Over the last two seasons, NBC’s This is Us has become must-see TV for many a viewer, many of whom watch the show with a box of tissues handy. While the show has its content problems—and really, how many popular TV programs don’t?—it also showcases compelling, deeply emotional narratives that, for many, hit close to home. What makes the show so popular? Ashley Durand, who works in Focus on the Family’s media department, offers these timely, cogent thoughts on This is Us.
Families are messy. We all know that. But so often we put on a front, masquerading as though our homes are tidied, our children perfect, and our problems are all wrapped in nicely tied bows.
Sometimes we need to be reminded that everyone struggles.
No one has the perfect marriage. Children don’t always obey. Relationships with extended family members are sometimes strained.
I think this is why NBC’s hit show, This is Us, struck a nerve in so many American homes. It highlights domestic imperfections.
The producers have created a show that doesn’t pretend adoption is easy, a show that displays the heartache of loss and the fierceness of addiction.
A recent episode was especially painful to watch.
One of three main characters, Kevin Pearson, is a heartthrob actor who seemingly has it all—but he’s actually hit rock bottom, due to a crippling addiction to painkillers. It began several episodes ago, when an old knee injury acted up and some emotional wounds resurface. Over the course of several episodes, fans have watched as Kevin lost his girlfriend and shut himself off from family and friends because of his drug problem. Kevin’s only solace seems to be the Vicodin pills he pops just to get through the day.
When asked about the episode, Justin Hartley (who plays Kevin) told Variety magazine, “I wanted to make sure that we told a story that was honest and true, especially because this is something that people deal with a lot. It’s very dangerous. You can lose your wealth, you can lose your friends, you can lose your trust, you can lose your dignity, you can lose everything.”
Sadly, chances are good that you know a family that’s been touched by the opioid epidemic. As many as 65,000 people in the United States died from drug overdoses in 2016, with about 42,000 of those deaths caused by opioids. It’s estimated that more than 11 million Americans misused prescription opioids last year.
Addiction isn’t the only relatable story line in the show.
Kevin’s sister, Kate, struggles with guilt over her father’s death and her own sense of self-worth because of her heavy build. To make matters worse, in the last episode she discovered her recent pregnancy ended in miscarriage. The grief of “what could’ve been” hit home for America because nearly everyone knows someone who has experienced similar heartache: As many as half of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, according to WebMD.
Randall Pearson, the adopted brother of Kevin and Kate, struggles with his identity, a sense of belonging, and a need to control. He and his wife recently welcomed in a foster daughter who comes from a difficult family background. Randall struggles with how to help her, given that her pain is completely outside of his control. Randall feels that if he can’t help her, he’s failed her.
Yes, This is Us is a messy show. But in the midst of all the fears and heartache, there is an underlying beauty—the beauty of forgiveness, of grace, of working together through the pain. And I think that is what really resonates with viewers: We need our messed up, human families.
We need them because even unwittingly they teach us about Jesus. He welcomed us into His family in the midst of our mess, so He could take it upon himself and walk through life’s mountains and valleys with us. He loved us in spite of our weaknesses, addictions, and pain. And He asks us to do the same for our families.
No matter what character you relate to in This is Us, you are not alone. Others walk the same bumpy road and carry the same burdens as you, and there is One who wants to carry you through it all, and give you rest at the foot of the cross.