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It’s not often that I choose to write about (or really even choose to watch) American television. That’s because in my opinion, the writing in American drama is often inferior and the characters not as emotionally engaging as Asian dramas. Season 2 had already started when I finally got around to watching Season 1 of This Is Us, the show that would change my opinion of American Dramas. – Don’t get me wrong. I love me some drama regardless of what country it originates from.. but I distinctively recall for example, when “Fault of Our Stars” came out, how much praise it was being given, as being the saddest movie of all time, ever, by radio and TV critics and movie-goers across our nation. I watched the film and was left feeling, mostly, nothing at all. That’s IT?! I thought to myself as I contemplated the movie for the next few hours. Sure it was “sad” – but these people (who praised the film so heavily) have clearly no idea what a “sad” movie even is. Go watch a Kdrama, and then come back and tell me “Fault of Our Stars” is still the saddest thing you’ve ever watched. When it came to American dramas, they seemed to fall into one of 2 categories, smut filled soap operas that never end (versus the concise, beginning, middle, end, 24 episode formula of most Kdrama), or into a predictable, but enjoyable, feel good romantic comedy chick flick (where a happy ending was almost guaranteed). It’s rare to find a “serious” American drama that can evoke the same empathy and sympathy and devastation and heart ache that most Kdramas can cause the audience to feel. “Fault of Our Stars” (as well as “The Notebook” and other similar films) attempt to create a sad love story, but still I’m often left feeling less emotion than I expected (although admittedly, “The Notebook” did have both myself and my best friend running to the restroom to grab tissues as we started sobbing at the ending).
Anyways, this post is not about Kdrama, nor is it about “Fault of Our Stars” or everything that American TV / Cinema does “wrong” when it comes to writing an emotionally moving film…
This post is about “This is Us”, the drama that would change my opinion of everything that American TV / Cinema does “wrong”. I remember for months seeing previews, and being like oh yeah, I want to watch that, but pushing it off on the back burner as my back log of things to watch, games to play, and things to do IRL grew longer and longer. Over the next several months, “This is Us” was often discussed in the office where I work. This increased my curiosity and desire to sit down and binge watch it.
And from the first episode, I was not disappointed. It grabs you in. It had twists and turns and unconventionality. It took place in Pittsburgh (being an hour north of there (and soon to move within minutes of the city, this made it even more relateable to me). It was not the typical white-wash American sitcom family. Here was a family of mixed races, tackling some serious dark and depressing issues. Alcoholism, Drug Addiction, Infertility, Adoption, Weight Loss, and a very dysfunctional family. A family with real problems, problems with their marriage, problems with their careers, problems with their kids, problems with their family members.
It was raw, it was personal, it was unlike anything I had ever seen on American TV.
I binged through the first two seasons over Christmas break.
And the series returns tonight 01/09/18 with new episodes.
I won’t reveal much in this review about the story thus far in the first 2 seasons. I think that part of the success of this drama is how it throws some amazing curve balls at you and completely blindsides the heck out of you, which heightens the emotional impact so much more. In fact, the first episode might be quite confusing at first. The entire series is told through jumping here and there from past and present, including different periods in the past, and different families and perspectives and characters and it gets complicated fast. Everything is connected. It’s one of those shows you can only really appreciate and enjoy by watching from the very first episode, and never skipping a single show. The more you watch, the more everything begins to make sense, and the more invested you become in continuing to watch what happens next.
Anyways I’m obviously a fan of this series. It is with love and respect for the amazing writing (and music score, and acting, and pretty much everything) that I write this review.
Title: This is Us
Length: 43 Minutes per Episode, Currently 2 Seasons with new episodes airing tonight 01/09/18.
Where to Watch: This is Us Seasons 1 and 2 are available on Hulu
Geeky: 3/5 This drama is likely to appeal more to girls than guys, due to the fact that it is not an “easy” show to watch. It’s not the type of show you come home to, put on, and mindlessly just enjoy. It requires critical thinking and piecing together the puzzle pieces from episode to episode as complexity grows each week. There are conflicts, but they are matters of the heart, struggles of human kind, and society as a whole. You will not find action and excitement here; however, Pittsburgh locals, and Steelers fans, or anyone dealing with dysfunctional family problems will relate easily to this series.
