I’m guessing that if you’re a mom, a human woman, or even just a person with a television, you watch This Is Us.
But for anyone who needs a background, This Is Us is a heartwarming, tear-jerking, network juggernaut and it is having a moment. It won the coveted Super Bowl lead-in spot, it won the Screen Actor’s Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama (SAG’s version of Best Drama, basically), and it is consistently one of the most highly discussed television shows on social media.
While I have watched from the beginning, because I am at once a mom, a human woman and a person with a television, it has taken me some time to really fall in love with the format and all stories of the show. I’ve been waiting, letting my love for Sterling K. Brown and Mandy Moore carry me through, and it has finally paid off.
Mandy Moore took a star-turn in that Super Bowl episode. Though she’s always been a star to me (I was in high school when A Walk To Remember came out, and it exactly hit on my very tender and angsty teenage heart; a fan was born), she hasn’t exactly been considered a cool celebrity.
She wasn’t the hippest pop star, her movies were fun and light, but her acting skills were barely noted. She’s been working, but she hasn’t been shining. Today, that is slowly shifting. She has never been cooler, more relevant both in the celebrity landscape and to myself as a mom.
Many fans, celebrities and fellow cast mates took to social media to sing her praises for her stunning and gutting performance. Some reviewers are calling for the Emmy already for the candy bar scene alone. Though this turn of attention and appreciation for her skills are somewhat laced with shock and surprise—a certain, where did that come from? Is that really the same girl who sang Candy in a green VW beetle?
I can’t say I’m surprised by this tone, Mandy (as I call her, because in my crazy brain we’re kind of besties?) has been underestimated her entire career. But what has surprised me is the conversation her performance sparked in my mom’s forum on Facebook.
For the uninitiated, moms groups on Facebook are this strange microcosm of mothers whose aim it is to uplift and support each other through questions and hardships regarding our kids, but can also quickly devolve into judgmental spatting and pregnancy test confirmations (“seriously is that a plus sign or not?!”).
Television shows and pop culture don’t typically come up unless it has to do with Daniel Tiger and how much screen time is too much screen time. But This Is Us has served as a constant topic of discussion since it began. The themes of family, belonging, interracial adoption, isolated motherhood, heroic fatherhood, strength, love, and loss are touching a lot of us. I’ve enjoyed and cried along with everyone since the pilot, but it wasn’t until these past five episodes or so that I have finally agreed with the mothers in my group that this is a show for us. We all could finally relate to Mandy’s Rebecca, because the show finally gave us something to hold on to.
This Is Us has been all about Jack from the beginning. He’s the patriarch, the perfect father who died too soon, whose death catapulted the fate and dynamics of the family into unexpected and splintered directions.
This focus on him became a point of contention for me at the start of Season 2. I wanted to see more Rebecca. Not only because I love Mandy (well, that too), but also because as a mother, I wanted to know more about her true experience. I wanted her character to be treated with as much affection and attention as Jack has been. I wanted to know what this was all like for her, how she handled motherhood as a widow. What she did right, not just what she did wrong in the eyes of her children. I had grown weary of seeing her constant failures (or perceived failures as her children experienced them).
Then finally we were given the family therapy scene a few episodes back in “The Fifth Wheel”. The one where Mandy’s acting chops started to really emerge, the one where the Pearson family dynamics finally started to make some cohesive sense. It was one of the most gratifying, well-acted and well-written scenes to date.
By the Super Bowl episode, our investment was worth the wait as we were witness to what Rebecca has truly been through, what she had to decide, how she had to persevere. By the follow-up episode, “The Car”, we are let in even more to all the ways Rebecca served her children. How and what she tried to do to keep her kids from sinking into the depths of despair that the loss of a father can have on teenage children.
We don’t agree on everything, but the mothers in my group handedly agreed that the scene of her keeping it together for her children, of not falling apart for their sake, was one of gutting glory. A twist on the heart that I’m guessing every mother, probably every woman, can relate to. “I will not let this break me.” Or, “this can break me, but I will not let it break my kids.”
It was these scenes, this story, that pulled me in as a mother even more. That united all of us moms in that group for once. To see a mother’s perspective reflected on screen with care, attention and utmost respect is gratifying and unbelievably emotional. I can’t relate to being a superhero father because I’m not one. But the strong, sacrificing mother who gets all of the blame and none of the glory? You had me at “take a walk if you’re going to fall apart.”
This Is Us has taken us on a ride and with Rebecca’s story now front and center, I am more buckled in than ever. And Mandy? I always knew you had it in you, girl.
Photo courtesy of NBC.