vivid and authentic way that fans can’t help but see reflections of themselves. The relatability of the series may even be rooted in the cast’s empathy for their scripted characters. As the show taps into the shared themes of humanity, it enables the actors to perform with palpable authenticity. Upon first read of the script, actress Chrissy Metz said, "This is me. My life and Kate’s life are parallel. We all have something that we’re sort of ashamed about… everybody can relate to that vein of ‘I’m not proud of this, but I want to be.’” Similarly, actor Sterling K. Brown, whose character experiences the loss of a loved one, said he related on a personal level due to the loss of his real-life father.
This is family dynamics.
Through its creative use of time and story development, the show unveils each character in light of their past experiences, bringing their current situations into full context with their personal history. The Pearson family's experiences shape each character's life in undeniable ways. Without spoiling the story, I can tell you that if you are intrigued by the dynamics of birth order, marriage, parenthood, and sibling rivalry, this show sill provide lasting fodder that's both entertaining and insightful.
This is loss.
Loss plays an important role in almost every episode of This Is Us. But what's striking is how with each loss there's an opportunity for growth; it's never the end of the story and often is the beginning of something valuable in our lives that we couldn't have anticipated.
Without giving away the compelling storyline, I can tell you that numerous elements in the plot emulate the pattern loss creates in our lives: We lose, and so often that loss is felt forever, but somehow life falls back into place, even if rarely the way we planned.
This is self-acceptance.
“I don’t think love or self-worth is necessarily taught in our society,” Metz said in a post-show discussion with fellow cast members. “It’s about how we lack or how we compare to everybody else as opposed to loving yourself as you really are.” Metz's character Kate faces body image issues, and while trying to reach the perfect look, the story leads viewers to the importance of valuing self-worth overall. In a society where we place our identities in anything from our looks to our bank accounts, our careers, our intelligence, or our possessions this lesson resonates with anyone who struggles with self-acceptance.
This is forgiveness.
Randall, a character who has suffered much betrayal in his life, is a model for how to respond to it. Patient and measured in the professional world, he brings those traits with him when facing the family members who disappointed him with forgiveness, grace, and love. Viewers witness his capacity for forgiveness salvage relationships he could have forgotten. Even if a forgiving spirit may not be something we can all identify with, but it is certainly something to contemplate and strive for in our own time.
Grounding its plot in matters of humanity that weave in and out of all our lives, This Is Us is not only gripping but also heartbreaking, joyous, and, yes, totally addicting. A show with as tight a script, creative a premise, and excellent a cast as This Is Us was bound to capture quite an audience. That it expounds upon themes so relatable, and even needed, makes it all the more powerful. Perhaps it's because this story about family, humanity, love, and pain is, in the end, really a story about us.
Photo Credit: NBC