Let’s say you’re in a room full of 70 strangers. What do you think are the odds of you finding a pair of people who share the same birthday? Do you think it’s 70/365? According to probability theory, you will have 99.9% chance of finding people with shared birthday in that room. This interesting paradox will probably the only thing that becomes the implication of having someone shared the same birthday with you. As clearly stated from the beginning of NBC’s stellar drama This Is Us, we all share our birthdays with other 18 million strangers in the world, but there’s no scientific evidence that links same birthday with specific trait or behavior—contrary to the astrologists believe, I guess. This Is Us may or may not debunk this theory, but one thing that’s clear about the show is that it tries to prove that human beings are intricately connected with each other, in a way that sometimes we can’t comprehend.
Now I know that I’ve never reviewed a TV series—let alone movie which has shorter duration—since I’ve never considered myself as an aficionado in this uncharted theatrical territory of mine. I’ve always enjoyed good television series (or movies), but reviewing them requires natural flair that allows you to observe and enjoy them at the same time. And also, you need to watch huge—or in my friend Silmi’s favorite new word, gargantuan—amount of series and movies to start comparing what’s good and what’s not and I feel I don’t have the competency. At this stage, I prefer only enjoying them to reviewing them. I definitely show some appreciation to excellent series or movies, but it’s just merely caps lock squeals or fanboy screeches on my Twitter account. Nothing more.
I don’t know what makes me want to review the first season of This Is Us, especially I’ve been late to this tearjerking party for almost half a year. The reason why I start digging in the series is also kind of fuzzy. Is it because I read some tweets about Mandy Moore? Or is it because I watch Milo Ventimiglia’s interview in Jimmy Kimmel? Having finished watching the series, the reason seems to be trite, though, since right from that “Death With Dignity” kicks in, I fully realize that the series amazing. You gotta believe to my boy Sufjan: anything that features his mellifluous and angelic voice must be amazing.
It’s interesting that “Death With Dignity” begins the Pilot and ends the penultimate episode of the season. Taken from his 2015’s masterpiece album, Carrie & Lowell, “Death With Dignity” is the first track of the album where he reconnects with his dying estranged mother and tries to find some inner peace. It can’t be more suited when they use the track of the album for a show about connecting and strengthening familial bond and “Death With Dignity” pretty much summarizes what the shows about.
Right from the start, This Is Us won’t let your eyes dry. On Pilot episode, where we get acquainted with Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca ‘Bec’ Pearson (Mandy Moore), an expectant couple, we see the magic and struggle of pregnancy. Accompanied by Stevens’ harp-like guitar pluck, the scenes move to other characters: Kate (Chrissy Metz) who had issues with her weight, Kevin (Justin Hartley) a sitcom actor who underwent an identity crisis, and Randall (Sterling K. Brown), a seemingly successful black man. There’s nothing that connects these four wildly different individuals, except that they all share the same birthday. The episode progresses slowly, as John Requa and Glenn Ficarra take time in unraveling the background of these characters, but who are we kidding? We all know that they are siblings—and it’s revealed at the end of Pilot, but Dan Fogelman refuses to end the episode with predictable twist. The Pilot climaxes at an emotional and poignant scene that wets the eyes of the viewers. Fogelman makes sure no eyes are dry during this scene. He successfully makes us care about the characters from the first episode.
Fogelman is indeed an amazing storyteller. The timeline intertwines with each other and theoretically it should make the audiences confuse, but in fact it’s not. The way plot flows and the transition of the character are perfect. The intertwined timeline give you more insight of the characters’ past that turn them into three-dimensional entity. As the season moves forward, the timeline gets complicatedly scattered while he slowly uncovers the past and the present of each characters, sometimes with a cruel twist. We all begin to learn how Randall got adopted and how he’d been wondering about his biological father whom he’d finally got to meet. We all begin to care about Kate’s struggle in getting ideal body. We all begin to understand what Kevin’s aspiration to be. We all begin to know Jack and Bec’s travail in raising three kids.
The thing about This Is Us is how real it can be and it’s not just only because of the main characters’ top-notch performance, but also because This Is Us‘ tragicomedy relates to all of us. We all remember the poetic justice that life throws at us, the sourest lemon that life has given us. But, the show shows that when we take the sourest lemon, we must turn it into something that resembles lemonade. We all know how hard it is, we all know the pain that we must bear in the process of making it into lemonade, but in the end, we can enjoy the fruits of our labor. During the process, we may turn into wrong or correct direction, but it’s fine. We’re just mere human being. We’re mortal. This Is Us reminds us that death is inevitable. Life is a fast train, but as it approaches the final station, it slows down. It slows down to let us enjoy the journey that we go on with our beloved ones, to let us reflect on what’s good and bad things that happen in our past, and to let us prepare to the next eternal journey. It’s a scary thing, indeed—as well said by one of the characters in the highlight of the season, Memphis—but nothing’s scary as long as you’re with people who love you. This Is Us may mostly teach us life lessons, but it’s also filled with stories about immigrants, sexuality, politics, racism, and everything. Yet, these all will lead to one thing, which is love, the greatest of them all.
The finale of the first season may become the beginning of everything, but it ends with cliffhanger that makes you question the imminent fate of the characters. However, it’s exactly what Fogelman has envisioned about the finale. It ends with a big fight and closing door, but there are so much going on behind that closed door, leaving some questions unanswered. What lies ahead of us, what life has prepared for our future are also hidden behind a closed door. The door to answer of This Is Us is opened in a month from now, but we don’t know when our own door will be opened. That’s what makes life terrifying, but it’s also what makes life exciting. Much like reality itself, the show may allow us to take a glimpse what life is about, This Is Us is just a vestige of what life can offer.