I’M ALL IN FOR EMOTIONAL MANIPULATION: THIS IS US- March 2024

By Judy Garrison

Because I don’t watch Network TV, I had no knowledge of NBC’s 6-season extraordinarily popular show launched in 2016, This is Us. Until it appeared in its entirety on Netflix, that is, where I am now in the midst of Season 4, totally absorbed and totally unwilling to dub it a guilty pleasure. The series, created and directed by Dan Fogelman, is about the Pearson family of Pittsburgh, particularly the father, Jack (Mila Ventimiglia), the mother Rebecca (Mandy Moore), twins Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Kate (Chrissy Metz), and born-the-same-day adoptee Randall (Sterling K. Brown), along with their future mates, children and friends. Sometimes we viewers are thrust into the small moments of family life, both heart-warming and off-putting. At other times issues of the wider world, such as fame, war and racial discrimination intrude. But as we follow these characters back and forth through the decades amidst many surprising events (sorry to be vague, but I’m avoiding spoilers), what is demonstrated is that the connections people share with each other can transcend time, distance and even death. One critic alluded to being “mistily manipulated,” and that will happen, but it’s not to my mind a cheaply sentimental manipulation. Yes, you’ll probably cry, but that’s not the whole point. And it’s good for you.

Because the writing is so rich and authentic, with each situation providing ever-evolving nuances on the characters’ personalities, because the acting and directing is so superb, the chemistry so great between the actors, and the main characters realistically flawed and likeable (I dare any viewer not to fall completely in love with Mandy Moore as Rebecca), each extended scene can be viewed as a little play unto itself, time jumps of vignettes feeding into the whole. The long intervals are often used for a full dramatic playlet, from conflict to resolution, something not available to movie makers, and a psychological penetration woven into the amusing banter that doesn’t happen much in sitcoms.

The emotional content of so many movies today suffers from paucity, with anger, fear and revenge predominating. Here we’ve got basically the whole panoply of human emotions, running the gamut from loss, addiction, anxiety, coping, and jealousy to love, joy and redemption, wrung out of crises (including wartime in Vietnam, alcoholism, racial discrimination, disease, weight issues, domestic abuse) that might seem melodramatic until we realize we’ve weathered some of these crises in our own lives, with our own families. And they are meaningful crises that underscore the human condition.

At 20, I was into Theater of the Absurd: Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Sartre. These days I’ll gladly embrace the richness, entertainment enjoyment and catharsis this messy and delectable drama series offers up over the edgily nihilistic. Any day. The music (Siddhartha Khosai, Cat Stevens, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell) and camera work are topnotch, too. In This is Us the most difficult and complex relationships and plot point knots find resolution. If only in real life, I wish….but, then again, maybe!~