In a world where we’re constantly surrounded by the uncertainties and anxieties of the future, television often unsuccessfully attempts to offer some form of escapism from an incredibly bleak and sombre reality. Whilst we can’t really forget the need to social distance, wear face masks, or the looming threat of another lockdown, This Is Us manages to ease anxiety levels, through capturing heartfelt moments from the past, present and future, acknowledging Bob Marley’s time old tale: “Every little thing is gonna be alright”.
Aside from the depictions of mental health in the show, including addiction, grief and panic attacks, This Is Us traps viewers into a reality where fates are revealed before the lives that come before. The simultaneous storylines of the Pearson triplets, and their mum Rebecca, who is tragically thrown into single parenthood following the death of America’s favourite dad, Jack, both creates an emotional attachment to the characters and succeeds in displaying the ups and downs of real life, albeit in a corona-free world.
The show deserves its well-esteemed praise for breaking misconceptions about anxiety in particular through Sterling K. Brown’s performances, with Randall’s panic attacks successfully reflecting the disorientation and terror many anxiety-sufferers feel. From an outsider’s perspective, councilman Pearson has the ideal life: a perfect wife, happy children, and a successful career. Yet, as evident from the beginning of the show, confronting his mental health is a challenge throughout his life. The powerful portrayal of mental health in This Is Us serves as a reminder to viewers that these struggles are not something to be ashamed of.
“Emotional, surprising and, more often than not, reassuring, ‘This Is Us’ actively reminds viewers that the little, often scary moments in between the big ones will eventually be forgotten.”
Fans across all ages can relate to aspects of characters’ lives and their unique storylines, from Randall’s anxiety, to Kate’s struggles with weight loss, and Kevin’s addiction. Kevin’s attention-seeking as a child is presented alongside his role as the supportive uncle to Tess, Randall’s daughter, as she discovers and accepts her sexuality. Meanwhile, Rebecca’s struggles as a single parent and a widow foreshadow her struggles with dementia later on in life. The show’s powerful message is that whether we like it or not, time will pass and change will occur beyond our control.
Whilst the flashbacks and alternating chronologies announce the future before it occurs, viewers are nonetheless attached to knowing the hows and whys rather than questioning the whos and whats. However, as answers to our questions are revealed, new questions simultaneously arise. Long-lost uncles are discovered, a second generation of children combat their own struggles, and the matriarch of the family, the only piece of the puzzle that persists through all the timelines, faces her own downfall, in which she becomes the helpless and not the helper for the first time.
Emotional, surprising and, more often than not, reassuring, This Is Us actively reminds viewers that the little, often scary moments in between the big ones will eventually be forgotten. For those of us overwhelmed by this COVID-19 world, unable to think beyond a second wave and constantly stressed about the wellbeing of our loved ones, no show will really offer an escape, but This Is Us doesn’t require a stress-free mind to empathise and relate with its characters. Instead, the Pearson family shares the message that the anxieties of life are normal, are a part of a reality, no matter what stage of life you’re in, nor how much time passes.
The connections between the past and future storylines of the Pearson family members allows viewers to embrace reality with what little we know, and settle with the fact that although it may not all turn out as we planned, there’s little we can do to change any of it. A well-known CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) strategy for coping with anxiety is learning to distinguish between situations in which we can control the outcome, and those in which we can’t. Viewing the Pearson family’s grief, ageing, and heartbreak encourages us to accept our own lack of control over our fates, and feel less anxious about situations in which we have no control. Turns out the ever-wise Bob Marley was right when he sang: “None but ourselves can free our minds”.
Words by Meghna Amin