- “This is Us” is a hugely popular TV show that millions of people tune in to watch.
- But I don’t think it’s as good as it’s made out to be.
- I feel like it relies on emotional manipulation and it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.
There’s no denying it: now in its third season, “This Is Us” achieves some of the highest ratings on network television, with over 15 million viewers tuning into its final season two episode before the holiday break. But just because something’s popular, that doesn’t make it good.
“This Is Us” features some high-quality performances (kudos on the Golden Globe, Sterling K. Brown!) and plenty of addictive twists and turns, but these positives aren’t enough to convince me of the show’s excellence.
Yes, “This Is Us” is overrated, and here’s why.
It manipulates and simplifies complex themes
In thematic terms, “This Is Us” has the potential to transcend the typical patterns of network-TV dramas. The struggles of cross-racial adoption, the stigma still associated with AIDS, the challenges of life as a plus-size woman in a world that hasn’t yet displayed acceptance … these are rich issues.
If “This Is Us” really took the time to engage with the complexities and uncertainties, that would reflect a truly unprecedented approach that would be nothing short of revolutionary
But “This Is Us” isn’t interested in doing the heavy lifting required here. The most glaring example comes in the show’s treatment of Kate (Chrissy Metz). While Metz delivers a fantastic performance, the showrunners distill all of her character’s conflicts and concerns into the “Kate wants to lose weight” theme.
“This Is Us” certainly shouldn’t side-step the Kate’s weight issues entirely, but connecting every major life event (her relationship with Toby, her teenage inferiority complex, her career as Kevin’s personal assistant and ultimate search for a new professional opportunity) to her obsession over her own size strips Kate of nuance and turns her into a single-minded character interested in only one pursuit.
In 2018, audiences deserve (and should expect) multi-layered protagonists motivated by numerous factors, but “This Is Us” fails to provide that level of character development.
It relies on easy emotional manipulation
The more you watch “This Is Us,” the clearer the showrunners’ interests become. They want you to cry, and they don’t care how it happens. The show has rightfully earned a reputation as a “full box of Kleenex” program, but it does so at the expense of viable character choices.
Season one ended with the death of Randall (Sterling K. Brown)’s biological father, William, and NBC definitely created the episode expecting a deluge of viewer tears. But in order to “earn” this reaction, the showrunners fast-tracked the relationship between Randall and William, relying on a few saccharine interactions to establish a bond that couldn’t possibly exist in so brief a time-frame.
Rather than allowing the William-Randall connection time to bloom, the show cuts it off just in time for an ugly-cry-inducing death episode.
We’ve seen it all before
In spite of its flaws, “This Is Us” has one hell of a marketing team. Prior to the series premiere, NBC pushed their new show as a totally new spin on the family drama, highlighting its inclusive cast, its unorthodox timeline, and its sob-inducing plot twists.
But in spite of these characteristics, “This Is Us” isn’t the show for a modern and compelling view of the American family. Instead, what we get here is a string of “Very Special Episodes,” akin to an endless after-school special.
While some plotlines, like Randall’s relationship with William, happen at warp speed, others are dragged far past the point of effectiveness, now spanning one-and-a-half seasons (lookin’ at you, Jack’s Death Plotline).
“This Is Us” uses plot twists and cliffhangers to keep viewers tuning in week after week, but without incorporating genuine questions about who these people are and why they do the things they do. By focusing on the audience’s emotional fall-out rather than effective storytelling practices, “This Is Us” cheapens the viewing experience and, by expecting make-’em-cry vignettes to replace a powerful narrative, takes the easy way out.
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