I am going to talk about a show that I have been watching for quite a while. I watch the show with my mom and my grandma also watches it. If you’re reading this: hi Mom! I’m going to review this show that has been a part of my life for nearly six years.
So what is This is Us about? Well, I wouldn’t say this story has a beginning exactly, but to sum it up would be to sum up the whole of human history, and to ask the meaning of time itself. That sounds like a lot, so I’ll narrow the scope a bit. To sum it up, every episode of This is Us is part of an ongoing story of the Pearson family, and when we think of how we talk about our families and our family stories it is difficult to find a true beginning. I could begin like this: Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) saw Rebecca Malone (Mandy Moore) when she was singing at a local bar and he realized that he had to get to know her. After a while, he asks her out on a date to the amusement park. This all sounds great, but he is also nearly broke and the date goes horribly.
Or it could begin when a young, widowed father leaves his son at the fire station because he doesn’t know what else to do. A white couple, who just lost their newborn son, one of triplets, decide to adopt the boy.
This is Us is a mixture of flashbacks and memories and blasts from the past. Their timeline matches up with real time, starting in 2016, and begins when the Pearson triplets turn thirty. The Pearson family story spans multiple generations from Jack’s childhood to the adulthood of the triplets’ children and–presumably–the death of Rebecca Pearson.
Each episode contains has 1-2 flashbacks and a few storylines that take place in the present. There are a few episodes that focus mostly on the backstory of a certain person connected to the Pearson family. I say connected because spouses, friends, and often strangers get a story of their own. Usually, the strangers’ arcs last an episode, unless they turn out to be connected to someone in the family. For example, we see the man who delivered the triplets several times throughout the series. Life is in interconnected web in this show, and every person’s life is a unique story with happiness and tragedy.
To sum it up, This is Us is a story about multiple generations navigating life. We see them at the grocery store, making dinner, tucking their kids to bed. All the scenes are rather significant moments in the Pearsons’ lives for one reason or another. Both small and big moments are significant and make a difference. Whether or not everyone there remembers the experience, it has shaped them into the person that they are today. Experiences makes up the fabric of the world around them and connect the family together. The family is so close, and often has so many difficulties, because they have been through so much together. We see each of the Pearson triplets navigating adulthood differently. But it isn’t easy for any of them. The family bonds are a huge part of this show. Each relationship is unique and complicated in its own way. We see Jack spending time with Kate as a kid and we learn more about the both of them. Life felt like smooth sailing with them, Kate and Rebecca are another story.
Overall, memory in the show is a good thing, but there is some unreliable narration. Memories are often flawed because of a character’s failure to consider the perspective of another. Failure to communicate or understand another’s perspective is a major source of conflict within the show. Many times, seemingly good intentions rot. Randall is a good example of a man with the best intentions.
Randall Pearson (Sterling K. Brown)
Randall was adopted by Jack and Rebecca Pearson when his biological father left him at the fire station. He never got to know his birth father as a child, so much of his life has been wondering “what if.” Randall also often felt like an outsider as a Black man in a white family and community. The Pearsons were loving parents, but they were obviously flawed. Randall is the golden child, we learn he works as a weather commodities trader, and does well. He is marries Beth and they have wonderful daughters. He is a perfectionist and struggles with anxiety. His anxiety is realistically depicted on the show, and was formed during his childhood. Randall also has a bit of a savior complex. He is a incredibly compassionate and kind person, but the harsh reality of life sometimes doesn’t mesh with his desire to do good.
Kate (Chrissy Metz)
Kate feels like a middle child. She hasn’t succeeded financially like her brothers and she wants to be a singer. She is talented, but she feels like she is in her mother’s shadow. Her father’s death was the hardest on her, and she struggles with body image, eating habits, and self-esteem.
Kevin (Justin Hartley)
Kevin is the popular older brother. He played football in high school, but was unable to continue in college because he sprained his ankle. He married his high school sweetheart, but that didn’t quite work out. He becomes an actor, but life isn’t perfect for him. Kevin also has issues with self-worth, is an alcoholic, and falls into unhealthy cycles.
They all can be selfish, refuse to listen to each other, and just plain annoying sometimes. The triplets are also funny, caring, and love each other deep down. I love how the This is Us writers are not afraid to make their cast flawed. We also learn that everyone acts the way they do based on past experience. For example, since Kevin felt like his parents favored his siblings growing up, so he became an actor to receive validation and praise.
