Don’t get me wrong, I love superhero and sci-fi television as much as the next person. My walls are covered with Arrow and The Walking Dead memorabilia, I read comics whenever I can, and I re-watch episodes like a crazy person. Superhero and sci-fi TV is something I’ve always enjoyed, however there’s something to be said about the quieter dramas. The TV dramas that pack a punch by simply telling stories about real people, real struggles and real emotions. I’m not saying get rid of the capes and zombies, but maybe peel back the curtain and look for these more grounded dramas.
The 2016 fall TV season has been filled with several stand out pilots. From hit new comedies like The Good Place and Speechless to new sci-fi shows like Timeless and Frequency. Every pilot this season seems to be performing extremely well. With over fifteen new TV shows this fall one stands out and cuts through the crowded TV season: This Is Us.
The new NBC drama introduces us to a group of people celebrating their 36th birthdays. There’s Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), who is expecting triplets with his wife Rebecca (Mandy Moore), twins Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Kate (Chrissy Metz), who are each struggling to re-define themselves and Randall (Sterling K. Brown), who is searching for his birth father. Each storyline presents real, dynamic and refreshing characters that aren’t represented on TV right now. Jack and Rebecca struggle to be new parents, Kate deals with being overweight, Kevin is unhappy in his career as a sitcom star and Randall strives to learn why his father gave him. Created by Dan Fogelman, This Is Us is the quiet drama breaking free in a cluttered TV season.
When the trailer for This Is Us was first released at NBC Upfronts in May, it went viral. The trailer quickly racked up over 17 million Facebook views in its first three days and over 2.5 million YouTube views. A rare feat for any new pilot to achieve. The trailer struck a chord with viewers. It presented honest characters and a whole slew of familiar actors. It also showcased something far more important: relatable situations.
In the last few TV seasons, superhero and sci-fi shows have dominated. From The Flash all the way to Fear the Walking Dead, it’s hard to flip the channel without finding these types of shows. We like to escape our everyday lives, which I think is why superhero shows are so popular. We like to see a scrappy, average person take up arms and fight for something he/she believes in. It allows us to think that we can change our own lives. While these shows aren’t going away anytime soon, there’s something special in dramas about real life situations. TV shows that lack meta-humans and walkers.
Almost two years ago, TV lost what appeared to be the last great family drama: NBC’s Parenthood. The show simply followed The Braverman family. That’s it. There were no gimmicks, no time travel or world saving superheroes. It was about their real lives, whether it be moments of pure happiness or devastating hardship. In six seasons, Parenthood became a widely beloved TV shows simply because people saw themselves in the many characters. Whether you identified with Amber (Mae Whitman) and her angsty teen years or Sarah (Lauren Graham) struggling to find herself, there was a character for everyone.
They would make you cry, often more than they would make you laugh, and you grew with them. I grew up with Amber as she went from a misguided teen to an incredibly strong single mother. The Braverman’s became everyone’s surrogate family. Every Thursday night for six years you could come home to Adam (Peter Krause), Sarah, Crosby (Dax Shepard) and Julia (Erika Christensen).
So, after two years with no substantial family drama series, This Is Us swoops in to fill the void. The new show only has aired two episodes so far, but I can already tell I’ll love to watch them succeed and I’ll hate to watch them fail. I want to see Jack and Rebecca learn to be the best parents they can be, I want to watch Kate and Toby (Chris Sullivan) lose the weight together and fall in love, I can’t wait to see Kevin find a job he loves and I want Randall to grow closer to William (Ron Cephas Jones). These are the real life stories I want to experience. There’s a little piece of everyone in the characters on This Is Us and I think the relatability will carry this show far.
This Is Us may differ from Parenthood in that there’s an added “twist” factor with the timelines and storytelling structure, but it still remains a family drama. It’s smart. This Is Us knows it needs to compete with sci-fi TV shows, so it uses its story structure to compete. Often, we feel that sci-fi shows have to be way out there in order for people to like them. The best sci-fi shows are often the ones rooted in characters not story. If the characters aren’t beloved, the show will ultimately suffer. This Is Us uses the element of surprise, but doesn’t let it detract from the characters. It’s simply a tool to get characters from “A” to “B.” At its core, This Is Us is about family and no twist in the world can change that.
If you’re looking for a new drama to watch this fall, This Is Us cuts through the noise and special effects of TV and tugs at your heartstrings. Coming at just the right time, This Is Us reminds us that TV doesn’t have to solely be fantastical. Sometimes we just need a surrogate family to remind us that everyone is imperfect and family is the strongest bond we have.