This Is Us

3 out of 5

Created by: Dan Fogelman

covers season 1

This is us is one of the most blithely manipulative shows that I’ve seen.  Every single character is pitched as a different form of perfect imperfect, covering almost every single general neuroses we modern humans tend to have – obsession with physicality, with success, with identity, etc. – and damn near every scene teeter totters between life affirming celebration and fate-don’t-give-a-fuck tragedy, successfully causing us to tear up whilst hugging whomever’s nearest (or for us loners, whatever nearest that’s huggable) and thanking them just for being alive.  This is affecting, Lifetime television stuff, updated through a modern lens of diversity awareness and occasionally more risqué humor.

I know, I know: Doesn’t sound like your thing.  Mine either.  But I was curious how the large ensemble setup would be handled and I like some of the actors – Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore – so I figured I’d give it the ol’ episode-or-two try.  And that damned manipulation factor: Oh, it’s there from the get-go.  But the trick is that they extended the manipulation to some other really important pieces of the puzzle: the casting and the script.  This is Us is exceedingly well cast – perfect for hitting those emotional highs and lows – with every member, major or minor, committing to their bit in events believably, and the script is so precisely balanced between schmaltz and awareness that it cam get away with its dramaturgy by distracting you with some clever dialogue or smart sidesteps just when the cliches have started to stack up too high.

None of this changes the overall tearjerker M.O., or is meant to suggest complexity, but it knows what it’s about, its actors know what its about, and all Tue gears click together to support that purpose, making for an easy to watch – but story / character invested – hour of TV.

But what is it about?, you may right ask.

A family – father, mother, their grown daughter and two sons – and the various relationships circling off of that.  There’s some slightly obnoxious dodging and weaving to set up an early twist, and a long-running thread of withheld information until season’s end, but the show doesn’t milk this, and instead goes for (contextually) organic stories about, y’know, life and love and whatever.

So grab that inanimate object closest to you, and prepare to be manipulated… and enjoy it, despite yourself, damn you.