While I usually extol the virtues of streaming, I’ve developed a renewed hope in traditional TV these days. A big part of this inspiration is due to NBC’s latest drama series, This is Us.
My biggest problem with traditional, network TV dramas was its unrealistic shows. Or more to the point, the saccharine notion that most of the life’s problems can be solved in a half hour or an hour. Most of all, I disliked that all of these shows were filled with charming, good-looking models wearing the latest fashion trends and sporting perfectly coiffed hair. (Beverly Hills 90210/Melrose Place, anyone?) This is Us breaks this network TV mold with a cast of characters who are all too real… and fragile.
An alcoholic, a vapid airhead, two overweight people, and a chronic people-pleaser comprise the main cast. These folks are supported by a cast that includes a cocaine addict, a scheming so-called best friend, a weary housewife, and some ruthless TV network execs. In short, these are real people with real problems, and the show deals with this in a rather mature way. Rather than seek to solve the world’s problems before the closing credits roll, you observe each character as they struggle with the issues that vex them.
This is Us offers an interesting story-line that takes place in two decades. As we watch the struggles of Randall, Kate, and Kevin – three siblings all born on the same day – we also watch the marriage of Jack and Rebecca, which takes place during the 1980s. It isn’t until the end of episode one that viewers realize that Jack and Rebecca are Kate and Kevin’s biological parents, and Randall’s adoptive parents. Watching the past unfold as a story line, rather than flashbacks, we get to see the forces that shaped Randall, Kate, and Kevin, both for good and for the bad.
Rather than confront social and personal problems in a heavy-handed way, This is Us merely shows us its characters’ battles. Being overweight in a body-conscious society, the challenges of inter-racial adoption, and the pitfalls of fatherhood are just three of the problems the characters face. Viewers observe the players as they try to navigate their way through life while carrying the burden of the effects these issues have upon them. The series’ seems to suggest that finding a way to carry these burdens, rather than solving them, is life’s greatest challenge.
In a TV landscape dominated by explosions, superheroes, and banal comedies, This is Us is a breath of fresh air. It gives us a cast of characters whose very flaws and struggles make them endearing. We silently root for all of them to overcome their demons in order to embrace the peace and happiness they all deserve. Since I can watch This is Us and other great shows for free, it reaffirms my decision to the cut the cord.
While Stuart Sweet and I don’t agree upon much, he was right about one thing – for weeklong entertainment, nothing beats traditional TV.