“THIS IS US?”
I know those soggy maple leaves, no longer hidden by snow, remain un-raked. I confess the wind-scattered lawn furniture has not yet been safely stored. The dusty carpet cries out for vacuuming and Black Friday pre-Christmas shopping is being ignored. I blame my daughter-in-law. After all, it was entirely her doing. During my Toronto family’s Thanksgiving visit here, Gillian casually suggested I should watch her favorite TV show “This Is Us.” Just to be polite, I foolishly agreed. A month later I actually got around to checking it out on PRIME VIDEO.
Consequently, for the past two weeks I have ignored and neglected most household duties while I binge-watched every episode of Season One. For faithful fans of this hit programme, you will immediately understand my belated obsession. For readers unfamiliar with “This Is Us” on NBC Thursday nights, let me explain my sudden and most unexpected addiction.
I am a bit of a snob when it comes to TV watching. Apart from Raptors, the Leafs and a few reality shows like Flop or Flop and Live PD, I have abandoned American network television for better quality programming on BBC, HBO, Netflix and PRIME. After all, where else could one find such gems as The Crown, Sopranos, Mad Men, Downton Abbey, The Wire or Game of Thrones?
It turns out that since 2016, another gem lay undiscovered (by me) on NBC. “This Is Us” is a family drama, reminding me of Six Feet Under and those long ago Waltons, but much grittier and far more emotionally gripping. The eight lead characters are brilliantly portrayed, so much so that I came to feel that I knew each of them as my next door neighbor. While primary actors make or break the success of a dramatic series, even the so-called bit parts and brief-time guest appearances in this production are striking. I met various interesting characters including a sweet Mrs. Peabody, a gentle and wise older obstetrician, Jack’s abusive father and William’s still-angry “cuz.”
Critics often describe a film or drama series as being driven primarily by either character or plot. With ”This Is Us” there is no need to choose; the story-line honours the actors who give it life; the plot provides the forum for these gifted performers to bring it centre stage. The result has been many Emmy and Golden Globe nominations. SPOILER ALERT!
Jack, a Viet Nam vet, and Rebecca, a wannabe singer, meet by chance, marry and are subsequently shocked and temporarily overwhelmed when, in 1980, she becomes pregnant with triplets. When the third delivery ends sadly with a stillborn baby, these two grieving white parents decide to adopt an abandoned newborn — who is African-American.
Season One follows the newly-assembled family over the subsequent years as these three little ones grow to adulthood. Using a combination of smoothly interwoven flashbacks, the story-line twists and turns as several universal themes are unveiled. Within a brief 18 episodes, where else can one encounter:
… Randall, an adopted black child’s searching for his biological father and his cultural roots
… sibling rivalry between two brothers, Randall and Kevin, which threatens to poison their fraternal bond
… Kate, a young woman and her long and desperate struggle with issues of weight and body image
… Rebecca as a wife and mother attempting to balance the conflicting choices between family responsibility and personal goals and dreams
… Grandfather William’s losing battle against cancer and a family’s coming to grips with the inevitable reality of dying and end of life.
… Kevin’s portrayal of a young man’s chronic battle against self-doubt and negative thinking
These issues, among others, are intelligently presented through a brilliant script which relentlessly tugs at the viewers’ heartstrings. Although (spoiler alert) there has been ample forewarning in the storyline, I am still barely prepared for Jack’s pending and untimely death, which lies ahead for me in season two. For anyone who is more comfortable functioning from their head rather than from their heart, “This Is Us” offers a powerful remedy. Thank you, Gillian! But before embarking on the next three seasons of catch-up binge-viewing, I had better find my leaf rake.