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2020 has been a wild ride. The last months alone have left us in hopeful suspense following the Biden win and a potential vaccine coming in the new year. Nonetheless, during Michaelmas Term, I’ve often felt the need to sit down and begin unpicking the bundled knot of emotions which have accumulated over this year. For many, if not all, this term has been the first time facing self-isolation and adapting to solitary learning, and it leaves many asking where 2020 leaves our relationships, both familial and otherwise. After looking for ways to introspect, I little expected to find one in a TV show, and yet This Is Us provided just that.

Outwardly, This Is Us is a family drama: bingeable, funny, and frequently leaving you reaching for the Kleenex. In the context of self-examination however, it represents the complicated relationships in contemporary families and offers us a way to heal broken bonds, navigate mistrust, and unpack what it means to call ourselves part of a family. There’s nothing like art to help us get introspective and access our emotions.

“We make friends with these characters and also encounter the lives of people utterly unlike ourselves in a 43 minute slot.”

This Is Us relies on extensive use of flashbacks to weave a web of relatable characters, making the show a rare gem: suspenseful, and accessible to all. From the 70s when the Pearson parents meet, to miscarriages and adoption mayhem in the 80s, to the loss, grief and coming of age that the triplets experience in the noughties, we see it all. We explore young parenthood through Jack and Rebecca (Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore) and accompany Kate, Kevin and Randall (Chrissy Metz, Justin Hartley, Sterling K. Brown) as they grow up at different rates. We explore the homework crises, first dates, and college days of the Pearson family, and discover why Jack Pearson’s name holds such reverence. Each new episode leads us to a deeper understanding of the family; we trace the alcoholism which plagues Kevin, and perceive the shattering effects of fat-shaming culture in Kate’s life.

Fans of the show are currently being drip-fed Season 5 on a weekly-episode basis. Each season begins on the birthday of the Pearson triplets and this time around we’re visiting the siblings on their 40th. You may wonder as to what the life of three forty-year-olds in suburban American can teach us how to practice introspection. An extensive collection of flashbacks invites us to explore the backstories and childhoods of multiple characters throughout the four series so far. We make friends with these characters and also encounter the lives of people utterly unlike ourselves in a 43 minute slot. We laugh, cry, and realise that we’re not dissimilar from the Pearson family at all. As we become more invested in the characters we start to understand how and why relationships within the Pearson family fracture, flail, and flourish.

“Season 5 brings us right up to date as viewers experience the Covid-19 lockdown through the Pearson family, and we begin to unpack 2020.”

What intrigues me especially about This Is Us is the wide ensemble. The Pearson triplets could be suggested as protagonists (although arguably super-dad Jack Pearson holds it all together), but we also become increasingly invested in their surrounding partners and friends. Have you ever felt like an outsider in your own family? The Pearson’s in-laws and friends can relate. It’s like that high school clique you were never part of, but make it for life.

The show isn’t trying to prove that every aspect of our personalities is the result of childhood experiences. Instead, through highlighting the significant events and traumas of not just the Pearson triplets but also all the major characters, we can access some level of psychological truth. As a first-year university student, I’m unable to relate to Jack’s time in Vietnam, Rebecca’s new parenthood, or the struggle of being an adopted black child into a white family. What I can relate to — and what draws in the audience of This Is Us — is the multi-layered complicated relationships that construe family life.


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Christmas in the Caribbean

Every family experiences similar turmoil in some shape like the Pearson family. Sibling fall-outs, family loss, acceptance of new members: we encounter it in abundance. Season 5 brings us right up to date as viewers experience the Covid-19 lockdown through the Pearson family, and we begin to unpack 2020. Relevance and accessibility provides a map for us to navigate our relationships and consider what it means to say: this is us.