Who is “Us”? Well, as demonstrated by the success of the NBC drama “This Is Us,” we are a nation that does not mind weeping.
I cannot tell you how many conversations I have had with people about what they are watching on TV these days, and the conversation turns to “This Is Us” and its tear-jerking propensities.
They’re crying every time they watch this show, and they’re loving it. Does this mean we have turned into a nation of crybabies?
The answer is: no. But we do like an occasional tug to the heartstrings where the complications of life and family are concerned.
Some might decry the success of a weepy TV show such as “This Is Us” as a sign of creeping cultural weakness. I tend to look at it another way -- that for once, network television has made a prime-time drama with a great deal of heart -- one that comes by its emotion honestly, and just generally sets a very high standard of excellence that few (if any) made-for-TV scripted dramas are achieving these days.
And that goes for drama series in all forms of television -- from commercial-supported broadcast and basic cable television to premium cable and subscription streaming services. “This Is Us” is quite likely the finest TV drama currently seen anywhere in the now-gigantic TV universe.
This is quite an achievement for many reasons, but one of the main ones is that creating a show of this type and quality within the confines of advertiser-supported TV is rare to nonexistent in network television.
A network drama cannot flow to the very end of each episode without a break, such as dramas on the streaming services are permitted to do. Instead, network dramas must have breaks built into them. This creates a framework that producers and networks have to conform to. And they have made their TV shows this way for decades.
Somehow, “This Is Us” plays effectively within this framework. Unlike so many other network TV shows, the breaks are not even offensive when they arrive. And this might be due to a characteristic of “This Is Us” that sets it apart from almost every scripted drama and comedy on TV everywhere -- it traffics in good taste.
This is perhaps the rarest and most unique of all of this show’s achievements. Certainly, judgements of taste are a matter of taste. But “This Is Us” is highly conspicuous for its absence of gratuitous violence and sex, and the profane, crude or vulgar language that characterize so many other scripted TV shows.
“This Is Us” deviates so spectacularly from most (if not all) of what you might call the tasteless “norms” of TV today that its very existence -- and its success -- is a miracle.