Overall: 72/80 90% A- “Excellent Drama for Girls”
Concept: 10/10 The concept of the story, the way everything is interconnected and woven together, the excellent writing, acting, music, and execution, the loveable but flawed characters, and how relatable it all is makes the concept and overview of this series easily a 10 out of 10.
Story: 8/10 – The story can be confusing if you jump in mid-season, and it can even be confusing for long time fans. There are many questions left unanswered, and to find those answers, the story skips and hops all over in piece meal fashion. One moment, the big 3 have not even been born, you’re watching their parents in their early 20s, the next moment, the big 3 are about 10 years old, then the next moment they are days old, then the next moment, the big 3 are in their 30s. This would be the only complaint I could give as to the story.
Now for what the story does right, it tells us a story about a middle class northeastern family from Pittsburgh PA. They love the Steelers, they love going out to the bars in downtown Pittsburgh, taking their kids camping in the woods, fishing, hiking, celebrating the holidays Christmas, Halloween, Birthdays, and all, and the realities that come with life in Pittsburgh, PA such as shoveling their cars out from 6 feet of snow, the attitudes regarding racism and the roles of gender etc in the workplace back in the 70s and 80s in Pittsburgh’s prime.
But this isn’t just any other American family. This family is different. A white family raising a black kid, a black kid searching for his birth parents, a community that judges the family from all angles. A family that lost a child, but gained a child. And a family raising 2 remaining white babies along side the black baby. The saying “Love Makes a Family” has never been more true than it is in this drama.
But even parents with the best intentions and pure love for each other and for their children still make mistakes. Some of those mistakes we can never recover from. Some of those mistakes will cost some members of this family their lives. And other mistakes will cause members of this family to spend the rest of their lives searching for answers.
With each surprising plot twist and turn, we learn more about this unconventional American family. What mistakes did they make, what secrets do they hide, what went wrong? And above all, the love the family has for each other, the love that exists despite all of these devastating mistakes, the love that exists even beyond death. Love, self love, self identity, sacrifice, marriage, careers, raising a family, the struggle is real. We feel their struggle, that’s why we keep watching. We want to see how they overcome the pitfalls of life that so many of us face also in our own lives.
Characters: 9/10 Dysfunctional is the word I would use to describe this family, or in fact every single character within this drama. That’s part of what makes this series work so well. It plays on our sympathies, it makes the characters raw, real and relateable. Addiction is also a central theme. Whether it’s Jack and Kev’s alcoholism, Randall’s Obsessive Compulsion and Anxiety, or Kate’s weight problems. These characters are flawed. Sometimes those flaws can be presented a bit heavy handedly and repetitively, which is the only flaw I could give to the unique cast of characters.
It’s also interesting how the characters cannot “escape the sins of their fathers”. Just as Jack resented his father, he turns out to be the same in many ways, and Kevin realizes he too is exactly like them. And even though Beca hates her mother, thinks she expects too much and is controlling, Beca turns out to have the same expectations and behaviors towards her own daughter.
In this way we are shown, no one is perfect. Parenting is not easy. It’s easy to judge what our parents do wrong. It’s easy to blame them for messing up our own lives. But in the end, we control how our future looks.
The big 3 are at different stages in their lives. Randall is married with 2 beautiful children and a loving wife. A successful career and big house. Kate is slowly climbing out of her past problems, she finds a new man, which brings new challenges, but she also finds confidence in herself and realizes her dream to pursue her career and goals despite her age and appearance. Kevin is perhaps the most flawed of the big 3. He is unable to handle relationships, unable to feel anything, he has burred his emotions for so long concerning tragic events in his past. He has messed up his career, and now has to start over from nothing. He will try desperately to cling to the past, and still not acknowledge his problems. Those problems will grow when addiction enters the picture, and just when things seem to be going well for Kevin they will all fall apart again. Similarly, Kate in season 2 is going to have a huge upswing of luck, prosperity, and achievement, only to lose it all again.
