I make a deal with myself at the beginning of every episode of This Is Us, the new hit drama starring Mandy Moore. “Self,” I say, “you’re just going to watch this episode with an appropriate and measured series of emotional responses. You are not going to dissolve into a puddle of tears at the end.” Of course, by the time the credits roll I am sobbing into my pillow, literally inconsolable.
What is wrong with me? What is right with this show? Why won’t someone sedate me?
To be honest, I was late to the This Is Us train. I loved Mandy Moore in Saved, I loved Milo Ventimiglia in Heroes, I loved Sterling K. Brown in The People v. O.J. Simpson, but this was none of those things. I would, however, be interested in watching a mashup of all of those things.
Frankly, This Is Us didn’t fall within my normal TV-watching subject area. If I’m turning on the television, it’s because I want to watch a badass, powerful black woman boss people around. Basically, I only watch Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder and anytime Maxine Waters is on C-Span.
But something about the show drew me in. In case you’ve never seen it here are the basics:
Mandy and Milo play The Pearsons, a young couple in the late ’70s that get pregnant with triplets.
We watch them go through pregnancy and child raising in flashbacks, while also watching their adult children, Kevin, Kate and Randall, in the present.
Simple, clean, I’m already crying.
I think what’s magical about This Is Us is that it takes a fairly simple premise — people have kids, kids become adults — and piles on all of the drama. The writer’s room is literally a bottomless Mary Poppins bag of, “Girl, can you believe it?!”
It’s not even Empire-style drama (though if Mandy Moore wants to start rocking animal-print furs and getting in fights, I’m totally here for it).
The drama is both mundane and engrossing, the kind of stuff that happens in everyone’s life. It starts from the very first moments: They lose one of the triplets in delivery but are convinced by their OB/GYN to adopt a recently abandoned black child. All of a sudden, this simple family drama gets intersectional AF.
I think that’s why This Is Us gets me every week. It’s a show about well-meaning people of different races, frequently making mistakes in their desire to show others that they love them. I care about the Pearsons like I care about my own family. (No offense, own family.)
It’s classic in format but, at the same time, really progressive. And that’s refreshing.
There’s one episode where the black son, Randall, at age nine (played to precocious and sensitive perfection by Lonnie Chavis), starts getting razor bumps because his hair isn’t being cut right and the parents think it’s a rash until informed otherwise by the black mother of one of his friends. That’s not a plot point you’re going to see on NCIS.
This show is funny and awkward and true-to-life.
Plus, it sometimes features Mandy Moore made up to look like she’s in her 60s and I never pass up those kind of Back to the Future II shenanigans.
Why do people love This Is Us? It’s kind of like hanging out with your own family. Kevin, an actor, is a lovable nincompoop. Randall’s wife Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) is the sister-in-law that everyone wants. Watson is serving up some of the slyest and most hilarious expressions on television. Her side-eyes are spectacular; her knowing looks are brilliant. Dad Jack is the sort of stoic but deeply feeling “good man” that everyone loves; plus he’s frequently shirtless and I’m here for that.
This Is Us unabashedly wears its heart on the outside — bruised, a little rough for the wear, still chugging along. It doesn’t feature a badass lady lawyer yelling at the president, but there’s always hope for next season. Until then, all my Tuesday nights (and all my tears) belong to it.
Photo via NBC.