Monica Petrucci ‘20 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
This Is Us has been making us laugh, cry, and yearn for more since it started airing just a little over a year ago. With its fully-rounded characters, beautifully directed scenes, and emotionally vulnerable plotlines, It’s become one of the highest-rated shows in years and an infamous tear-jerker.
But its success lies in more than its pulling at Americans’ heartstrings; This Is Us has become a storyteller for thousands of those who need it. The writers of the show have been bold enough to share the stories experienced by those who are often marginalized in the media: covering obesity, addiction, and racial issues, just to name a few. Illustrating and humanizing these stories in major network dramas like This Is Us has a huge effect on the public’s empathy and understanding of them.
For example, people who are overweight – woman especially – are constantly ridiculed in society and portrayed stereotypically in the media. They’re often shown as being lazy or hopeless. Kate Pearson (Chrissy Metz) portrays obesity in a refreshing way, struggling with her weight throughout her life but not letting it be her only story. She’s also a passionate singer, aspiring mother, and selfless sister. Her body image is illustrated as something very personal and complex, a result of many factors. And while it’s a constant battle, it doesn’t define her.
When a viewer is able to see the world through someone like Kate’s eyes, they have a better understanding and a deeper sense of empathy for people like Kate and their personal journeys without necessarily making closed-minded judgments.
The same goes for Jack’s (Milo Ventimiglia) and Kevin’s (Justin Hartley) characters, who struggle with substance abuse. These are characters that viewers become attached to before they have any impression of their addiction issues. Jack, a seemingly close-to-perfect husband and father, reveals his struggle with alcoholism late in the first season, complicating and humanizing him as a character. We realize that this is a disease likely inherited from his father, one that he intends to fight with all his strength. Kevin’s recent development of substance abuse in the show has an obvious biological and psychological connection to his father, demonizing the disease over the person.
The depiction of these Pearson men overcomes harsh stigma surrounding addiction. Both of those affected are good men willing and trying to rise above these mental conflicts; they’re not one-dimensional or stereotypical criminal depictions of addiction. They are fathers, husbands, brothers, and boyfriends, doing all they can to defeat this disease even when it seems like the world is against them, and viewers find themselves undoubtedly rooting for their recoveries.
Then there’s Randall (Sterling K. Brown), the adopted “Number Three” of the Pearson children, an African American growing up in a white household in the seventies. The struggles he faces to feel equal and connected to his family members are constantly tinted with racial injustice in a realistic way. Randall’s race-related struggles don’t end in the conservative days of his childhood; he continuously faces struggles of what it’s like to be black in today’s America. And while he and his upper-class family are portrayed as a diverse and modern portrayal of African Americans, the inclusion of Randall’s adopted foster child and her lower-class related family are also greatly humanized. The show doesn’t allow for a single perspective or stereotype of a certain minority; it explores the diverse range of struggles and triumphs experienced by every story.
This Is Us is taking advantage of its enormous platform and wide range of viewers, and they’re doing something important. They’re telling untold stories that most people don’t want to hear, humanizing the marginalized, and turning television drama into something that can be real, tangible, and relatable.