Family & Friends · Film & Television

On the Bright Side: New TV Show ‘This Is Us’ Artfully Reflects Reality

TV has finally decided to look at real Americans a little more realistically, and not a moment too soon.

This past September, NBC offered a new hour-long dramedy, “This Is Us,” which is the breakout hit of the new season. It reflects some of the real issues that confront average people, only slightly glamorized for TV viewing. For example, interracial adoption, intense sibling rivalry, and morbid obesity are just a few of the issues tackled in the first few episodes.

What makes this series especially unusual is that these are not “movie-of-the-week” oversimplifications — they are the central problems afflicting the main characters on the show.

The first episode introduces four story lines, which go back and forth through time, about people who initially seem to have no ties. Eventually it is revealed (small spoiler alert) that they are a family: Jack and Rebecca, who are shown bringing home a twin boy and girl from the hospital, along with an adopted black son who was left anonymously at the hospital. The couple decide to adopt him after Rebecca gives birth to triplets but one son doesn’t make it. Randall, the adopted son, joins Kevin and Kate as a trio along with their hip but upwardly mobile construction worker dad and aspiring singer mom.

Jumping easily back and forth between current day and various points along their childhood, the series does a good job of laying the groundwork for some of the long-term issues that these various family members face, both together and alone. While not quite as gritty as real life, nothing is easily resolved and tied into a bow, and, as in reality, many of the issues are ongoing. For instance, Randall’s challenge of being a black person in a mostly white environment is always present. For his brother Kevin, the over-protection and concern his parents show Randall is resented and causes bitter rivalry. Meanwhile, Kate is shown steadily gaining weight throughout her childhood until adulthood, when she is not “pleasingly plump” but life-threateningly obese.

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  • Pauline December 1, 2016 at 10:13 am

    Thanks for writing about this show. It is good to see it get attention, which it deserves. We need all the help we can get being reminded that America is not just about rich white people and skinny blonds!

    • Alex MacAaron December 1, 2016 at 3:48 pm

      Loved this overview! My daughter and I are planning to catch up “on demand” while she’s home from college over the holidays. Thanks for giving me something to look forward to!