Infographic by Anastasia Thumser ’22
Family is often the center of our universe, and the most chaotic part of our lives. Synonymous with unconditional love and support, reputable for being messy and complicated. With all its intricacies, family can be a difficult topic to encapsulate within a drama series; and yet, the fourth season of “This Is Us” manages to represent the convoluted dynamic of family with undertones of tragedy, comedy and romance.
Commonly referred to as a “tearjerker,” NBC’s “This Is Us” emerged as a multi-generational family drama known for its shocking plot twists and intriguing cliffhangers. With homages to the ’50s and onward, the writers have clarified their lack of fear in tackling social and emotional issues that are highly sensitive.
In following with its first three seasons, season four highlights issues such as racism, adoption, grief, PTSD, physical disabilities and new relationships. While showcasing a significantly different cast of characters and slowly unfolding the mystery of season three’s flashforward finale, “This Is Us” features seemingly unscripted scenes that have made me laugh and cry simultaneously.
Take for instance its Oct. 29 episode “The Club”. Set in three different decades, the producers juxtapose modern-day golf outings with previous instances of racism.
The episode includes scenes set in the ’90s, in which middle-schooler Randall (Lonnie Chavis), an African-American adolescent adopted by white parents, quarrels with father Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) over his misunderstanding of racial issues after a well-meaning but uninformed comment of “I don’t see color.”
Though the risky plotline of interracial adoption issues could have been viewed as controversial, repugnant or even borderline insensitive, “This Is Us” evokes emotion by keeping the scenes short, pragmatic and raw, with stellar acting and realistic dialogue.
Despite previous instances in which Randall’s parents were unrealistically adept at protecting him from explicit racism, this episode more than makes up for it by capturing the difficulties of raising a child who will inevitably ask questions that are unbeknownst to parents.
Another risky endeavor that “This Is Us” manages to pull of is the developing relationship set in present-day between freshman Deja (Lyric Ross), Randall’s adoptive daughter, and junior Malik (Asante Blackk).
While the teenage romance starts out unsuspectingly, Deja quickly learns that Malik is a devoted father to his infant daughter. The news concerns Deja’s parents (Sterling K. Brown and Susan Kalechi Watson), especially when she concludes that she will continue to date Malik despite the jarring obstacle.
Once again, “This Is Us” introduces the hot topic of teenage pregnancy and parenting in a respectful, reasonable way that both refrains from over-glorifying the topic and shaming teenagers who find themselves in similar situations. The weight of these issues inform the audience while inducing a dramatic effect, which keeps viewers engaged in the plot and connected to the emotional storylines of the characters.
By peppering comedy and romance into serious issues, “This Is Us” is one of the most skillfully written and produced shows available for viewing. As the cast grows and diversifies, so do the storylines, which makes for an interesting plot and emotional rollercoaster that is both relevant and engaging.