Escapism, Odes, and 'This Is Us'
By Jacey Aldredge
Spoilers below, beware!
My mom hates watching things that make her cry. “I cry enough in real life,” she says. Escapism is an immense part of movies, music, and TV shows and many of us long to be transported to a situation resembling absolutely nothing of our own. It’s a small respite in an otherwise unfair (but still miraculous) life. I’m not included in that group, unfortunately. I’m in the “dump the entire container of salt in the wound” club. We meet every Friday night at 6pm, come on by. Jokes aside, while escapism is great, I feel like I’m in an escapist society every day. Social media is filtered, face tuned, and always greener than the grass you’re looking at outside. I’ve grown up among a generation whose self-worth is predominantly based on how many followers they’ve got, but it's not just social media; regular media is full of it as well. We’re inundated with photoshop and fine tuning and happy endings everywhere we look, and it can get hard to differentiate what’s real and what’s meant for Instagram. It’s a dangerous situation— we can spend so much time comparing our not-so-perfect real lives to our friends' picture perfect Instagram lives that we start truly believing everyone else has it better than us instead of appreciating what we've got.
So, yeah. You could say I’m a little jaded towards escapism.
Because of this, I like my entertainment raw, genuine, and bittersweet. Pop in some tragedy while you’re at it, but keep it believable (we all know Jack could have fit on that door, Rose). Namely, I gravitate towards shows that remind me that life doesn’t always have perfect endings, that I’m not alone in feeling alone, and that going through rough patches with your relationships, mental health, or career is okay.
NBC’s Golden Globe nominated 'This Is Us' is a perfect example of this. I’ll admit, I was late to the party. It seemed way too cheesy and mainstream and I swore it off almost immediately. But I started to reconsider. Not because of any spectacular reason— I was doing some cardio and needed something to watch so as to distract myself from the whole “cardio” dilemma. Why I chose 'This Is Us' while at 24 Hour Fitness at 2 a.m. on a Wednesday night, I’ll never know. The fact is, it happened. It was late summer of last year, and coincidentally, my personal life was falling apart. It would continue to fall apart through the end of 2017, followed by a domino effect of several other tragedies sneaking their way through the back gate right after the new year.
While I would binge watch back-to-back seasons of 'New Girl' or 'The Office' to escape, I watched 'This is Us' to stay very grounded in the reality of my situation. The Pearson family does not have it easy, let me tell you. From day one, they’re thrown some serious doozies— Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) lose one of their triplets, Jack’s father is an abusive alcoholic while Rebecca’s mother is uptight and impossible to impress. Later, Kate (Chrissy Metz) has a miscarriage, Kevin (Justin Hartley) is a drug addict, and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) finds out about a lie he’s nearly unable to forgive. The list goes on, but here’s the thing; for every tragedy the Pearson family faces, there’s five other blessings. Sure, the show can seem like a soap opera at times and sure, I cry nearly every episode (both sad and happy tears), but 'This Is Us' is more representative of actual, real life than any reality TV show on air.
Creator Dan Fogelman doesn’t shy around the idiosyncrasies of family; he’s developed these characters to have both complexity and sincerity in relation to each other. While the Pearson family may look perfect on the outside, there are cracks on the inside. Does that mean they all shun one another or try to murder each other with pick axes? Absolutely not. It means that, just like with you or me, not everything is as it seems. The grass is never truly greener on the other side; it’s just a different shade.
I watched an episode of 'This Is Us' on every cardio day until I finished the first season, and then waited impatiently for season two to begin later that month. It was cathartic and frankly, refreshing, to see this family experience hardships in many of the same ways I had. Considering society implores us to “grin and bear it,” this was my version of escape; it was an escape from always faking it.
Not to mention, the performances have shattered my soul. Sterling K. Brown (“Black Panther,” 'Supernatural') owns every single line he speaks with intelligence and charisma. It’s no surprise he’s won an Emmy, a Golden Globe, and a Critic’s Choice Award. And the children! The young "Big Three" actors (Mackenzie Hancsicsak, Parker Bates, Lonnie Chavis) are phenomenal and deliver some of the strongest moments in the series. Of course, Milo Ventimiglia ('Heroes,' 'Gilmore Girls') plays the “perfect husband, father, and friend” with humble assuredness. The Pearson family holds Jack on the same kind of pedestal I hold my own father on, and even though both are flawed, their pedestals will never fall. Ultimately, therein lies the power of a show like 'This Is Us'; the story is full of flawed characters and situations that fight for redemption regardless of those flaws. A lot like real life.
Some might say this is an ode to 'This Is Us.' I say odes are inherently too escapist for my taste.
The season finale of 'This Is Us' airs on NBC this Tuesday, March 13th.