Why ‘This Is Us’ Tackling COVID & Black Lives Matter Storylines Isn’t About Politics
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the Season 5 Premiere of This Is Us, “Forty: Part 1” & “Forty: Part 2”]
This Is Us has always been real with its viewers — that’s one of the reasons the NBC program has been so beloved over its run.
Since the show’s Season 5 return, though, there has been criticism from some viewers about the handling of real-world issues introduced in the back-to-back premiere episode. In addition to the continuation of the Pearson family story, which spans various points in time, This Is Us’ present-day timeline grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, which gained momentum after George Floyd’s death.
Some viewers argued that the drama has gotten too political. One such opinion — “Hollywood ruins everything. Tell the story. Leave politics out of it,” a fan posted on Twitter — even got a response from the This Is Us writers: “We told the story….”
Telling real-world stories is always something they have done and done beautifully, which can be easy to forget thanks to the expert storytelling around the characters and their daily dramas. Remember Kevin’s (Justin Hartley) recollection of the Challenger explosion in the pilot episode? And in Season 3, the show traveled back in time to the Vietnam War with Pearson patriarch Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and his baby brother Nicky (Michael Angarano). The war and all its components, including the draft, deserters, and self-medicating on the battlefield, were all highlighted.
As for the current storylines, while we’re living in tense times, it’s also important to remember that This Is Us isn’t telling people what to think or feel — the show’s characters are living in the “real” world and dealing with it in the ways best for them.
And it should be noted that the coronavirus pandemic is not a political issue — it’s been turned into one. It would be strange for a show rooted in reality to ignore a major event affecting the health of our nation. Plus, the Pearsons aren’t telling people how to feel about the virus, they’re just following the same guidelines and protocols everyone around the country has come to know, from wearing masks and social distancing from vulnerable family members, to hand-washing.
As for the show’s handling of Black Lives Matter and George Floyd’s death, it would also be awfully strange for it to be ignored. Randall (Sterling K. Brown) is a Black man who works as a councilman, and is a citizen concerned about the well-being of others.
For Randall and his family not to address events impacting the Black community would be an oversight. Viewers may associate Floyd’s death with the protests and civil unrest that followed it, but Randall’s digesting of the event is in no way political — it’s human. And as someone tackling issues about his family with a therapist, it only makes sense that he’d need to express his feelings about the issues happening in the country, as well.
The event also works as a catalyst that forces him to look at himself and his past as he grapples with the reality that growing up in a white family has impacted his views. While Randall’s sister Kate (Chrissy Metz) might try and be supportive about the turmoil he’s dealing with, it’s something she can’t truly understand.
“Randall is processing a lot about his life and about his family,” series creator Dan Fogelman told TV Insider following the premiere. “I find the scene with Chrissy and Sterling in front of the cabin so complicated and so interesting. I think their performances are just so strong.”
The most overtly political the show has been also had to do with Randall — but it had nothing to do with a divisive issue. It centered around his campaign for councilman, and even then, he never declared a political party.
The beauty of the show is how it connects such a large collection of unique individuals from all walks of life and presents viewers with their experiences. It’s these experiences, and presenting stories in a real-world setting, that foster empathy and understanding. At the end of the day, isn’t that a good thing?
This Is Us, Season 5, Tuesdays, 9/8c, NBC