According to our daughter Kathy my wife and I are in a television watching rut, a deep rut. After dinner it is the usual dose of Pat Sajak and letter-turning Vanna White watching the Wheel of Fortune go round and around and around. Then it is Mensa’s gift to nightly television, Alex Trebek as he smugly asks questions of earnest contestants that even he has no clue about. With game shows out of the way we turn to CNN and Anderson Cooper and his panel of talking head “experts” trying to make sense out of Donald Trump. In fairness to Ma and Pa Kryzanek, not a day goes by that something bizarre comes across the doorway of the White House making CNN a must watch.
Well Kathy kindly but forcefully told us we have to get out of the rut. Her answer to the silly game show ritual was This Is Us, the wildly popular NBC soap about a biracial family seen from their early days in the 1980s to the present. Because This Is US shows the Pearson clan with all the poignancy, drama and disappointments of a real-like family, it has taken Ma and Pa away from silly game shows and depressing politics, at least for awhile. We of course are hooked, although we are about 10 episodes behind and have given Kathy strict orders not to fill us in with the happy or sad details.
Americans love soap operas, no matter how much they say they prefer crime thrillers, hospital death spirals, and all those new spy-thrillers, end of the world survival motifs, and of course zombies. But This Is Us has caught on as a simple narrative about people who face everyday challenges – failed careers, obesity, discrimination, lost connections, alcoholism and dreams gone astray. There is not a viewer who cannot make a connection to one of the characters, and they are portrayed in real terms as they struggle with everyday challenges. The writing is simply superb and the acting is authentic. Somebody on this show is going to end up with an Emmy.
I must admit that Ma and Pa haven’t completely given up on game shows and the gamesmanship of CNN and President Trump; after all there are real people on Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy and everyone just loves a circus, especially when the ringmaster is the President of the United States. But we owe Kathy a debt of gratitude for showing us the way to better television viewing. This Is Us is not going to change the world or for that matter change television but it does make viewers think about the trials and tribulations of family life by telling a simple story about real people.