This Is Us, Unfortunately

Golden Globe-nominated This Is Us follows the lives of triplets Kate, Kevin, and Randall. Kate […]

Margaret Pope / 1.25.17


Golden Globe-nominated This Is Us follows the lives of triplets Kate, Kevin, and Randall. Kate and Kevin were the two surviving babies of a triplet pregnancy, and their parents, Rebecca and Jack, were determined to bring home three babies. Enter Randall: a black baby who had been left at the fire station by his biological father on the same day the other two were born. As the story unfolds during each episode, viewers get a glimpse into each character’s past and therefore a deeper understanding of their present—and an ever-increasing attachment to the characters themselves.

Unlike most entertainment today (including reality TV), This Is Us is not a show to watch to escape reality. Every insecurity you’ve ever felt—the need for acceptance, the striving for perfection, the search for identity—is played out on your television screen for an hour in a tangible way. It is painful and raw, and I would be lying if I said I have never shed a tear over this show. But despite, and maybe because of, the ever-present vulnerability, the show is surprisingly refreshing. This Is Us does not take the romantic, glorified human nature cues that most entertainment does: merely asking us try harder to love more and to be better. Instead, it accepts that life is broken; it says, “You too?! I thought I was the only one!” And in that acceptance, viewers find comfort and grace running throughout.

This comes through at the end of the second episode, “The Big Three.” Kevin, who works as an actor, plays the lead in The Manny, a cheesy, sub-par sitcom, and he wants out after recognizing that the show is degrading him as an actor and likely a dead end. He goes to his agent’s party with big ideas of telling off the network executive and ditching the show, but things don’t go quite as planned. Kevin calls Randall from the party, seeking his advice. Randall and Kevin never had a great relationship, and judging from flashbacks later in the season, I would not have been surprised if Randall completely ignored Kevin’s call. Instead, Randall encourages his brother with their family cheer, “Big Three.” At one point in their conversation, Kevin admits that he was a terrible brother to Randall, and Randall responds, not in anger, but in forgiveness and understanding, saying, “No you weren’t, but you’ve still got time.” Because they are human—and it’s television—this is not the nice, picture-perfect ending of thirty-six years of tension between Kevin and Randall but it is a solid start.

Littered with broken relationships and numerous other issues—race, obesity, addiction—This Is Us pulls back the curtain on the “I’ve got it all together” plotline to reveal what we all already know: that we are broken and messy. It demonstrates the way that Francis Spufford describes sin: “the human tendency, the human propensity, to f*** up” (Unapologetic). As you may know, he goes on to clarify:

Or let’s add one more word: the human propensity to f*** things up, because what we’re talking about here is not just our tendency to lurch and stumble and screw up by accident, our passive role as agents of entropy. It’s our active inclination to break stuff, “stuff” here including moods, promises, relationships we care about, and our own well-being and other people’s, as well as material objects whose high gloss positively seems to invite a big fat scratch.

When facing this reality in my everyday life, or during an episode of This Is Us, I am reminded time and time again of how defenseless I am against my “human propensity to f*ck things up.” It is inherent to who I am. I can’t go a day, let alone a moment, without the darkness in my heart bubbling up, despite my best efforts otherwise.

Unfortunately, this is us. But Jesus came “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14),  to stare our sin in the face, to forgive it in full and to rob it of its power over me. Christ declared that our sin is as far from us “as the east is from the west” (Ps 103:12). And when we are overwhelmed by our powerlessness against it, he says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). And despite the messiness of life on this earth, through no merit of our own, we can cling to His righteousness, and say, fortunately, “This is us.”