TV Wants to Make You Cry

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I was watching Monday Night Football when I saw it last week: an ad for some new family-ish show that looked exactly like another hit show.

I didn’t actually catch the name of the drama, though, because I turned to my wife and said, “Oh look: It’s ABC’s version of This Is Us.”

The latter NBC show, of course, has floated toward the top of the ratings for two seasons. This Is Us has become something we rarely see anymore: event television. The kind that folks talk about at the proverbial “water cooler” at work the next day.

Shows like these used to be a dime a dozen. I mean, NBC had a whole evening of ’em. (Thursday night’s “Must See TV” back in the 1980s and ‘90s, for those who remember back that far.) But event TV shows just don’t happen as often these days. This Is Us is the kind of series that prompts gushing fans to exclaim: “Did you see this week’s episode!? You have to see it! You won’t believe it! I couldn’t believe it! It made me cry so hard!”

And that last bit is, it seems, what producers are now honing in on, striving with all their narrative and marketing might to imitate: creating a show that makes you weep consistently. A show that connects so deeply, so emotionally that you can’t help but tell your friends and associates the next day how many tissues you dabbed your eyes with.

The ABC version, I later learned, is called A Million Little Things. It just sounds like a weeper, right? It’s a good title. And ABC is hoping that those who’ve tuned religiously for This Is Us will give its copycat tear-duct cleanser a shot, too.

ABC’s not the only network gunning for your heartstrings, either. The Daily Beast‘s Kevin Fallon called out a couple of other new dramas that are apparently striving for a similar emotional response: NBC’s hoping for another lightning strike with Manifest, a show about a plane that flies through a storm only for its passengers to discover when they land that it’s five years later. (Look for our review later this week.) Fallon writes,

At first blush you might think sounds a lot more like Lost than a cross-generational family melodrama starring Mandy Moore. But we’d venture that, for all its genuinely intriguing sci-fi elements, it owes much more to the network’s tear-jerking hit than any polar bears, hatches, or smoke monsters. Most noticeably, it roots its emotional gut punch in a very This Is Us-ian twist: Surprise, everyone is connected!

Fallon also notes that yet another NBC show, the medical drama New Amsterdam, also aims an emotional wallop right at viewers.

So what are we to make of all this emotional, um, strategizing (pandering?) to draw us in as viewers?

First, it’s no surprise, of course. In Hollywood, whenever anyone has a hit—whether it’s a TV series or a movie—you can reliably expect more of the same in short order. And so here come the This Is Us copycats.

Second, good drama works not only on the head, but on the heart. It draws us in. It invites us to connect and identify. And it keeps us on the edge of our seats, wondering what’s next.

That can be a beautiful thing. Sometimes shows like these help us get in touch with something inside our own hearts and remind us of something in real life that needs attention, something that we need to deal with. Watching a son connect with his elderly father, for instance, might remind us to give our own dad a call. To the extent that that happens, these series can be healthy and cathartic.

But that truism comes with an important caveat: While being moved to tears by a show or movie, we must also be careful not to relinquish our discernment as elephant tears roll down our cheeks. It’s critical to pay attention to the worldview and ideas that get incorporated into those moving moments. Because when we’re most open and vulnerable as viewers, shows like these can subtly undermine the values or beliefs that we hold as Christians.

God has created us with rich, deep emotions. Sometimes the fictional stories we engage with can stir up our hearts in unexpected, powerful and personal ways. But whether that emotional response is a healthy one or a harmful one depends a lot on whether we keep a cool head even as our overheated hearts are invited to gallop away by shows like these.

Who wrote this?

Adam R. Holz is a senior associate editor for Plugged In. He also writes for Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse magazine and has been a Boundless contributor. In his free time (which there is sometimes precious little of) Adam enjoys playing guitar and constructing LEGO kits with his son. Adam and his wife, Jennifer, are the proud parents, in fact, of three children, one boy and two girls.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous 16 days ago
And as far as comedies go while The Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon are both still really great, the new show The Neighbors with a totally over the top racist Cedric the Entertainer in it totally stinks in my opinion. The white people in the show are far less racist than the black people, which is shocking al by itself, but still doesn't make a good show though.
Anonymous 16 days ago
Out of all the new shows I've seen so far this season I was probably most impressed with Manifest (intriguing premise with people hearing the voice of God and so forth), but was majorly disappointed in God Friended Me. Maybe I was expecting it to be more like Touched By An Angel or even Early Edition, but from what I saw it was nothing like it. Way too many cuss words in it and way too much negativity towards God in general. I really wanted to like the show, but frankly I'd rather go see a new episode of Manifest again than suffer through another God Friended Me.
Anonymous 21 days ago
I'd rather watch something like The Big Bang Theory or Young Sheldon, shows that are occasionally sweet, but mostly laugh out loud hilarious.
Anonymous 22 days ago
Ya know  I  never considered the possibilty  of   A Million Little  Things  or Manifest being copycats or  what  shows like that should be  called ripoffs  of    THIS  is US  speaking of (don't read this part  of the post if you haven't seen the promo or the show)THis US  its promo was misleading because it  makes it seem like their strangers with a connection when their actually related but I'm sick and tired of  Dramas  and  don't have  interest in New Amsterdam  either  there just seems to be to many of them at least  on broadcast tv and other types of  TVgenres like sitcoms  in other types of Traditional television at least  the type I've seenwhat  I would  like to see   is Speculative fiction for those who don't know its  a subgenre  Sci-fi,  Fantasy,  Horror,  and the Weird,  the  miniseries  Dinotopia turned into  a  tv show,  Mythquest brought back,  a updated  Outer Limits that  could go  along  with  Black Mirror  and the newest  Twilight Zone  reboot CBS  is   working on for their streaming subscription service   CBS  all access, more  shows that feel like the ones  I grew up watching but in more than one genre and even subgenre not just fantasy or  the punks,   Steampunk,   Dieselpunk, Cyber  but  Pulp Fiction  a genre that came from  Magazine novels called  Pulps because of  the wood they were made from minus worldview and content problems like sensuality, high levels of  violence and  a combination of immorality and amorality and subgenres of subgenres like  Steamfunk and Dieselfunk and of  course originals   though  I have  other issues with broadcast tv like the writing and the  whole look they seem in fact  I  watched some promos of new shows from NBC, CBS, and  other broadcast  shows  and they turn them apart. 
charitysplace 24 days ago
Copycatting and baiting to get you to tune in, rather like how every single show touted its similarities to "Game of Thrones" even though none of them were anything like it. ;)

The last weekly tearjerker show I watched was "Touched by an Angel." That was awhile ago. ;)
Anonymous 23 days ago
I never thought of Touched by an Angel as  a tearjerker  but it was good.

Tricia 24 days ago
And so, if Avengers Infinity War left me emotionally wrecked/sobbing, what does it say about my entertainment choices? I typically choose lighter fare for my television viewing.