“This is Us” (NBC show)

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I’m breaking tradition since I always put reviews of television or film on my companion blog, “Popcorn in the Dark.” However, this new show on NBC merits more than a simple review.

Maybe by the time you reach my age, one feels like you’ve witnessed almost every kind of storytelling and you desperately want something fresh. Granted, opinions are as wide and diverse as the country itself, and that’s a good thing, insuring there is entertainment for every taste. The kind of flavor each of us enjoys tends to alter with age, and sometimes I look back at shows I watched in my youth and ask myself why I found them so entertaining at the time?

My wife is guilty of introducing me to “The West Wing,” and I never in my life thought I would enjoy that show so much. The first four seasons shine over the rest as they were penned by Aaron Sorkin, who has gone on to write such brilliant works as “The Social Network, Moneyball, The Newsroom,” and the woefully underrated, “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.”

“The West Wing” has stood the test of time and is still a fabulous piece of television. The series took the twisted inner workings of The Presidency and gave it personality behind the facade we see through the media. The characters that held the various White House staff positions brought heartfelt emotion, real-life problems, drama on both a personal and professional level, and managed to do it all with just the right splash of humor. If there is one thing I love about Sorkin, it’s his ability to script witty, snappy dialogue, and this show seldom failed in that regard.

Generally, when a show is written by a staff of writers and directed by multiple talents, elements can become irregular and lose the cohesive character strands that hold them together. “This is Us,” doesn’t just break that mold, it smashes those notions with a twenty-pound sledgehammer. Click this IMDB link to see just a glimpse of the list of people responsible for creating this exceptional show and you’ll see what I mean.

The premise of the show seems simple enough but the manner in which the story is told is far from conventional. I have often told friends when recommending an intricate story, “This is not popcorn; don’t go to the bathroom, don’t play with your phone, or chat with anyone else because there isn’t a single scene that is irrelevant. “This is Us” jumps back and forth through time just as we do in our minds. Every time we recall a memory from childhood or some pivotal moment in our lives, we mentally jump back in time, and this show does exactly that with masterful direction.

The core characters are three siblings; two brothers and a sister, with one of the boys being adopted. We see the mother deliver triplets, but complications claim the life of the third child. On that same day, an orphaned infant is brought to the hospital by the fire department and the newly minted father sees this as a twist of fate. The orphaned infant is black, but the young white family adopt him as their own and we slowly see all the hurdles that new family must clear to make a life ahead.

We also see the three siblings as adults, and the very different directions their lives have taken, the clash of their personalities, and the different perspective each of them has on the family they grew up in. This vision into the past of each person and how it plays out in very real, modern-day problems gives this show a suspension of disbelief from the very first episode.

For all the well-deserved praise I will heap on this show, I must also confess it is difficult to watch because not an episode has gone by without leaving my face stained with tears. From heart touching moments of caring and compassion to the gut-wrenching pain of loss and sorrow, “This is Us” makes every episode not only an event to remember, but a glimpse of the roller-coaster of emotions life can deliver without warning.

How many of us know someone that has dealt with the trials of adoption, searching for an unknown biological parent, unexpected pregnancy, the specter of terminal disease, the misfit dilemma of being a different race, physical size, or intelligence level, and the never-ending challenges of parenting, family members, and the dizzying maze of romance.

These are just the tip of the iceberg as the show finds a way to dive deep into the soul of each of its characters. I find this show so hard to watch because it is so relate-able to many things I have experienced myself. Maybe not under the exact circumstances depicted, but close enough to find those tender places tucked into our memories. While I say it’s difficult to watch, let me be clear that even with impending tears waiting at every turn, this is a show I don’t want to miss…ever. “This is Us” is the kind of superior quality entertainment that makes every reality show ever made seem pointless and incomplete.

While it’s true I know this is scripted, acted and directed, there is a pure truth to this show that the actors deliver with such zeal that it cannot be denied. My hat is off to all the fine people who have worked so hard to bring each hour into our homes, and I applaud the obvious care with which they craft each scene. If you haven’t seen this show, you OWE it to yourself to share it with someone you love. Yes, it’s THAT good. How good? You’ll want to be a better person after watching this show, a better parent, step-parent, sister, brother, spouse, etc, because you’ll see your own flaws in their faces, and that is storytelling at its best. Don’t just watch “This is Us,” dare to open yourself up and live it right along with them.

A box of tissues is highly recommended, or even better, a shoulder to cry on.

– T. August Green

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