Finally. Finally on Sunday night following the testosterone overload of the Superbowl we get to learn how Jack died in NBC’s hit show “This Is Us.” I don’t know a woman in her 30’s or 40’s who isn’t obsessed. Its our Tuesday night gelato-wine-crying-bubble-bath of an indulgence. And for most of us, its private, its not something we share with our spouse, for example. My husband walked in once when I was curled up in the dark with my heated blanket, dog, and frozen treat on a stick and said “whatcha watchin?” I said, “This Is Us.” He immediately responded with, “No it isn’t. This…” gesturing back and forth to the two of us with his thumb and pinky “…is us. THAT is them.”
I have to remind myself a lot of that, or I get resentful that he isn’t Jack. Yesterday at the grocery store I saw a guy buying flowers and I thought, Aw Jack would buy me flowers today, too. Just because I’m a little sad and a skosh sick… and, wait second. Make-upless, crazy woman creeping on guy buying flowers while mindlessly stuffing apples into a clear bag, HE’S NOT REAL. There is no Jack. Jack is a character made up by a room full of women and maybe three gay guys.
Jack, is actually an actor named Milo Ventimiglia. And while we can back-track to third grade and agree “Liv Pearson” sounds AAammazing, “Liv Ventimiglia” does not, and I could never learn to spell or pronounce that. And the worst part is, in the “real life” photos I found, he does not wear his show-signature porn star mustache/goatee. And the facial hair thing really works with his hard-earned horizontal forehead wrinkles and endearing laugh lines. So yeah, I pretty much have his name in hearts all over my Trapper Keeper.
I think to be a writer is to constantly ask the question, “What is the IT?” What is the IT that’s bugging me? What is the IT that makes a couple or story work? What is the IT I’m losing sleep over?
After all the social media buzz last week surrounding the unveiling Jack’s cause of death on Sunday, I’ve found myself asking what is the IT that makes the appeal of “This Is Us” so broad? Why are we all so in love with this show that makes so many of us cry. I heard a lot about crying.
This is Why:
- Its a drama: Drama: an exciting, emotional, or unexpected series of events or set of circumstances. We love to buckle up and and go along for the ride of “Oh my Gosh, Randall’s birth father wants to be part of his life? What? He’s dying? What– He’s also gay?” This is fantastic! Its the same reason we liked the show “Brothers and Sisters” and after that, “Parenthood.” Give me a big old family drama. But please, keep it white and affluent. I don’t want the drama of “How are we going to make our co-pay for that ER visit?” That’s too real.
- Crying is good for us: On some level we must know that which is why we sign up for it. Emotional crying is the best kind of crying. I know, I know, I didn’t really think there were other types either, apparently there are reflex, continuous, and emotional tears. Crying guru Dr. William Frey at the Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis says emotional tears have special health benefits. They contain stress hormones which get excreted from the body through crying. After studying the composition of tears (probably by having study patients watch “This Is Us”), he found that emotional tears shed these hormones and other toxins which accumulate during stress. Other studies also suggest that crying stimulates the production of endorphins. Its pretty interesting stuff actually… Link to Article
- It addresses universal family issues: Raise your hand if you don’t have someone whose an addict, gay, or morbidly obese in your family? Any triple winners out there? Certainly there is the ongoing debate of who was dad’s favorite (Kate), who got the most of mom’s attention (Randall) and who got the shaft (poor pretty Kevin) in your own family. There certainly is in mine and my parents still work to make sure our Christmases are even, I’m like, “Guys, I live in a different state and I’m a democrat. I really think I’ve outgrown the score keeping of whose getting a new dishwasher, but thanks for the snowblower.” Then I make a secret tally in the ledger I keep in my top drawer.
- Nostalgia: If you are a fan of the show, and in the age group I defined, you probably grew up in the era the Kate, Kevin, and Randall grew up in. In the show, they are all 37; so am I, right now. The music in the flashback scenes, the decor, even that awful Crockpot we now know is the source of Jack’s demise all have a sense of familiarity. It is a truism that in revisiting the past, a sense of innocence and goodness surfaces in shows like this. Think back to “The Wonder Years,” and even the movie “A Christmas Story.” Going back in time allows the viewer to mis-remember an era as being gentler.
- Its a love story: At its core, “The Story of Us” is the story of Jack and Rebecca, and it is perfect. They are beautiful, and from the first scene of the first episode when we see Jack ravage his wife while she’s pregnant with triplets, we love them. They are adorable and believable because of the way he looks at her. Leaving me to wonder ever week, have I ever been looked at like that? Damn you Milo Ventimiglia and your fantastic acting! Mandy Moore is spot on as the super mom and semi-bad cop housewife of the ’80s. Jack is the husband and father we all want to have had. He’s the perfect authoritarian parent keeping the kids on track while always providing them with a soft place to land. His fictional life was ripped from him in his prime, so like all who die to young, he lives forever on a pedestal.
For a while, I think NBC had us wondering if he would go down as a consequence of his alcoholism. I for one, thought that he was going to pass out after a relapse while smoking a cigarette and that’s how he would start the fire (project much?). Before we knew it was a fire, I think we had to wonder if he was killed in a drunk driving accident while chasing down Rebecca during her singing shindig, since he drank all the way to the gig where he found her. Like the rest of you, I love that Sunday, following the Superbowl we will learn that following the Superbowl on the show, once Jack cleans up the uneaten traditional snack food and sweeps the floor (is anyone else literally turned on by that?) he will go down in a blaze of glory, because that is how my fictional love deserves to die.