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This is Us: Tears are not the point

Like many Americans, I was a fan of NBC's "This is Us" from the beginning, and I'm one of millions who are looking forward to the onset of the new season tonight.

Why do I like this show? Well, I'm not normally a fan of trying to explain why I like something. Ask me why I like mustard and not mayonnaise, or why I like strawberries but not peaches, and I'm going to give you a blank stare.  There is no verbal explanation why I like something. I just do.


That said, I find it easy to name the many reasons why this show resonates with me. Sadly, NBC people responsible for marketing this show have missed all my reasons, and are putting a lot of undue focus on one thing: the show will make you cry. See here. And then there's this. Good grief.

I have to say: the "grab a box of Kleenex" stuff is a bit of a turnoff.

I'm not interested in watching a show because the marketers have convinced me that the scriptwriters can successfully manipulate me into shedding tears. I care about characters; about quality acting; about gifted people using their gifts to tell great stories.

My reasons for liking "This Is Us" include, but are not limited to:

1. The power of past experiences to shape our current lives.
Many shows feature occasional flashbacks from time to time, but the unique setup of "This is Us", which spends a roughly equal amount of its weekly hour of airtime in the past and also in the present, allows us to peer into the lives of a person, watch an event unfold, and then see how that has impacted him or her decades later. All of us are who we are now as an accumulation of our experiences, and "This is Us" enters uncharted waters to go beyond simple flashbacks in order to capture and present this truth to its audience.

Because of this, we watch the story unfold each week, ready to learn more about what those kids went through when they were babies, or 8, or 12, which led to them becoming their modern selves.

You don't just look forward to what's new with the Pearson clan; you look forward to finding out what's old with them.


2. Relatable characters, but not exactly.
This is not the first series to feature characters we can relate to. There's no doubt that relatability is a key element in any show that wants to grab and retain an audience. We like watching people who are familiar to us, acting out situations we know all too well.

What's amazing about "This is Us" is how a show can be so relatable, with a situation so uncommon that virtually nobody has experienced all or most of it:

Think about it: who do you know who was raised in a family with both adopted and natural-born siblings; of multiple races; where a father was both a terribly selfish alcoholic and also a teetotaling dedicated, loving dad? What families do you know where members experience substance abuse, cancer, obesity, and fame?

OK, all of us know someone who has some of those things going on, but not in one family. Despite that, we can jump right into this family each week and nod our heads as we recognize events and situations and people which are not new to us.

3. Love and war among siblings
The way the kids are rivals with each other, but turn into loving cheerleaders as adults.  Lots of kids argue. Many find ways to compete with each other. Some brothers and sisters go too far and display genuine hostility towards siblings. But I love how the adult Pearsons truly love and support each other even as they open up about past hurts.


These are but a few of the reasons I will be tuning in tonight, and every Tuesday for the foreseeable future.

But be sure of this: I'll be accompanied on my couch by a big bowl of popcorn, and no tissues.

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