Last spring, Scott and I sat side by side in the living room, blinking through tears as the final credits of “Parenthood” rolled. We had binge-watched the show for months on Netflix, and we were completely NOT ready for it to end. We stared at the blank screen for a good five minutes after the final episode ended, hoping that if we sat there long enough, we’d get more of the Bravermans.
This is the state of grief known as “denial.”
Weeks later, we entered the “acceptance” stage while simultaneously sinking into a deep show hole – the emptiness you feel when you finish a stellar show and have nothing else to watch. #FirstWorldProblems
But then we found our people, our new favorite family.
Meet the Pearsons.
Chances are you know the Pearsons, but if you don’t, your neighbors probably do. They can fill you in on the TV show, called "This is Us."
(The show, in brief: Young parents get pregnant with triplets. One baby dies during childbirth. On the same day, another baby is left at the fire station. The couple adopts the child. They call their kids "the big three." Their beautiful-broken story unfolds on the screen, during their lives as infants, children, and adults.)
You could point to a dozen artistic reasons why “This is Us” is the breakout hit of the fall TV season: thoughtful writing, stellar acting, multilayered story lines, the tackling of real-life issues.
But here’s what I believe most of all, and why I'm taking the unusual step of writing a blog post about a TV show, of all things.
“This is Us” gives us faith in humanity again. It reminds us that we belong to each other. It fills us with delight, at a time when the world seems to be drowning in peril. It reminds us that we are all both broken and whole – capable of laughing and crying in the same hour, or even the same minute.
"This is Us" works, because this is us. It works because we are them.
This Tired Ol' World
You guys, I've been so exhausted by it all, you know? You too?
I've begun to believe the worst about people, and even about myself. It feels like everyone on Facebook is about half-a-sentence away from a fist fight. I have nightmares about the whole planet going to hell in a hand-basket. It's as if Earth has lost her smile. Where is the delight? Where is the refreshing honesty? Where is the whimsy? Where is the goodness in the world? Does it still exist?
Yes, yes it does. It's all right here, all around us still -- even now -- and a TV show on Tuesday nights is helping us see it again.
This is us:
We are Kate -- wanting to stop dragging our past into our present, but can't quite put a finger on how to do it. We are Randall -- wanting to hear our fathers tell us that we are doing things right. We are Rebecca, hoping we don't mess up our kids.
This really IS us. We want to remember that it's never too late to say you're sorry; that maybe the doctors can fix things after all; that we're not alone in the battle; that we belong to a family; that there are reasons for real-life plot twists; and that good really will triumph in the end.
That's why we're putting away our iPhones and sitting in front of our TVs on Tuesday nights -- not to fill a show hole, but simply to delight again.
"I think the current climate is so fraught with negativity and peril that people just want to enjoy something that feels smart, sophisticated, but has a warmth to it and makes them feel like they want to share it," the NBC entertainment president told a crowd over the weekend.
That's what I think too. "This is Us" -- one headline declared -- is the rare drama that "dares to be delightful."
A Dare to Delight
That word: dare.
It really is a dare isn't it? It really does take courage to believe that the best is possible. It really does feel like a dare to live a life counter to a culture of cynicism. It truly is daring to choose happiness, even when life is hard. I took that kind of dare once, and I'm not going back now. I want to believe the best things about other people, and the best things about myself. I want to laugh more, and argue less. I want to resist the urge to be "right." I want to "boycott bitterness, to wring the delight out of ordinary days, and to hunt for happiness even when it’s hard to see."
I know. It's just a TV show. But sometimes it's the little things that save us.
Sometimes it's the little things that remind us that we are going to make it after all -- that there was a time when people smoked in hospitals and cars, and no one wore seatbelts, and sunscreen was optional, and we somehow survived. The little things remind us that we aren't the only ones barely able to put one foot in front of the other, barely able to resist these temptations, and just trying to do whatever we can to keep ourselves from making dumb choices -- even if that means we have to put Post-It notes on the refrigerator to remind us not to eat our own birthday cake.
The little things -- like TV shows -- remind us that we might go our whole lives wondering why we were abandoned. And then again, we might open the front door to find a new beginning.
Yes, life will hand you lemons. And it will also hand you adult acne, low metabolism rates, and baby arugula ("Baby arugula is just as bad as grown-up arugula," Toby reminds us). Life will hand you much harder things than that -- like divorce and cancer and chronic pain and a deep political divide in our country.
But life will also hand you scarlet-red lipstick, bacon, elastic waistbands, the blush of autumn, the words "I'm sorry," and the smell of a campfire.
And every Tuesday night, thanks to the Pearsons, it will also hand you a little bit more delight.
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