The New York Times likens it to nostalgic, feel-good dramas like Friday Night Lights and Once and Again. Others say it’s the next Parenthood. Whatever you call it, one thing is for sure: This Is Us, drawing over 10 million viewers for its September premiere and garnering high ratings ever since, has gripped us.
Why do we love the Tuesday-night drama so much? Short answer: #AllTheFeels.
Long answer: probably for the same reason we devour books like Shauna Niequist’s Present Over Perfect and Ann Voskamp’s 1000 Gifts—it’s feel-good entertainment, but it doesn’t sugarcoat hard truths.
This Is Us lives in the sweet spot right between emotion and logic, nostalgic and real, sentimental and sobering—decidedly rare real estate for a primetime dramedy.
The show leans in to the tension, and it works. But beyond simply entertaining us, and beyond even drawing on our emotions, This Is Us—both the show itself and our collective excitement about it—teaches us.
Here’s what we can learn from it:
Brokenness and beauty aren’t at odds.
These days, we don’t have to look far to be riveted. The media brims with stories vying for our attention: political unrest, election turmoil and enough social issues to make anyone’s head spin. They’re all worthy causes, but so often, all the fear-mongering media we consume leaves us hungry for more. Where can we go to find the goodness, beauty and truth we crave without minimizing the brokenness in and around us? Perhaps NBC on a Tuesday night.
Though This Is Us is a “feel-good” drama, its ultra-layered storyline, full of twists and turns, doesn’t dance around hard topics like family issues, adoption, race, body image and career struggles. It captures the pain of being human while simultaneously highlighting the beauty that comes from connection and authenticity, specifically in the context of family.
The tension of interracial adoption is one central theme in the show, highlighted through the relationship of brothers Kevin and Randall. On an emotionally tense phone call, Kevin asks, “I wasn’t a good brother, was I?” Randall’s response is honest, but it acknowledges pain without diminishing grace: “You’ve still got time.”
This Is Us is the best of both worlds. It’s a good story but it doesn’t leave us feeling emotionally depleted. And in this cultural climate, that’s a good thing. A really good thing.
Real life is where the magic happens.
In Acts 17:28, Paul writes, “In Him we live and move and have our being”, a reminder that God is with us in the emotional highs of the mountaintop moments, but He’s also near in the doldrums of everyday life. With our Netflix queues full of post-apocalyptic zombie flicks and reality TV drama, are we at risk of becoming desensitized to the grace to be found in the mundane?
This Is Us might be the perfect antidote. It has no shortage of dramatic milestones—spontaneous adoption after the birth of triplets, painful but necessary career changes, reunions with lost family members—but some of its most magical, tear-jerking moments are the ordinary ones. We see it when Kevin and Kate have a heart-to-heart on her bathroom floor, when Jack reminds his young son not to hide from his talents for fear of standing out and when Randall and his wife nervously wait for the results of a pregnancy test.
More than a drama, This Is Us is an invitation to be present in the everyday messes of our lives, to look for meaning in the mundane.
Pain is timeless, but so is hope.
The toggle between past and present is one of the most unique aspects of the show’s plot, and it’s not without purpose. Interestingly, as we move back and forth between the 1980s and 2016, we see many of the same problems. Racism. Marriage issues. Insecurity. Addiction.
What we also see, though, is the power of hope to illuminate even the darkest moments.
The beauty of hope is particularly evident in an interaction between Jack and a doctor, who delivers some painful news to him after the delivery of his triplets. The doctor shares he faced similar pain when he was younger, and beckons Jack to be the kind of man who makes something resembling lemonade even when handed the sourest lemons.
We may not be able to hide from pain, but as believers, we can always find redemption in it.
There’s nothing like a good cry.
Have you ever had the feeling you’re crying behind your eyes? Like, you don’t really even know what you’re sad about, but you know a good, cathartic cry is the only solution? Turn on any given scene of This Is Us, and you’re likely to find a trigger (as if Sufjan’s “Death With Dignity” as an intro song on the premiere wasn’t enough to push us off our emotional precipice).
Let’s face it: Even as Christians, the type of gritty, real life we see played out on This Is Us can wring our hearts and threaten to strip us of everything we once knew to be true. But sometimes, to find the beauty in the broken, to embrace the extraordinary in the ordinary, to search out hope in hardship, we just have to walk our way through the hard stuff. Sometimes, This Is Us teaches us, the only way out is through.