As a Catholic woman in modern society, I’m always on the lookout for art forms that demonstrate the realities of our fallen world and the redemption that can be experienced when humanity is at its best. Whether you are a parent, child, wife, step-mom, foster child, in-law, sister, godmother, grandmother, aunt, or human, you are connected to other people by means outside of your control. This makes us all part of a larger family. And in a world of not-so-admirable film and TV, This is Us stands out as an illustration of the loyalty found in family and friendship, even when comprised of imperfect people.
If you’ve heard of This is Us, I’d venture to guess that you are either:
a. smitten by the show
b. trying to figure out what all of the fuss is about.
Either way, it is worth exploring, as the show just began its second season last week and folks will be talking about it at work and on Facebook once again.
Why All the Hype?
NBC’s This is Us has taken the country by storm for its flawed but striving characters and its relatable plot lines. It follows the Pearson family over the course of decades, detailing their everyday triumphs and tragedies. The show is known for reducing its audience to tears in nearly every episode. I think this is because the writing touches on the most fundamental emotions we have as humans as part of our immediate and broader family.
Fair warning: This show would be considered rated “PG-13” so watch accordingly.
3 Reasons I Love This is Us
Honestly, I am typically not a bandwagon fan nor much of a TV-watcher. Hours of quiet time at the end of the day are too precious to waste. I was originally skeptical of the storyline for This is Us. However, after watching each episode last season (and crying through many of them), this is what I’ve come to appreciate about the show’s ability to make me consider daily details with an eternal perspective:
1. This show is not overtly faith-based, and I think that is an advantage.
Because of its diverse storyline and characters, it seems that anyone could be caught up in what the Pearson family lives through and picture themselves within its beauty and dysfunction. It’s easy to appreciate the complexity of the Pearson family because families, by nature, are complex. Often, such complexity might be the very reason a person begins to feel disconnected to the universal Church. But this show offers its viewers a glimpse at the beauty found when we love one another unwaveringly, even in circumstances that are not clear or ideal. This reality is especially true when applied to the Church as communion.
2. It authentically highlights the highs and lows of the human experience.
Attention to both the tough exterior and tender underbelly of our daily lives gives a glimpse of dignity to the human experience in a way that doesn’t compare to other TV dramas. The range of experiences this show aims to cover is expansive: marriage, parenting, identity, bi-racial adoption, addiction, issues of self-acceptance, guilt, death, forgiveness, and family, just to name a few. By highlighting the love and tension inside each of the characters (inside each of us), we can zoom in on an important detail: life is an embodied experience. It is visceral.
Jesus understands this with perfect clarity. He became human and understood our messiness, emotions, and fundamental longings.
3. It falls short—and this is its strength.
If you are hoping that NBC is going to connect the dots for you so that you can hone in on these experiences of sacrament as they transpire, it does not. To do this would be to lose all credibility for the show. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched an exchange between characters or an episode where there was clearly something sacramental (an outward experience of an inward grace) going on and it is never outright named.
As I hit the lights and head upstairs after finishing an episode, I find myself reeling about the obvious experience of reconciliation or confession or Eucharist or dying to self or upholding the dignity of the human person that was just demonstrated. The characters’ inability (or the producer’s decision) to refrain from connecting the dots from the temporal to the eternal causes me to examine my own messy life. I’m challenged to search for the sacramental encounters that might otherwise heart-breakingly go unnamed, just as they do in the show.
The very reason This Is Us garnered 11 Emmy nominations is not because we’ve never seen a well-performed drama before; rather, I suspect it has something to do with its ability to bring us close to that tender part of ourselves. That part where we feel deeply and deserves to be celebrated for the holiness it involves.
It’s Captivating Because It’s Our Story
I’m not suggesting that your life will change or you’ll experience any type of spiritual awakening by watching this show. What I do suspect, whether you decide to watch it or not, is that we will be blown away by entering into our own stories with the awareness that we have the opportunity to participate in these graces, these sacraments, multiple times each day. As Catholics, we have the advantage of not only grasping at the deeper reality that the characters point us toward, but we also have the language to name these experiences of grace.
The public is grappling to name the goodness this show has to offer and what it might mean for our humble human experience—and it’s a story we’re already privileged to know.
There’s something deeper going on here: This is us.
Have you watched This is Us? What’s been your favorite episode so far? Let us know in the comments below!
Katie Cassady is a wife and mom to two little girls in Denver, CO. Steeped in theological reflection, beekeeping and motherhood, she is appreciative of any and all wisdom she can glean from those living intentional lives of faith. Find out more about her, here.