This is Us also shows that family life–even in the closest families–is not perfect. Not even Jack, the triplets’ perfect father, is without flaws. He and Rebecca get into huge fights, but they stick through. No one fights quite the same way either. Each relationship is unique and comes with its own challenges. but we, usually, understand where everyone is coming form. Seeing the family fight with each other can be heartbreaking, but it also feels real. There is enough backstory to explain every hurt, and the plotlines rarely feel contrived.
I’m going to talk here about a few points that stuck out to me that make This Is Us a wonderful story. I have three things I love. Spoilers below!
1. This is Us Rejects self-actualization and the happily ever after
Characters in This Is Us get their dream jobs, marry the love of their lives, and settle down, but they are never 100% happy and life doesn’t stop changing from there. There are times when families fight and forgive each other and reunite. People die, they lie to each other. No one ever becomes amazing at fixing all their deep-seated flaws. Randall still wants to help the man who robbed him, and maintains his idealism. Kate is figuring out her career and finds a job she likes, but her and Toby are struggling to communicate again. Kevin still isn’t sure what he thinks of himself or what he wants in life.
2. Beautiful Cinematography <eets Excellent Storytelling
The cinematography is gorgeous. One of my favorite episodes is about Randall’s birth mother, Laurel. We see Randall in the lake and it just feels refreshing. The stories also connect so well. Sometimes I wonder why they included a random stranger, but they always tie their story back to the major themes of the episode. The episodes also make you feel warm. The writing, dialogue, and pacing just feels right.
3. Honest look at the Experience of Black Americans
This Is Us has an interesting premise. The show hired 3 Black writers and Sterling talks to the creators about how he wants his character to be portrayed. Randall grew up raised by white parents, and his life experience was different than his siblings. The show has 3 Black writers (out of 10) and Sterling K. Brown often consults the writers about his character. The experiences of Randall’s family and his adopted daughter also are a major part of the show.
This Is Us is full of great love stories, marriages, and babies. Romance in This is Us is generally really well done. Jack and Rebecca and Randall and Beth are two of my favorite love stories on the show. Relationships, all kinds, are hard. They all enconter different challenges based over the years, and after hurdles are jumped over (for instance, Rebecca’s father doesn’t like Jack) more challenges come. There is no happily ever after, there are good times and bad times. Romantic love is portrayed as a wonderful and beautiful experience. We see the couples at their best, at their worst, and we want them to stay together because of all they’ve conquered together.
Randall and Beth are my favorite couple on the show. Both are ambitious and intelligent, and they balance each other out. Beth is calm while Randall deals with anxiety. Beth can be too strict sometimes, and Randall is very altruistic. They are hilarious, dorky, and just love each other so much years after marriage, and I love them. They feel realisticly married. Jack and Rebecca have a great love story too.
Out of the other characters, their stories are good too. My third favorite couple is probably Kate and Toby, but it seems like they get divorced and Kate marries her music teacher. He is kinda mean to her, so I’m not sure if if it’ll be an enemies to lovers type thing or he’ll just be a character we love to hate. I don’t mind enemies to lovers if it is done well, but I’m not sure if it will be with the limited time the show has left.
I’ve come to care for all the Pearson family and I want them the be happy. Even if their endings aren’t perfect, I have just become so attatched. Kate was in an abusive relationship in the past, after her father died, so she could enter one again. I can see her falling into a bad cycle, but I hope it doesn’t happen to her. The fact that they divorce makes me sad, especially since I love Toby, but it is realistic. Whenever shows end with a bunch of happy married couples, it feels to simplistic, like everyone is paired off.
So, that brings us to Kevin. Kevin has had a complicated relationship with love. He married his high school sweetheart, Sophie, but they got a divorce soon after. His marriage to Sophie seemed impulsive, a desire for security in the midst of the unknown. His father died, and Kevin wanted one person to be in his life forever. That I get.
I also noticed that the show refuses to make love a solution to someone’s problems or a clutch. Characters rarely fall in love with the idea of a person and then magically have everything work out.
