Why ‘This Is Us’ is the Perfect Show to Watch If You’re Feeling Lost
And it’s not just because it’s an over-sentimental comfort show
Spoilers for Season 5 — if you haven’t watched yet, turn away now!
Amidst the mellow drama, cheese, and blatant manipulative tugging of your heartstrings, there is an epic story about the passage of time being told in the cable drama, This Is Us. I use that word without hyperbole. I truly think it is on an epic scale. It spans generations and presents itself as a sprawling saga more than a just simple episodic family story — and aren’t all family stories, when you really explore the roots of them, sagas?
I’ll be the first to admit that This Is Us is my guilty pleasure. It’s not exactly the type of show people expect me to enjoy, being an avid fan of The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and Sons of Anarchy. But alas, guilty pleasure it is. Scratch that. I just plain love it. No guilt. And after binge-watching Season 5, that feeling is only reinforced. While the latest season was not without its faults (the once perfect generational casting is starting to feel uneven as the kids have aged. And the timely, important inclusion of COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement in the season premiere felt rushed and sloppy at best), I still found myself enthralled by the masterful storytelling. For the uninitiated and those who “just haven’t gotten around to it”, I would encourage you to give it a try. Its unique split timeline approach (later mirrored by the remarkably successful The Haunting of Hill House) enriches the way in which the drama unfolds for the viewer. The past is not told through foggy flashbacks (a common trope in serial dramas), rather every timeline is given equal weight to the story — so much so that its pilot episode doesn’t reveal that you are watching the same characters at different points in time until the very end. The moment this unique story structure is unveiled feels like a twist you didn’t see coming due to the show’s otherwise generic premise. This tactic is used time and again throughout the series (sometimes to redundancy) with the effect being much of the same each time. When the show began jumping forward in time, however, giving us hints as to where each character ends up (“Those two aren’t married anymore??”, “He has kids?? What??”), the experience of this non-linear storytelling reached the apex of its effectiveness.
“It’s just ‘Us’; this sloppy, wild, colorful, magical thing that has no beginning, no end.” — Kevin Pearson in ‘This Is Us’
While some reviewers might categorize this technique as a gimmick, the use of this story structure is actually heavily reinforced thematically throughout the series and, thus, carries some merit. In the show’s inaugural season, Justin Hartley’s character, Kevin, references a painting depicting a mesh of colors: “It’s just ‘Us’; this sloppy, wild, colorful, magical thing that has no beginning, no end.” Similarly, in a Season 5 episode, Mandy Moore’s Rebecca (how she hasn’t won an Emmy yet for this is beyond me) addresses her adult daughter (you heard me correctly): “When I look at you, I see all of you. I see every Kate you might still be.” So do we, the viewers. Life is experienced linearly, but it is our memories and hopes for the future that make it an entirely scattered, chaotic, and jumbled journey within that.
Why watch ‘This Is Us’ when you’re feeling a little ‘lost at sea’?
In the 5 years that This Is Us has been airing, I’ve experienced intense change and upheaval and have wound up nowhere near where I thought I would. Who hasn’t experienced a shift in what they thought they knew over the past year and a half? As an actor, I often connected with Justin Hartley’s Kevin in the show (he, too, does the whole ‘show-biz thing’).
Whenever I found myself at a loss for what was occurring in my life, rejecting change that was being thrust upon me, or unsure of what step to take forward in my career or personal life, episodes of This Is Us gave me comfort. Not just because it was like visiting familiar friends (I get that from my Sopranos mobsters too), but because the time jumps in the series actually made me hopeful for my own future. They consistently reminded me that where I was at that moment was not where I would always be… two years from now… ten years from now… thirty years from now. Change is the only constant, and recognizing the growth and transitions in your own life requires taking a step back and seeing the story as a whole — something This Is Us does beautifully. Watching a scene from ‘the future’ of the story and wondering how on earth a character will end up at that point reminds me that I have no idea of what’s awaiting me in my own journey. Similarly, seeing how the past so beautifully mirrors and informs the present in the show helps me understand how my own history has informed where I am today. If only I could witness my life as a kaleidoscope of scenes and experiences.
Perhaps it’s a silly thing to analyze. It is just another sappy show, after all. But I have frequently wondered why I feel so emotionally affected by the series beyond the very blatant attempts to make their viewers cry (cue that damn piano theme). It’s simple. The passage of time gets to me. So often, I feel stuck in my current situation and it takes a show like This Is Us to remind me that nothing is permanent — and that everyone, including me, has a complex story worth telling.
Our lives are these sloppy, wild, colorful, magical things with definable beginnings and endings — but within that, the paint is splattered everywhere; memories, hopes, dreams, regrets, pain, and joy, and the stories of those who loved us and who we go on to love overlap in one continuous saga. Embracing that cheesy truth when everything feels topsy-turvy or, in contrast, mundane and dreary, gives me a great deal of relief.