Life is full of ups and downs. It’s this roller coaster ride that keeps us watching each episode. We begin to care more and more about the Pearsons because of how raw and real and flawed the characters are.
There’s much more to it than I have revealed here. Like I said, the best part is to watch and be shocked by each new rise and fall.
Casting: 9/10 – I think the show is well cast. My only small critique, and coming at it from the angle of my blog being for young teen/young adult women, is I would have liked Kate’s love interest to have been more handsome. I feel like in American film/TV it is really common to see a fat male character with a beautiful wife, but it’s far less common to see a fat female character with a fit husband. It’s almost taboo in American society to see this combination. And as a fat girl myself in real life, dating currently a fit guy, it’s a match I would like to see depicted more on American TV. Stop perpetuating the misconceived notion that a girl is only as good as her weight. Stop perpetuating that a fat girl can only ever be worthy of being with a fat guy. This isn’t true. Slender guys, Muscular guys, all different types of guys, like fat girls too.
Yes, being fat is unhealthy, and seeing Kate’s struggles with her weight, infertility, and struggles with her pregnancy, all hit very close to home for me as well, since I also have fertility issues due to PCOS.
Anyways, you can hate on me, and call me out and say by my criticizing Kate’s love interest simply because he’s bald and fat, that I’m a hypocrite, because I’m saying then a Man is only as good as his weight – and that’s not really true. that’s not my point or what I’m trying to say, but I think many readers may view these comments as such attacks. I think the character that Kate’s husband plays is smart, funny, and genuinely sweet and a great person. Kate is lucky to have him. Kate would STILL be lucky to have him even if Kate was a size zero and he remained overweight. The scene in the coffee shop where he gets to announce their pregnancy is maybe my favorite scene in the entire series. His love and devotion for Kate is demonstrated time and time again. They are possibly “America’s Sweethearts”.
People like him are hard to find in ANY shape size color or whatever. And the actor playing him does fantastic so this isn’t about his ability as an actor either.
But in a show that CONSTANTLY pushes the envelope on touchy sensitive issues such as alcoholism, domestic abuse, drug addiction, homosexuality, racism, discrimination, etc, It seems like a missed opportunity to push another issue, by giving Kate a partner that would be unconventionally acceptable by society’s standards for a “fat girl”.
As a fat girl myself, and now recently dating a fit and active guy, I am well aware of society’s view of what is “acceptable” for a “fat girl” when it comes to dating. 9 times out of 10 when we go out, the waitress assumes it’s separate checks, even if we go there often, even if I’m cuddling, rubbing his back, flirting, or etc, obviously we are together and out on a date. I’m well aware too of the looks and stares we get when we go out. And probably of the whispers and other comments made behind our backs. And this is in part shaped by what we see on TV. Society doesn’t hold those same misconceptions for an overweight man with an attractive female.
We laugh it off, because who are they to judge us, our happiness, our relationship, our compatibility. But still, Hollywood could be doing more to break down these stereotypes and barriers. They could pair a fat girl with a hot husband. They could cast a fat girl in a main role, and NOT make it about her eating addiction and weight loss, they could, but they don’t, and This is Us is no exception to this.
What we see in the media, also shapes our realities. Hollywood should have a responsibility to do more to stop sexism, racism, and stop hate against people on their weight, religion, sexual orientation, or any other “less desirable” (as perceived by society “norms”) traits.
Randall and Kevin would both be considered hot or attractive, and what do they get, hot wives/girlfriends (although Kevin’s relationships are a hot hot mess).
And yes, Kate does have a wonderful happy loving awesome relationship. That’s wonderful, but why pair the only fat chick in the sitcom, with an equally fat guy? Also why make Kate’s who character so obsessed with her weight. Calling attention to how it’s such a huge negative thing. Meanwhile in countless other sitcoms we see fat or ugly men with smoking hot wives. Let’s reverse that stereotype just one time. I want to see a serious tv series like this, with a very overweight actress such as Kate, with a happy, healthy relationship, with a man that society would deem to be “above her station” and a character who is confident, happy, and content with her body size/shape and just owns it. Yes, we all know that being fat is not healthy, it affects your life in numerous negative ways, from fertility issues such as what Kate has, to heart disease, diabetes, and just lack of energy/stamina. We don’t need a TV show to remind us of this (because society reminds us of this every day). Instead what we NEED is a TV show to show us some kindness, some hope, some ray of light, in a world with very few “role models for fat girls”.
