Stephen Fry, British actor and writer, said this about legendary British humorist PG Wodehouse’s writing: “You don’t analyse such sunlit perfection, you just bask in its warmth and splendour.” If the same eulogy could be applied to a TV show, it would certainly be NBC’s This is Us. But just for the heck of it, I am going to analyse this sunlit perfection all the same.
This is Us is one of the most unapologetically soppy American shows you will see. The Yankees do not usually make them so sentimental. And you know what? I absolutely love it. Centred around the Pearsons, This is Us is about this charmingly dysfunctional family. Pearsons are like any other ordinary family you may have stumbled upon, maybe not unlike your own – flawed people who while having differences but nonetheless love each other. The cultural barriers didn’t stop me in seeing a shadow of my own family in the Pearsons. Perhaps, families are pretty much the same all over the world.
Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) is a doting husband to the beautiful Rebecca (Mandy Moore). Their relationship seems like the stuff of dreams. And it is – at least until they decide to have kids. Randall Pearson (Sterling K. Brown) has a happy family with a loving wife and two adorable daughters. But he’s discontented about the fact that he was adopted, and that somebody abandoned him. He wants to find out who really brought him in this world. Kevin Pearson (Justin Hartley) is a successful actor who leads a fluffy sitcom. But he is not satisfied with that and wants to do the serious work they do in the theatre. Then there is Kate Pearson (Chrissy Metz), a woman who is obese and who wants to sort out her life. The first step is obviously losing the weight.
The narrative is non-linear, seamlessly shifting between the past and the present. The showmakers use this non-linearity to great effect. It does not only help give depth to the primary characters using flashbacks similar to what Lost did, but it also reveals surprising details. In the first episode particularly, the show fools the viewer into thinking that every plot thread exists on the same temporal plane (timeframe), and gives an endearing and beautiful surprise at the end.
My yardstick for good acting is simply that it should not feel like acting, and that is where the cast of This is Us succeeds. They make it feel like a glimpse into the dramatised lives of a bunch of real people – who are imperfect and at times infuriating but ultimately fascinating. The characters in This is Us are very relatable. Performances, including those of the secondary cast, are overall excellent.
Plotting is another thing This is Us does quite well. If the show’s pilot were a little longer, it may have served as a pretty good standalone family-friendly movie. As it is, every episode of This is Us acts as a self-contained story with a proper series of interconnected events and a denouement while advancing the larger narrative. This is quite convenient as one can watch specific episodes after a gap of time and still be fully abreast of the story without forgetting anything important. But mind you, This is Us is too addictive not to be binge-watched.
So should you watch it? In a word, yes. This is Us is for you if you are fine with a piece of entertainment that forces your sentiments out without being cloying. That makes you shed a tear, or laugh, or both at the same time. It is also for you if you are comfortable with a show that is magical without delving into the supernatural. Finally, it is for you if you appreciate a sensitively characterised and warm family drama that borders on being melodramatic but stays just short.