While everyone and their mother (that should be a hint, guys) loves This Is Us, after every episode I force myself to finish, I am left saying, “And?” It’s trite; it’s pretentious; and I am still waiting to cry. There are a lot of things to cry about in today’s day and age, but not this banal mess. One whole episode’s reveal revolved around getting a washing machine. In another appliance-based episode, someone dies by Crock-Pot. People are so fervent about this show, now everyone is throwing out their Crock-Pots. America — we are better than this! Aren’t we?
A tearjerker that is heavy on the jerk, cringeworthy lines, Starbucks coffeehouse music and actors chewing up the scenery doesn’t sound like must-see TV, but thousands of people are clinging to it every week. It has become the new opioid for the masses. The question is why?
This Is Us is the new jewel of a flailing NBC. It follows The Voice, a show where average Joes compete to prove they should be singing for America, not just in their shower. Of course, America doesn’t need another show that gives a voice to mediocre music — isn’t that what American Idol was for?
Perhaps that is why people are in a drooling frenzy over This Is Us. With The Voice as a lead-in, they become so accustomed to tripe on TV that this show, with its masturbatory emotional manipulation, seems like Chekov or Shakespeare.
Viewers may think This Is Us has reinvented the wheel, but this show is nothing groundbreaking. It is schmaltzy soap fare dressed up in important-show clothing. It practically skywrites every issue it intends to deal with (racism, body-shaming, addiction) and then goes at it with a sledgehammer. But at its core, it is still just a soap with twists thrown in like Days of Our Lives or General Hospital (“Who’s the father? Are they dead? Find out next week!”). Many family relationship dramas (Thirtysomething, Brothers & Sisters, Parenthood, etc.) examined the nuclear unit in a heartwarming and sometimes gut-wrenching way without relying on emotional-torture porn every week to tell the story. Those shows relied on character development instead of threatening to kill someone off every episode, cloying soapbox speeches or sappy dialogue that sounds like a Hallmark greeting card.
If these viewers are starved for entertainment, it’s not like there aren’t scores of more interesting, more deftly crafted programs out there. If you are going to commit to an hour or a season, why not go for quality?
Westworld explores the theme of artificial intelligence vs. human nature. The Americans probes the double life of Russian spies among us.
The Leftovers is a gut-wrenching Hieronymus Bosch-styled look at what happens when half the planet disappears after the rapture.
Homeland keeps you on your toes with one mentally ill woman’s race to stop terrorist attacks.
House of Cards is a taut and tense political chess match in the White House. The Crown shows a softer side of the queen.
Outlander is a time-bending Scottish romance.
Bloodline is a slow-burn thriller about a well-to-do Florida family that covers up the death of their black sheep son.
The Handmaid’s Tale shows the horror of a dystopian future.
Ozark blends family drama with a money-laundering mob thriller.
All of these shows have dramatic moments that could produce a tear or two and have believable dynamic characters — even the robots of Westworld seem more believably emotive than the melodramatic hand-wringing of the Pearson clan.
I get it. Life can be hard. Sometimes you want to let it all out. If you still find the need for a meltdown fix, turn on Rachel Maddow. I guarantee it will have you crying in a matter of minutes. If you are looking for a little cheese, then tune into This Is Us. Or better yet, make yourself giant bowl of Velveeta queso. It’s better for you.