Why “This is Us” is Sweeping the Nation


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.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Phil Goodson 10 days ago

@Sandi & @bobed,

Loving imperfect people is not condoning their behavior. If our goal is to be separatists, we should all join nunneries and monasteries. But that's not the goal. The goal is to make disciples as we live our lives among the nations. The goal is to be all things to all people in order that we may win some to the kingdom.

Who did Jesus spend most of his time with? People who had not compromised? People who had it all together? People whose lives were perfectly aligned with Levitical Law? No. He hung out with party people. He hung out with prostitutes. He hung out with those who compromised their religious beliefs to make money with the powers of the day (tax collectors). Did he condone their behavior, or join in it? No. He showed them love and a better way. How can we show people a better way when we start off by rejecting them and separating ourselves as "better than" them? We are not better than them. We are sinners, rotten to the core. If you believe otherwise, read 1 John. The more I walk with God, the more I realize the depth of my sin, even if I can fool others with my "pious" life.

Jesus was even condemned for being a compromiser "who is this who eats with sinners and tax collectors?" "He is a drunkard and a glutton." "We KNOW who our father is..."

The people for whom Jesus had the harshest of words were those who looked at others and said "I sure am glad I'm better than they are! God knows, I would NEVER act like that!"

bobed 10 days ago
If a friend of yours was binging on alcohol every day and harming themselves, it would not be "love" to stay quiet and accepting. We must ALWAYS temper love with truth. Otherwise, it is false love. 

Has This Is Us kindly and patiently condemned its gay character's behavior? No. It has not. Therefore, it is not "love" that the show displays. It is only ignorance.
Tony Collins 3 days ago
Wow bobed........ ouch.

I am amazed and actually Quite disheartened by your (to use your word) “ignorant”response . 

You ask, has This is Us condemned it’s  gay character’s behavior?”...
Really bobed? CONDEMN?

Do you remember in Scripture where Jesus comes upon the humiliated woman who had just been caught in adultery? 

If you don’t remember,
a refresher:

First, the male accusers tell Jesus that they have found this sinner, “caught in the VERY act of  adultery” —(I’ve always found this part so very interesting, as you cannot commit adultery without another party—-where was he?)  I digress....

The stone holding accusers, then ask Jesus  what he is going to do about it.  

Obviously knowing at that time in history that the consequence of adultery could potential he be death...Jesus responds by bending down in writing something (unknown) in the dust...
 After a bit of time, He tstands up and says to the potentially condemning executioners:  
whoever of you has no sin in their life, go ahead and cast the first stone ( at this sinners head, until she is dead)

... and one by one, beginning with the older fellas, each drops their stones to the ground and goes home— 

Then he asked the woman, has no one condemned you?

No one, she responds.

Then neither do I condemn you.
Go and sin no more.

Hey bobed.... NO ONE CAN CONDEMN, except the sinless One... 
and that ain’t me— nor is it YOU, my brother—

You make a statement that NOT CONDEMNING the Gay Character in the show, Is NOT love—-

So I will ask you, 
Would condemning- 
(To sentence to a particular punishment, especially death)
a homosexual or a promiscuous heterosexual or an alcoholic or a drug addict or a  judgmental, self righteous, arrogant church attender be this LOVE you speak of?

Let me give you the short answer, NOPE-

..... I completely Agreewith your statement that love involves truth. But that truth you speak of musty involve care, relationship and timing—  not to mention the magical movement of the Holy Spirit.
bobed, to simply condemn a brother or a friend, who is not living up to God standard goes completely against Jesus’ intention— Which is to build relationship and point people to the Father.

 Condemnation of a sinner, by another (yes forgiven) sinner,  does anything but point to our forgiving Father—

 I encourage you to check your Theology... because, based on your knee jerk Christendom response,

.......  you’re way off.

