This Is Us can be considered an anomaly in today’s television landscape. Streaming services and cable networks have essentially replaced broadcast network television in popularity and acclaim, but the network family drama has proven otherwise.
Before its premiere, This Is Us was marketed as a show that followed the lives of four people who happen to share the same 36th birthday (be warned, major spoilers ahead.) It was revealed at the end of the pilot that three of the characters, Kate (Chrissy Metz), Kevin (Justin Hartley), and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) are siblings in the present day and Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) is their father in 1980 on the day they were born. Their mother Rebecca (Mandy Moore) was pregnant with triplets, giving birth to Kate and Kevin, but loses the third baby, Kyle. As Jack gazes through the newborn nursery, now sharing the same birthday with his two kids, a firefighter standing beside him points to a newborn that was abandoned at a fire station that same day. Jack and Rebecca decide to adopt Randall, completing the Pearson family.
The series follows the three siblings in present day, with flashbacks throughout each episode to show specific moments in the Pearson family’s past. Flashbacks can go all the way back to Jack and Rebecca’s childhood and the siblings as children and teenagers. Recently, flash forwards have been introduced, creating even more speculation about every character’s future.
Each sibling in the present-day deals with individual hardship. Randall is a successful businessman who tracks down his biological father William (Ron Cephas Jones), wanting to learn more about his past. Through Randall’s childhood flashbacks and present-day encounters, his racial identity is also explored. Randall, who is African American with white siblings and parents living in a predominately white area, has been subjected to racism all his life. Kevin is a television actor, unsatisfied with his career path and later suffers from alcohol and prescription drug addiction. Kate, who has struggled with her weight her entire life, is at a crossroads as she embarks on a singing career while dealing with the strenuous relationship with her mother. She later falls in love with supportive and lovable Toby (Chris Sullivan), meeting at a weight loss support group.
The overarching mystery in the first two seasons is the absence of Jack in the present day. Jack died when the siblings were 17, resulting in major trauma to them and Rebecca. Kevin never wants to discuss his father’s death, while Randall always pressures himself to help everyone like his dad would have done. Jack’s death seems to hit Kate the hardest, she always felt comforted by him when she was bullied about her weight, who blames herself for his death. Jack’s cause of death is not revealed until season two.
This is Us has struck an emotional chord with viewers. There are moments of levity and sadness in each episode, and it’s the epitome of an emotional rollercoaster. The use of flashbacks is what makes it so impactful, the viewer can understand why each family member acts the way they do. In more recent episodes, Kevin attempts to learn about his father’s time serving in the military during the Vietnam War. Through this search, the series provides flashbacks of Jack during this time, allowing for a better understanding of Jack’s approach to being a father and husband. Like the pilot, there are constant plot twists as more of the Pearson family’s past is revealed, leading viewers to speculate and eagerly anticipate the next episode.
One of my favourite aspects of the show is watching the development of Jack and Rebecca’s relationship. The first two seasons deal more with them as parents and dealing with Jack’s alcoholism later in their marriage. Now, the show is delving deeper into their first encounters, revealing how small life decisions like going to a local grocery store at a certain time can alter one’s life forever.
Currently in its third season, This Is Us is keeping broadcast television in the conversation. At the 2018 Emmy Awards, it was the only broadcast network show to be nominated for Outstanding Drama Series, competing with shows like HBO’s Game of Thrones and Netflix’s The Crown. This Is Us can warm your heart while breaking it at the same time, with its raw family dynamic on full display.