The strength of 'This Is Us'

Galen Eye Centre

Stepping away from stereotypes

Credit: 
Screenshot from YouTube

Family dramas that feature the complicated lives of several lead characters is nothing new – just look at Parenthood, Six Feet Under or even Gilmore Girls. What makes NBC series This Is Us different is the fact that it’s one of the first TV shows to address issues like obesity, adoption and the negative effects of fame head on.

This Is Us premiered for its first season last September and has a much-anticipated season two premiering on September 26. It was so well-received that it was renewed for two more seasons after only one episode had aired.

With so many shows on TV, what about This Is Us makes it so popular and loved amongst its viewers?

For those who haven’t seen the first season, without giving away too many spoilers, the show revolves around the life of the Pearson family – a mother, father and three children (two of whom are twins and one who was adopted and born on the same day). The show jumps around in time and shows the development of each character throughout their life span – introducing their individual successes and struggles.

What This Is Us brings its viewers in the form of the Pearson family is diversity – on all fronts, and not in the traditional sense.

The first season follows the lives of the three siblings, Kate, Randall and Kevin, as they face different trials and tribulations. Kate is overweight and struggling in a new relationship with levels of adoration she’s never experienced before. Kevin realizes his life needs more meaning than solely being the “hot actor,” and moves to New York to pursue serious theatre. Randall reunites with his birth father and reflects on how being adopted and African-American impacted his childhood.

Showing characters who don’t fit into their stereotypical mold is where the strength of the show comes in.

Kate’s character is one of the first in mainstream media to present an overweight woman without focusing solely on that aspect of her. Sure, Kate does struggle with her obesity and attends support meetings, but the main focus of the character remains on her new relationship and navigating the trauma she endured after her father’s death.

Kevin’s character of a white, attractive, male actor is possibly the most stereotypical of the three Pearson siblings. Kevin shows serious depth in his frustration with being solely known as the attractive sibling and desire to be taken more seriously. Kevin also struggles with issues from past relationships and taking on a career that's so outside of his comfort zone.

Randall’s storyline is potentially the most in-depth and unique in the show. Randall is successful, has a great marriage and relationship with his children, but constantly deals with the baggage he acquired of being abandoned by his birth father and being singled out for his race throughout his childhood. This is a whole added layer to the normal family drama that we usually see in TV shows.

In a world where there are so many new TV series constantly coming out, This Is Us thrives because it doesn’t fit into any categorical norms – it gives people the opportunity to feel justified in their own personal struggles, regardless of how the world might view them.

The closest show I can compare it to in terms of theme is Parenthood. Even though Parenthood is one of my favorite TV shows, it works well to show how far ahead This Is Us is in comparison in terms of its acceptance of diversity and different minorities.

Parenthood has an all-white cast, with the exception of one African-American second-tier character. All the struggles the family goes through, while justified, don’t show the multi-facetedness that is typically present in most people’s lives.

This Is Us is such an important show because it embraces the fact that everyone has their own truth and struggle regardless of how the rest of the world may perceive them. In a world where everything is often categorized into black-and-white boxes of racism, sexism, ableism and more, this show is a much-needed breath of fresh air that represents the intersectionality of what someone can go through, despite how they are seen in the world.

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