That brings me to singleness. Kevin is most enjoyable as a character when he is with the people he loves like family, rather than romantically. The relationship between Kevin and Randall, Kevin and Kate, and Kevin and Randall’s daughters are more compelling and sweet than his romantic relationships. As to Madison, I’m not sure how I feel about them as a couple. Another love story could be nice, but it could also be nice to see Kevin happily single and happily co-parenting with Madison.
I can see this happening. After all, the show notes and uses other lifestyle options adoption and IVF and Zoe–who didn’t want kids– why not include parents who aren’t romantically involved?
Especially after we learn that Edie and Nicky fall in love, is there really room for another love story? And does Kevin need a partner to be happy– of course not.
As much as I love the couples in this show, This is Us clearly shows that other forms of love, between parent and child, between friends, and between sibilings is just as beautiful. The show can take this point a step further, not everyone needs to end up in a romance to be happy. It would be nice to see Kevin, Kate, or someone else end up single and enjoy a single lifestyle. Even if they are romantic, romance does not have to be their story. There are plenty of them that aren’t told.
It is worth noting that This is Us includes not just heterosexual, but LGBT characters as well. Romance between men and women dominates the Pearson family story, but it is not the entire story. The triplets see Jack and Rebecca as part of a great love story and they expect their children to fall into the same. Randall is a bit shocked when he hears that his birth father William, is bisexual and had a long-term boyfriend named Jessie. His teenage daughter, Tess, later comes out to her family as gay and she starts dating non-binary classmate. This is Us mostly shows sexuality as a part of life, which felt refreshing.
I also like how the show really rejects the happily ever after and shows the intense beauty and pain of life. I feel uplifted when I watch the show. The relationship between the family is honest, caring, and just plain heartwarming, but they aren’t living in a perfect world. Like, the Pearsons have been though hell after their father died. The kids were only eighteen. His death impacted them all years in the future, and they are all grappling with tragedy to this day.
We see death not as an end, but a part of a circle of life. Just because we die does not mean we are forgotten. It is no wonder that Rebecca appears to be dying in the finale and we see her memory fading. But her family will remember her, and they will tell her stories to their children as they create their own. I’m including the scene because it sums up the show pretty well. Kevin shows Tess and Annie a picture:
“What is we’re all in the painting everywhere. What if we’re in the painting before we’re born. What if we’re in it after we die. And what if these colors we keep adding on top of each other until they’re not colors anymore? Wer’re just one thing. One painting.”
“And this wild, sloppy, magical thing, this right here. I think it’s us.”
This is Us shows our lives, our memories, or relationships as part of an interconnected web. The show doesn’t answer any or ask questions about what happens to the person after death. But it doesn’t feel sad to lose someone and no longer see them. Still, we realize death doesn’t define us. In life we part of something greater than ourselves, a history and we lose ourselves in the painting. Kevin notes this. The view of history in the show isn’t quite linear, it doesn’t necessarily achieve perfection or fall apart…it just is. It is not quite a circle either. New experiences and choices change the painting. The triplets children, for example, have not followed the paths of their parents completely. But they don’t have to. All of our experiences are wonderful and unique, but they come together in a great painting. The who picture and image reminds me of the cosmos. Take a look at the stars and how large they are and you realize that we’re part of a greater world and story than ourselves. But our story is there, it doesn’t go away like some stars.
Kevin realizes he has to talk about death in his painting. He initially apologizes, but then realizes as he tells the story that death is part of life. But dying doesn’t mean we’re gone and we disappear. The people we lose are still part of the painting. No matter what we do, no matter what lives we live or where we come from, we are all part of it.
When I listened to Kevin’s speech, I felt wonder and awe. The painting also feels full of unknowns, and there is no pressure to figure it all out. We are all interconnected, through the fact that we exist. Life can be messy, and sad and imperfect, but the connections we have with others, family, friends, and people we’ve never met or will never remember are still present in this web. The picture isn’t one one person can make and it is a web that just can’t be untangled, In this painting, we are more than just ourselves. The past, present, and future, mistakes and errors make the painting, rather than ruin it. But we can choose to care about the people around us, because doing that makes those beautiful pictures. From grandparents to grandchildren, we are all part of this together and that is what makes life so wonderful.
Have you seen This Is Us? I can’t wait for the finale. How do you feel about the show ending? Let me know down in the comments below!