I am here to tell you, that even though TV will never show you that “ray of light” it exists. It’s real. There are REAL men, fit, athletic, muscular, handsome, sexy men, who love big girls. Who love and RESPECT big girls, who love you for you, for the person you are inside. Your heart, your mind, your unique wonderful qualities that make you you. As well as loving you for your curvy body. Loving, loyal, devoted to you.
Do you know what my boyfriend told me on our very first date? He told me all of the reasons why he liked me / was interested in getting to meet me / know me better. Because I’m different from other girls, because I’m real and genuine, and loving, and kind hearted. Because I’m myself, I’m not fake, I’m not shallow, I never judge others. I accept and love and support him. But also he genuinely likes and is attracted to big girls. I’ve seen photos of his exes, and they were even bigger than me. So it’s not just him saying that to please me. As unbelievable as it may be, there are fit guys who love big girls. And not only because they are big. But for all of the reasons that make them a wonderful person. Relationships shouldn’t be superficial. (so once again you might be calling me out here with my critique of Kate’s boyfriend in This is Us because he DOES treat Kate like the queen she is no matter how big he or she are.) But so could any man, regardless of his weight. Why only show fat actresses with fat men? When will hollywood realize that a woman’s value is more than her dress size. I have a wonderful relationship with a fit muscular guy and I’m a 200 lb girl. We share some things in common, but we also show each other new and interesting things, and take interest in each other’s interests. We have never spent a weekend apart ever since we first met, almost 6 months ago now.
I still think every time I go out with my boyfriend that I have the best looking guy in the room, or even in the world. And I find it unbelievable. Why? Why am I always so surprised and thankful and feel so shocked? Because of society’s norms, society’s expectations, society’s judgements. And what forms and shapes those judgements is the media. Magazines, movies, TV shows. We grow up looking to those. It’s a subconscious thing. You can deny it all you want and say you’re not superficial, but the truth is, you don’t even realize how it is shaping your judgement and notions.
Fat women often cast as sidekicks, comic relief, never taken seriously, never in a lead role, never in a “fairytale” type romance with a “prince charming”. If anything at all, paired with a man who society would equally judge and find fault with (at least their outer appearance).
I guess my bottom line is this… They could have written the character of Kate’s husband the EXACT same way, kept ALL of the scenes exactly the same, showing his silly side, his love for Kate, his willingness to let go of any pride or the lengths he would go to to publicly display his love for Kate, Kept all of that, and just cast someone better looking in the role – he still would have had the same qualities that make us love their relationship so much. While no longer perpetuating the stereotype of a fat girl not being able to have a happy relationship like this with an average or even handsome guy. Cast her with someone like Kev or Randall and then we’d REALLY have a show that pushes the envelope.
Acting: 10/10 – The show is emotionally engaging because not only of the excellent writing but the equally believable and convincing acting.
Music: 10/10 – I love the ending theme as well as many of the other tracks used throughout this drama. Many fans have asked repeatedly for Jack’s theme to be released on itunes store. As of yet it does not appear to be available for purchase. Take a listen below to Jack’s Theme.
Visuals: 8/10 – The nostalgia of the 70s 80s, and 90s are depicted through the different time skips back through the story. Although the show is a drama with no special effects or big budget visuals, the show does an excellent job of depicting life in western Pennsylvania. I would know since it is also my home.
Overall: 72/80 90% A- “Excellent Drama for Girls”
In 2006, Jenilee graduated with a BS in Emerging Technology and Design. In 2012 she obtained an MBA in Ecommerce. Jenilee currently works for a small manufacturing company designing websites, email marketing, digital advertising, and print advertising campaigns.
Connect with Jenilee on social media or visit her blog at http://geekysweetie.com