Lynne Veenstra 9 days ago
Love this!
Sheri Gallagher 10 days ago
As followers of Christ, we cannot just decide to ignore what is going on. We must love everyone, even the ones we don't agree with.....we have to think outside the box of how our actions affect others, that includes trying to stay away from mainstream society...when we seclude ourselves, we are missing the very people we need to tell about the love of Jesus Christ....we have to live it 24/7 not just talk about it.
Sandi Beal 10 days ago
Compromise, always the new PC stance even with christians , the chubby couple  not married , the drug user and alcoholic , the gay grandpa , one married couple . I understand that the media and the entertainment industry are all liberal and have no moral compass seems like a lot of christians are filling their minds with this compromise and not giving it a second thought . I have chosen to not watch a lot of TV , the agenda's of wrong is right is overwhelming , and blatant . I am saddened that many younger people  and even our leaders at the church I attend find it entertaining . I think of it as a tool used by satan to  keep the progression of his battle going , compromise  and see sin as not so bad and even ok . Slippery and hard to stand up against .
bobed 10 days ago
Agreed! You say what other people are afraid to even think.
Matthew Marilyn Lynch 11 days ago
This is a great show. You did fail to mention alcoholism along with pain killers. Alcohol is the most abused drug because it’s legal. So many people struggle with this. It would help to bring awareness to that as well.
bobed 11 days ago
Many people don't seem to realize or understand what is happening. "Oh, that character only appeared for 5 minutes, it wasn't shoved in our faces." You don't understand. They WANT you to become used to the gay lifestyle in small doses, and then in gradually larger and larger ones, like a frog boiled in a pot, until you don't notice it at all. And you let them.
Rhoda Cormier 12 days ago
Personally, I keep meaning to watch this show because of the good reviews I've heard about (from both Christians and non Christians alike...) As long as there's not tons of nudity or any private parts showing, constant barrage of language, or gross inappropriate humor,  I  would definitely give it a try. I haven't heard about any gay affirming side plots though I could be wrong (which is why I read plugged in cause they're usually good about letting people know about stuff like that.) Personally, I think so far this show sounds a heck alot better then what most cable tv has to offer nowadays. And although I don't like seeing sexual stuff- if it's between, for example, a man and his wife- ie a married couple- it's alot more understandable. At least it's not some one night stand/adulterous affair/ or weird messed up gross out comedy gag. Guaranteed, I don't want to see people of any kind on tv in actual sexual act, but considering most married couples I'm assuming have sex on a fairly good basis (if they don't have sex well then that couple has problems...) It's not totally non-Christian like to assume that a husband might want to surprise his wife- just saying..And as a Christian myself, I can safely say even God expects married people to still engage in sex and maybe surprise each other from time to time. Anyways, just thought I'd throw that out there...
Ginny Jones 12 days ago
The grandfather was gay, but it really wasn't a huge story line and wasn't thrown in our faces. It is one of my favorite series, at first I was put off by having the gay grandfather, but how they did it was okay, there are these type of situations, so it's just showing realities. You won't be disappointed in the show. 
bobed 12 days ago
If it happened on the show, hate to tell you, but it was thrown in your face. You are just less adept at detecting it because you have likely built up a tolerance due to media indoctrination. This is what shows like TIU and Modern Family are trying, and succeeding, to do.
Holli Solenberger 12 days ago
I used to watch this show, but felt it was not something I could watch comfortably around my 7 year old, and contained subject matter that made me uncomfortable too. The show has many wonderful aspects and I realize what is right for one family may not be for another family, and that's okay ❤ For my family, we decided to not watch it, along with quite a few other shows. The reduced television time has been a launching pad for us to spend more "non-device" time together, which for us was desperately needed. Thank you FOTF for - as always - being such a reliable ministry with many much-needed resources for families. One of few ministries I wholeheartedly trust ❤ Timely and wise article! God bless you all!
bobed 12 days ago
I simply love the concept of this show. A family drama about regular people? Yes! However, sadly, when I tried to watch this with the wife, in the first 5 seconds there is a naked man on the screen preparing a sexual birthday surprise for his wife. No thanks. The TV was turned off in seconds. I wish there would be a CLEAN family drama that ALL members of the family could watch safely. This Is Us could've been that, but failed.
bobed 12 days ago
Oh, and I'd be remiss to mention that my wife wanted to give the show another chance after some time had passed. But we heard from friends that the show has featured a gay lifestyle affirming storyline. No thanks, doubly. I just wish this show had gone down the right path. It's not suitable for our household or our viewing as Christians. (Lest you think I'm being judgemental, I'm not. Every Christian household has different standards for media. This just happens to be ours.)
Dan Haynes 12 days ago
Maybe she can watch it on her own then while you do something else in another part of the house with the kids. I'm sure your wife could use a break!
bobed 12 days ago
Why would she do that? We are in agreement. We have the same values and beliefs, and we make our choices as a united front.

