Six seasons, 106 episodes covering some five decades – life with the Pearson family demands considerable commitment in terms of time and emotions.
Non-linear storytelling sees the episodes swooping between time frames – from the courtship of Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) to Rebecca’s death some 60 years later, surrounded by her children and their children. In between, the viewer is taken through an emotional wringer as we share the joys and tragedies of the various family members. Overshadowing all the narratives of This Is Us is the single tragedy of the death of Jack when his kids are just 17.
It’s an extraordinary series enscapsulating many of the social issues of the last decades. But it’s no overtly politicised rant. Instead, we experience issues as experienced by family members. Rebecca gave birth to triplets – Kate, Kevin and the still born Kyle – in 1980 in Pittsburgh. A decision is made to adopt an abandoned African-American baby, Randall, born that same day. The Pearson family unit is complete. Over 106 episodes, their stories, individually and together, are revealed.
The three children grow up to be three very different people in the current day –
Randall (superbly played as an adult by Sterling K. Brown), brilliant minded but deadly serious and dealing with anxiety and abandonment issues. Married to Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson), they have two daughters of their own and later adopt a third.
Pretty boy Kevin (Justin Hartley) is a disastisfied actor who fights alcohol addiction and wrecks an early marriage to Sophie, his childhood sweetheart. Throughout the series Kevin is referred to as the ‘man child’.
Haunted twin, Kate (Chrissy Metz), believes there’s a connection between the emotional trauma suffered as a teen and her serious weight problems. She finds her soulmate in husband Toby (Chris Sullivan).
Throw in the mix Vietnamese veteran Jack’s own problem upbringing (an alcoholic, wife-beating father), Rebecca marrying Jack’s best friend, Miguel (Jon Huertas) many years later, Randall searching for his birth father (Ron Cephas Jones) and the blight of Alzheimer’s along with ‘everyday’ family issues over decades and there you have This Is Us.
An overwrought, emotional cathartic family melodrama that grabs you by the throat. Characters and situations galore to invest (personal favourite – Beth and the near perfect Jack: favourite sibling – Randall) as it sweeps backwards and forwards through the decades (indicated by Jack notching up all 106 episodes, the three siblings at 17 are attributed to more than 80).
Admittedly, season six falls away and edges closer to bittersweet saccharine melodramatic finale with some very odd and unlikely narrative subplots that tie up virtually every loose end too neatly. Even Miguel – way too late – gets his moment. But too much time has ben invested in the Pearsons not to see it through to the bitter end.