IT'S NOT US, IT'S ME (THIS IS US FAREWELL)
On a blistering cold winter night much like tonight, I crawled into bed feeling pained. It was a new year, the first few days of 2017, but hope had already left my heart. The previous year had been a terrible blow on all fronts. Bruised from a divorce, I also had to contend with a frenetic and toxic work environment, the consequences of a romantic grifter crushing my already vulnerable heart, a hurricane tearing apart a supposedly rejuvenating vacation, and the election of a racist and misogynist buffoon. The loneliness was unbearable. I had always liked the start of the year, a time that I usually met in the same way I met a crisp, blank page in a new journal: pure excitement and faith. But with the Trump inauguration a few weeks away and little in my life that felt healthy or supportive or even secure, I felt numb to any future. I wanted comfort, of the simplest, most basic kind. Curled up with an iPad so old it refuses to update anymore, I pressed on the Hulu app and searched for the television equivalent of hot cocoa and a big motherly hug.
I searched for Milo Ventamiglia’s bare ass.
That’s right; I wanted ass. A pretty one. I didn’t care in what context. Until that point, all I knew about This Is Us was that it had a scene where you could see Milo aka Jack Pearson aka Hot Douchebag Jess stepping out of the shower with his birthday suit on. I had no idea why there were other characters, or why Pittsburgh was a thing, or why there were zero Latinos in those opening scenes, unless Miguel was there but even when Miguel is there, everyone forgets about him. I wanted mindless. I wanted objectification. I wanted to forget my worries.
I got what I wanted and then some. This Is Us did make me feel better about my current circumstances. Everything was trash but at least I had the sense of mind to know that I still had enough personal integrity to avoid falling into the emotionally manipulative traps set forth by the writers on this pilot episode. I rolled my eyes at the BIG TRIPLET REVEAL, a twist I had predicted maybe somewhere around minute 7 because I’m not Covington Catholic racist enough to be shocked at the idea of multiracial families.
Still, I’m not above admitting that the Pearson’s sappy domestic tribulations were like drips of morphine to my addled mind. I wasn’t the only one. NBC, notorious for its low-ratings bonanza, was never going to let us forget that they had the #1 rated show in the country. I think I took to this piece of trash for one simple reason: I was tired of pathology and darkness and, to be perfectly honest, psychological depth. It was mostly what I had consumed in the past few years. Fuck it, it was all I had LIVED. Nothing makes you take a long hard look at the hundreds of ways people, society and even yourself have failed each other than a crumbling marriage, lackluster professional prospects and the whole White Supremacist takeover of our government. I wondered if the other gazillion viewers had similar reasons, even though I know a large chunk of them are the kind to think that racism can be solved by being polite and are deeply aroused by the idea of even more tax cuts. In other words, I couldn’t help but wonder (THANK YOU CARRIE BRADSHAW) if there was something in there linking us to our shared humanity.
I needed a safe space to explore all this, in a way that took me out of my own head, and Heauxs provided that. I needed the creative freedom to write about TV the way I wanted to, which is some weird mélange of cultural analysis, personal essay and recaps. I was stuck in grad school back in the heyday of Gawker and Television Without Pity, and didn’t even know pitching was a thing that people did, so this was my way of reclaiming some early 20-something dream. I don’t know if I accomplished much of anything but it seemed to resonate with several of you and for that I’m grateful.
This past year, recapping has been less fun. It could be because the show has taken an even sharper turn towards schmaltz or because it’s hard to be this invested in any pop culture phenomenon past the first year or because the sheen of Milo’s perfect buns has worn off. I like to think, though, that it’s because I’m in a better place, mentally speaking. I’m no longer numb. I no longer wish to have things wrapped up in a tidy bow. I no longer need to take comfort in cosmic coincidences that somehow lead you to discover there’s a secret Pearson sibling hiding in the woods of Pennsatucky. There is strength in accepting the mess and I’m glad I got there.
Trash is schematic and simplistic and leaves little room for subtlety. This Is Us, being trash, provided that at a time in my life when I really needed things to be black and white. Mess is different. It’s unwieldy and scary but it also allows for discovery and treasure. Now that I’m ready to accept mess in my life, I want to watch it too and This Is Us is, as Marie Kondo would say (another fan of mess, by the way), no longer sparks joy.
It’s not us, it’s me.