I absolutely love This Is Us, and would recommend it to anyone, with the caveat that you must watch from the very beginning and in unbroken sequence — this is not a show you can jump into, or in and out of. It is the simple story of an American family, told over several generations. But the casting is wonderful, the writing exquisite. This is small screen storytelling (four 18-episode seasons to date) at its finest.
What This Is Us boils down to is an exploration of trauma and its effects. The accumulative, generational trauma of turning to alcohol to hide from the monster your parent became through turning to alcohol to hide from the monster their parent became. The sudden, endless trauma of the unexpected death of a loved one. The ways in which our ways of seeking to cope with one trauma sow the seeds of another. And the ways in which our collective way of life — in this case, the American Way, but anyone living anywhere in the West will be able to relate — inflict trauma on all of us. As the story unfolds, we come to recognise that trauma is not a rare exception we can hope to avoid — why me? — but common to humanity.
This could be bleak, but it really isn’t. Heart-breaking, yes, but not bleak. Why? Because, true to life, the lives unfolding before us are shot through with faithfulness, hopefulness, and love that knows no horizon — the very things that transform life into a bitter-sweet tragic comedy and great romance, instead of something meaningless and cruel.
If we are to understand the trauma we all experience, we will need a range of insights to draw on, from the psychologist to the theologian, but, to communicate truth effectively, we shall definitely need skilful, collaborative storytellers. The team behind This Is Us show us how it can be done, and I am thankful for them.