I was looking for a series to watch while eating lunch everyday, or almost everyday. I was caught up on the PBS British drama that I love so much and waiting for the new ones to premier, but frankly did not have a very high opinion of current tv network programs. The good ones stopped, for the most part, a couple of decades ago. But I remembered seeing some posts last year about a series called “This Is Us.” They all seemed quite emotional about it. I decided to check it out on Hulu.
When (if) you watch it, you have to understand that the format switches rapid-fire from present to past to future to further future, and in no predictable pattern. I am sure the writers have a definite pattern when they work, but the viewer just has to keep up. It’s interesting. Since I mentioned writers, I will start with them. I give them high marks for creating dialogue which provides actors with a good balance of humor and drama, with plenty of opportunities for highly intense exchanges. The cast? They are all very talented. I really couldn’t single out any one of them as below par. They deliver the writers’ words with skill and sometimes inspired performances.
It is easy to quickly become engaged with this family and their lives. Jack and Rebecca are my generation; their kids are in my kids’ demographic. You want to know how their story is unfolding and what life will bring next, and it brings plenty, as it does for most of us. Everybody loves a love story, and Jack and Rebecca’s delivers. It is impossible to know how much of a long-running series story line the writers plan, or how much they just go with the flow as inspiration comes. I assumed going in that this was a story of a post-modern family…..no overt references to faith or God or a Biblical basis for living and raising a family. There is the occasional invoking of the “universe” in hoping things would go well. That’s okay. I can appreciate good stories and acting that don’t necessarily line up with my worldview which reveres the Creator of the universe, not the creation.
In observing how Jack and Rebecca raised their children, it could be said that they exercised many Judeo-Christian values without explicitly naming them……honesty, kindness, a strong work ethic, loyalty, love. You might ask, if these fictional people do that, from where do they get those values? My belief is that in a culture such as ours, we have historically had a consensus, not necessarily spoken, but there, which said that the aforementioned values were desirable and profitable and good for individuals and families and communities. The time frame of this story still fit into that historical consensus for the most part. The Pearsons did not attend church or temple as far as I can determine, except for one mention of the meaning of Christmas one Christmas Eve. I did not expect sexual purity before marriage to be portrayed as an option, so I was not disappointed in that area. I was not even surprised when one of the grandchildren (very young teen) said she thought she was gay and received just a slightly surprised smile without any suggestion that this might be something to really talk about and not just accept as fact, or that Randall’s long lost birth father apparently classified himself as bisexual with only a confused look from the family. These things were not major themes in the script; I just sort of expected them in our present climate. It would have been good, I think, to have some discussion about them among the characters. I did appreciate the strength of Jack and Rebecca’s marriage through good and bad times. I liked that Rebecca was full time at home caring for the family. I loved that Jack overcame his own difficult childhood with an abusive father. The issues with which family members struggled…alcohol, weight , clinical anxiety, drug addiction, unresolved hurts from childhood, and deep grief…. all familiar to most of us to one extent or another…and make for compelling story-telling.
Sooooo….with all of my tolerance for the typical p.c. handling of some issues, I come to the one aspect which makes me sad and mad. Jack and Rebecca had triplets, one of whom died at birth. They adopted a baby boy who had been abandoned. This was wonderful. Oh, by the way, this baby boy was of dark skin color. Jack and Rebecca and their biological kids were not of dark skin color. That should, in my opinion, be a completely irrelevant mention. But if the writers shared my view, they would have no story , at least in the way they wanted to present it. To be fair, when they adopted Randall and began raising him and his brother and sister, the skin tone thing was never mentioned until an intolerant judge refused to grant the adoption because a “white family doesn’t know how to raise a black child.” They found another judge.
As Randall grew, however, the world around him constantly told him that he was different from his family and that they could not possibly teach him to “be black.” Being loving parents and wanting to do the best for their child, Jack and Rebecca began to seek out adults of dark skin tone who could help Randall recognize and appreciate his “blackness.” Don’t tell me that I am naive and stupid; I understand that yes, a little guy like him would probably notice at some point that, hmm, my skin looks different from my parents and siblings. But the answer should be, yes. LOOKS is the term, but there is only ONE race, that being human. I also understand there are historical, cultural differences of traditions of all kinds. Nothing wrong with that. It is just a characteristic of people groups.
After I finished the series ( I heard they are doing one more season), I felt something akin to despair, not because, oh geez, now I have to find another one. I thought, well, all of the civil rights struggles of past decades are evidently not only unappreciated now, but even disdained. Separation, segregation, is the agenda. Too many people see our country, a nation which has given more people more opportunity for a decent life than any before it in history, only through the lens of our mistakes and sins. They demand , well, you know. You see it and read it everyday. I get that not one of us can be in another person’s skin or in his or her mind. This will probably not happen until the Lord is reigning, but what needs to happen is a complete rejection of the idea of racial labeling. We can appreciate different foods, music, hairstyles, dialects , etc., as interesting aspects of human life. When I was young, the mantra was, rightly so, color-blindness. Now, as I heard a woman shrieking on tv, if you are color-blind to people, you “don’t see me.” I’m sorry. That is stupid.
Concerning the series and where they took particularly Randall’s story, it made me really sad.. Books and movies and plays sometimes reflect the culture, sometimes just comment on it, sometimes have agendas to promote, sometimes they are a combination. I think this one falls into that category. Always very bright and driven ( too much in a perfectionist way) and ambitious, he achieved a lot of career success, a luxurious home and beautiful wife and children. But in the script, he was also involved much of the time, in “being black.” Thing is, his mom and siblings (and his dad while he was alive), just saw him and loved him as their son and brother. Period. No asterisk. I do not expect very many to even wrap their heads around what I am trying to say. We are too conditioned otherwise. Those who write and produce such a series as this do good work dramatically and artistically. I just wish they did not feel compelled to promote a view of people which, in my opinion, furthers division and a destructive social agenda. If there is another season, I will watch and see if the final installment of the Pearson family saga includes any chapters about which I can feel less resigned to the reality of where we are. If not, I will just be interested to see how the writers wrap it up.