Is this Us? An Analysis of NBC series This Is Us

Few shows rise to the instant praise of NBC’s This is Us. This is Us debuted late last year and occupies a consistent place on Facebook and Twitter timelines. Weekly, viewers lament on the beauty of the writing and acting, deeming the series a beacon in contemporary culture. This Is Us, allusive to Different Strokes (1978) and Webster (1983) (which is referenced in the series), appeases the low demands of the contemporary world—-an other in a diluted environment that appears revolutionary to those seeking nothing more than inclusion or an honorary mention.

This is Us follows the strategically named “Pearson” family—a young couple who following the death of one of their triplets, adopts a black infant abandoned at a local fire station. The naming of the family seemingly speaks to the pseudo humanism the series tries so desperately to portray. I say pseudo humanism as the series functions to illustrate who the humans are—and they are not members of the black collective.

Adopting an abandoned Randall paints series protagonists Jack and Rebecca Pearson as contemporary white saviors. As contemporary white saviors, the Pearson’s validate interracial adoption, suggesting that white parents breed black excellence. Randall Pearson, named after Dudley Randall, becomes the most conventionally successful of the Pearson children, obtaining a means to purchase a home and support a stay at home wife and two children.

Covertly, the Pearsons do not raise a conventionally successful child, but breed an employee for the western work force. Ironically, episode “The Trip” depicts an adult Randall reflecting on his father’s path in comparison to his own choices to which he states the following:

“My father wore a tie because he had too, I wear a tie because I want too.”

The series writers most likely implemented this line as a means to illustrate Jack Pearson as embodying a sacrifice that liberated his children. However, the racial dynamics of their union thwart this representation. Pearson, despite not coming from wealth, has a privilege that he can not pass on to his adopted black son. Thus, the life Randall leads as a black man who works for another white man in a white collar profession, is a life chosen for him by western white supremacy. Despite his adopted last name being “Pearson,” as a black man Randall’s personhood is continually at state, making a “personal” choice not only an oxymoron but impossible. Randall, a black man raised by a white family in a white world encompasses a crippled mental state that predisposes him to making choices that foment his disenfranchisement. Furthermore, while most viewers praises the Pearson family for adopting Randall, the Pearson’s acquisition of Randall’s black body placse them in direct correspondence with their historical counterparts. Thus, it becomes impossible not to see the series allegorically.

  1. A Stolen Name: Like the European settlers did to the abducted Africans, the Pearson family changes Randall’s name. Initially named Kyle by his birth family, The Pearsons name Randall after Dudley Randall. Randall’s naming undoubtedly exists to function as a means to illustrate the Pearson’s effort to connect Randall to his roots. This of course overlooks the fact that Randall’s name also reflects the coerced assimilation of an abducted African.

2. A Stolen Legacy:    Episode “The Trip” depicts Jack Pearson introducing Randall to strong black male role models in a martial arts class, where Jack goes the extra mile to demonstrate his love for his son in a physical demonstration where he must lift his son on his back. This scene functions to touch readers and teach audiences that love knows no color. However, this scene reeks of white self-righteousness. Namely, this same episode revealed that Randall did have a strong black male figure in his life, his birth father William. Randall’s birth father William, curbed his drug addiction following Randall’s birth, and wished to be a part of his son’s life. Randall’s mother denied William entry into Randall’s life, making this scene between Randall and his adopted father tear-jerking for reasons absent from the casual gaze. This scene functions to illustrate the depth of white abduction, and the paradox seemingly positive actions embody when the positive actions exists to cure a negative action implemented by the so called bearer of a good deed. Leave it to white supremacy to save you from a burning house to where they struck the match that started the first flame.

It is worth mentioning that this series, like many other contemporary series paints the white woman as an eve-like figure who eats the poisons apple and corrupts mankind. Rebecca’s selfish act to sever Randall from birth father William, exists to paint Jack, the white man, in a more favorable light. Given that the lead writer of the series is a white woman, this act most likely surfaces to take an objective stance, while simultaneously illustrating the white man as a benevolent leader needed to balance the evilness of femininity.

To add insult to this injury, the series juxtaposes the white female struggle with the perils of black masculinity. An insulting comparison that composes much of contemporary reasoning. Viewers watch as Kate’s weight outcasts her and Randall’s blackness continually places him on the sidelines. In the episode “The Pool” viewers watch Kate receive a cold letter from her slender friends stating that she “embarrasses” them and  Randall’s thwarted desire to engage with those who look like him. This comparison overlooks, as many do, that white women are beneficiaries of white supremacy. They do not completely benefit but benefit significantly more that any black person, rich, poor, educated, gay or straight will ever benefit.

3. A Systemized Familial  Unit: Femininity and motherhood are central themes in This is Us’s allegorical portrayal. Abducted Africans were instantly labeled “other” and severed from their lack of origin, two factors that functioned to dehumanize and cast them into the flames of western domination. This Is Us illustrates Randall in a similar environment, where he is severed from his birth parents and cast into a white world where he is habitually outcasted and “othered.”

Although seemingly advanced, This Is Us implements the common controlling image of drug addicted black bodies. Randall was abandoned by drug addicted father at a fire station. A careless act implemented in the series to embody the essential binary opposite to fictive white greatness. This attribute exists solely to make the flaws of the white characters pale in comparison to what drugs caused the Randall’s birth parents to do to their son. This depiction oversimplifies the systemic nurturing black bodies face in lieu of their conflicts. The black body faces a series of traumatic experience to which the western world hands them everything but themselves to believe in. The tools provided to  the black collective murder the black body who seeks to self-medicate the wounds cast onto them by the western world. Furthermore, Randall’s parents were not deadbeats but systemically smothered. To acknowledge the systemic role in Randall’s disposition would not be an excuse on the part of the series but an act to enlighten the masses to something other than a fictive white superiority.

White superiority is of course the not so hidden theme of this series. To foment white superiority, This Is Us functions to create comfort for whites amidst their racism despite veiling this motive in a seemingly inclusive dynamic. It is also worth mentioning that while veiled as a diverse series, This Is Us does little to stray away from heterosexual white romance, a romance that functions as the root to every relationship portrayed by the series.

White heterosexual relationships dominate this country just at Adam and Eve dominate biblical testimony of our world’s origins. The series illustrates that just as the sun is what planets revolve around, it is the white heterosexual romance that births the “other” and all relationships that dominate the earth.

To combatively articulate the exclusion depicted in this so called inclusive series, I originally titled this piece “This Ain’t Us.” However, this series accurately reflects the racist narcissism that has always dominated this country. A portrayal that functions to falsely illustrate whites as healing humanists that anchor the entirety of all western experience.

Alternatively, this portrayal is not entirely untrue, as whites created fictive constructs like race and gender as characters in a fairytale to which the white man is the sole character to consistently live “happily ever after.”

So “this” is us.  It is my analysis that blacks enjoy this show because they live vicariously through Randall— a displaced black body taken in by a white family and nurtured to succeed. Many blacks remain adamant in their quest to believe that white people are innately good and that racism is merely a bad dream that we are all bound to awake from sooner than later. So “us” is the collective optimist that views this series, a product of white creation, as a hopeful effort to cure a conflict epitomized in execution.