Watch it on her own? She wouldn't do that. Are you interested to hear that, when a friend who watches the show told us about the gay content, my wife was the first one to wrinkle her nose and say, "Well, I guess we won't be giving it another chance"? Does it shock you to realize that she and I are in agreement about the content we want to put in our minds and hearts?

A break from what? From me? It might disappoint you to learn this, but my wife married me because she loves me, and I married her because I love her, and that has not changed after almost 2 decades and several kids. Your little insults sting like a needle poke, but fortunately they will have no effect on a long-lasting, strong marriage. Thanks for your unnecessary input, though. How long have YOU been married?
Dan Haynes 12 days ago
I didn't mean that as an insult. I don't think there's anything wrong with one parent (in this case the mom) taking an hour to watch a program that the other parent (in this case you) isn't interested in while the not-interested-in-said-program parent plays with/tends to/otherwise engages with the children. I didn't say (or mean) she needed a break from you. Very touchy. 
bobed 12 days ago
Meaning often isn't very clear over the Internet, but your meaning was very clear to me. How could your words possibly be construed as meaning anything else? Forgive me for being very touchy, but after all the crud that has happened on here, I think I have earned the right. I don't like the implication that there is something wrong with my marriage. Digs at my personal life are too far.
Anonymous 12 days ago
(Replying to bobed)

No, you have not earned the right to be unnecessarily rude. Being touchy is one thing, but automatically assuming everyone is insulting you, and insulting them in return, is not acceptable. There was no dig at your personal life - that was you completely misinterpreting an innocent comment. Why, for example, could you not have said "I'm not sure I understand what you meant. 'My wife could use a break'? What do you mean?"

...back on topic now, so I don't derail the posts into yet another argument... I haven't watched This is Us, nor do I plan to ("real life" dramas aren't interesting to me*), but I hope that, if the show continues, it makes an effort to clean up its content. Television could certainly use a more family-friendly drama in this wasteland of politically correct, depraved shows that are now playing.

*That, and this apparent homosexual content...? I didn't notice anything to that effect in Plugged In's reviews, but it's been a while since I read those reviews. My memory's probably faulty on that count. If there is, indeed, homosexual content in This is Us, then that kills any interest I might've had. :/

- Lionsong
bobed 12 days ago
I've already been told that my media standards for my kids amount to abuse and that I'm not a real Christian, among many other things. Forgive me for thinking that somebody here might want to insult me. I won't apologize for my reaction, and I don't appreciate you trying to school me in manners like I'm 7 years old.
Ginny Jones 12 days ago
The show is showing real life family situations. The gay man isn't thrown in the viewers faces. Yes, that first scene, I was also like what! But the show didn't turn out what I thought it would be. It was showing how Kevin's lifestyle wasn't all rosy and he didn't end up being happy living that way. I wouldn't let young kids watch it because I wouldn't want to explain all of this to a little mind, but as young adults and older, I think it really shows that life won't always be perfect, but we all try to do better. 
bobed 12 days ago
What is the difference between a gay man being on the show, with his lifestyle affirmed and shown to be good, and a gay man being thrown in your face? No difference. If the lifestyle is there and isn't explicitly portrayed as destructive, it's not Biblically accurate or proper.