WE ARE IN A SERIOUSLY DYSFUNCTIONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH THIS IS US
Dudes, I don’t even know how I got pulled into binge watching This Is Us. It is with deep shame that I admit to ripping through that series with a hunger best reserved for Margaret Atwood adaptations. My current theory is that I saw Milo Ventimiglia’s sweet ass peaking out from a corner on a Hulu promo and figured that was enough reason to check it out. (Side note: this is the only justifiable reason to actually ever give any NBC show a try.) Huddled under my covers, I allowed myself to be completely engulfed by the trial and tribulations of the Pearson family, comprised of triplets Kate (awful), Kevin (worse) and Randall (more on him later) and mommy Rebecca (ugh) and Jack (hello, Milo!). With every passing minute, I felt a familiar yet unsettling mix of emotions. It can only be described as part intense self-loathing, part numbness, part fuzzy-wuzzies. Somewhere between Kate going to adult fat camp and Mandy Moore playing an unconvincing 180-year-old, I was struck by a horrific realization: Watching This Is Us is comforting because it reminds me of every emotionally manipulative romance I’ve ever had in my life. You are either swept away by waves of endearment, torn to pieces by some unpredictable reveal, in a rage stroke by some unnecessary drama or horny because Milo appeared on the screen. AMERICA, WE ARE ALL IN A DYSFUNCTIONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH THIS SHOW. And now you can too, since the second season starts up this week.
Intrigued? Of course you are. Let me completely tempt you into this terror by quickly summarizing its plot. If you can even call it that. This Is Us is one of those series that likes to pretend it’s artistic because it plays with different timelines. On the one hand, we follow the adult Pearson children as they all try to figure their shit out after they turn 36. Don’t ask my why this is the age when they all decide to have a delayed quarter life crisis/early mid-life crisis; it just is. It’s best not to question the logic of this show too closely. Kevin, whose defining characteristic is to emulate a golden retriever, gets the sads because he’s making too much money as a sitcom star instead of being a serious actor. Boo-hoo. Kate, a woman I would root for if she didn’t annoy me so damn much, decides it’s time to take control of her health. Randall, the only one worth a damn, confronts the biological father who abandoned him. This sets off a chain of events that takes up most of the episodes. We also see glimpses of their lives as children and teenagers. This is where Mandy Moore and Milo come in. They play the Pearson parents and their marriage is the main focus of these flashback segments. A few episodes in, it’s revealed that Daddy Pearson died when the triplets are teens, because even my TV crushes end in tragedy. By the end of Season 1, the cause of his death was still unknown to the audience. I think we’re supposed to care about this secret, though the only mystery that keeps me watching is that of the precise date and time when we’ll see another glimpse of some Milo buttocks.
The brainwashed followers will protest that the show’s strength relies on its characters but this is objectively wrong. Most are people you would go out of your way to avoid in real life. There are a few shining stars, tiny lights in a landscape of doom, that help you pull through. Since I’m not in the business of wasting people’s time, here is a handy character list in order of Can They Please Shut Up Already to I Guess We Can Rosé All Day. Only become emotionally invested in the latter, never the former.
Rebecca/Kate/Kevin/Toby/Miguel/Kevin’s Ex-Wife/That Weird Doctor/The Angry Dude at Fat Camp
Yes, this comprises about half of the cast members. They’re all terrible. They either whine a lot or come up with pithy life lessons that could only bring solace to the underdeveloped brains of small children.
He died, so you don’t have to worry about him.
Other Women Kevin Has Banged
The fact that Kevin’s paramours are all ladies far more intelligent, accomplished and interesting than him is perhaps the most accurate depiction of romance that I’ve ever seen on any TV show. I have to give praise to where it is due.
I’m biased because I’ve spent the past 3 years dating men who look like different ethnic variations of Jack/Milo, complete with the character’s daddy issues, alcohol problem and working-class roots. I am currently figuring this out with my therapist, thanks for asking.
As the adopted black sibling in a show that had Becky as its target demographic (don’t even try to argue your way out of that one), Randall’s character could have gone so easily, so quickly and so spectacularly wrong. In the hands of the talented and ever so yummy Sterling K. Brown, he is the only Pearson that comes off as loveable, complex and nuanced. He elevates the whole train wreck with his presence. That is why he was given an Emmy.
They’re very cute.
Randall’s wife is the voice of reason, has an actual sense of humor, and doesn’t talk in aspirational quotes. I’d hang out with her.
To be fair, and also benevolent, This Is Us showcases better writing than what you expect. It still comes off as the work of an MFA graduate currently employed as a Hallmark “content creator”. Every now and then you’ll see glimpses of an edge or actual thought, but the verbal emoting done by most of the characters drowns it out. Listening to them speak is like being haunted by a loop of personal wedding vows. Written by friends who put Nicholas Sparks and Pablo Neruda on the same wavelength and therefore don’t know the difference between right and wrong. At a ceremony where they are definitely oversharing intimate details of their courtship. Where guests are betting on when they’ll break up cause, let’s face it, we all know all that gushing is covering up some major resentment. Everything is done to elicit ugly sobbing, though what we’re crying about is not easily identifiable. The cheese factor? The documentation of the bittersweet aspects of daily life? The fact that you just had a really tough day at work but you’re an adult and it seems dumb to cry about your boss being mean to you but hey Randall is seeing his bisexual drug addict biological father get spiritual redemption so I guess this is where I get some release? Yeah. It is a sign of the times that the sticky sweet existential dreck of This Is Us has actually won over the basic bitch hearts of the general populace, garnered critical attention akin to an HBO titty-fest, and become a recognizable public access show in an era when children believe Netflix to be a guaranteed human right. We are in a state of constant crisis, only one Twitter feud away from nuclear annihilation. We know not to complain about the small stuff, we tell ourselves resistance is a daily activity, we yell that we won’t back down. Goddamn it, being this tightly wound is unsustainable. This is where This Is Us comes in. In the privacy of your own home, it’s the escape valve for all your petty and selfish feelings. It’s the greatest gift it can give us. Lord knows it ain’t the actual quality.