Is Everyone Watching This Is Us Without Me?
It says so much about This Is Us, NBC’s unexplainable hit of a show, that its Twitter icon was this:
If you’re the average American viewer, you probably think the show's success — it was the fifth-most popular show in 2016 behind three football broadcasts and The Big Bang Theory — is perfectly deserved. About 1.1 million TV watchers agree with you. "It’s so reaaaallll," they say. "It’s so beauuuuutiful," yada, yada, yada.
I, on the other hand, am the heartless minority who can’t muster up more than three tears for the show (and I think we all know which scene was responsible for those.) I'll admit I do have sore eyes by episode's end, but that’s just from rolling them so often. Let me put it plain and simple: I don’t get the hype, and so every Tuesday night, I'm alone with my Netflix queue while everyone watches the Super Bowl of weepy drama without me.
I’m not devoid of any interest in pathos shows. Friday Night Lights is one of my favorite dramas right down to the stupid murder storyline. I’m hooked on Grey’s Anatomy and was a rapt viewer of Parenthood, a show similar in tone to This Is Us. But tone is where the comparison ends. Despite its depiction of real life, Parenthood at least had an impressive sprinkling of humor — dark humor sometimes, but still humor. The Bravermans were professionals at screwing up their own lives, yet wise and funny as they guided each other back on track. And Joy Bryant and Mae Whitman’s performances were enough to offset even Bonnie Bedelia’s most emotive scenes.
By comparison, nobody seems to remember how to smile on This Is Us. Except Kevin, who is played off as the family goof. Jack tries to bring some joy into that dark, dark world, but not even his charming grin can break through the cloud of Rebecca’s discontent or Randall’s self-focus. It’s all as dreary as a Seattle summer. For who on Earth is this family a reality? Adopted and black in a white family, body-image issues, overachiever, struggling artist, codependent, dead parent, mom who hurt everyone and married Dad's friend. Whew, all they need is a narcissist and a criminal and they'll set some kind of television drama record.
I polled my Facebook friends to see if anyone felt the same. A few said they had no interest or had watched the first episode and bailed. A couple thought the show is floundering a bit with the dual timelines. The majority effused love for Us while admitting that it’s emotionally manipulative (their words, not mine). They love the performances, the filming and how real (there's that word again) it is.
Friends, that’s what the news and reality TV are for.
I do want to separate my feelings for the overall show from my thoughts about the performances. I’m irritated at the writers, not the actors. Sterling K. Brown is a funny, funny man and has been given the hardest load to shoulder with angry Randall, who can’t seem to notice his beautiful home, wife, kids and the gift of finally knowing his father. His breakdown was one of the most cathartic scenes of last season. Now put that man in therapy and let him come back fully formed.
Mandy Moore deserves better than what she’s been given with Rebecca — a woman colored in a constant shade of gloom. A wife who hasn’t been happy since day one despite being given everything she’s ever wanted by her supportive husband. Most... no, all of the characters are these two-dimensional archetypes — the goofy bachelor, the needy fat girl, the exasperated spouse.
So let’s talk for a second about Kate. I’m thrilled that the show has opened up opportunities for Chrissy Metz. She’s proof that talent has no size and writing inclusive roles can be a success. I also love that she has a love life, problematic as her boyfriend Toby may be, because that is real. What I don’t love is the way so much of her Season 1 arc revolved around her body. Let’s send the fat girl to fat camp. Let’s give the fat boyfriend a heart attack because, duh, overweight people have heart trouble. Let’s have her run to her hot mess of a brother every time he screws up his own life because fat people are super-supportive.
Body issues are a huge part of life for every overweight woman, but they still tend to orbit more pressing matters. And I'm not buying this singing thing yet. How about the fat girl works a difficult, smart job (does Kate ever go to an actual job?) complete in itself (read: unconnected to her mom's failed dreams.) Let's make her a rocket scientist with a side hustle Etsy store to burn off stress. Maybe she could pursue her craft full time and become an amazing entrepreneur who puts both her brothers to shame. Maybe she could start driving Uber and join a roller derby. I don’t know, I’m not the screenwriter. Point being, do better with this potentially great character.
I only continued to watch for Milo Ventimiglia, Ron Cephas Jones and Susan Kelechi Watson. Now that Jones is gone and Ventimiglia is on his way out (though probably not this season), I don't have much hope for This Is Us.
But that’s OK. It’s only an hour a week and I can catch up on my Hulu backlog. Just please don’t forget me when you all hang out for drinks after the show. I’ll sit quietly in the corner and let you rehash… well, on second thought, let's maybe skip the drinks. Call me when you’re ready to catch up on Meredith and the gang or ex-and-future President Selina Meyer. That's about as close to reality as I ever want my entertainment.