NBC drama defies stereotypes, celebrates character differences

NBC recently launched the second season of the series, “This is Us.” The popular show is groundbreaking in the way it portrays diverse families and relationships, teaching an imperative lesson to viewers that love has a plethora of representations.

Dan Fogelman, writer and executive producer, has crafted a complex and inspiring storyline in the series. “This is Us” chronicles the lives of four people who share the same birthday, but lead very different lives. The characters are refreshing in their diversity of races, backgrounds and struggles, which is unfortunately scarce in modern day media.s

The protagonists in “This is Us” defy stereotypes of the perfect nuclear family. Jack, played by Milo Ventimiglia, and Rebecca, played by Mandy Moore––a white couple–– are biological parents to boy and girl twins and adoptive parents to one African American boy. This dynamic challenges the notion that family is only blood-related and mono-racial. 

Furthering the commendable representation of race, their adopted son Randall, played by Sterling K. Brown, defies racial stereotypes in the workforce. “Numerous studies documented the high rate at which persons of color were typically portrayed as violent or dangerous in newspapers and television,” according to Journalist’s Resource. This generalization of racial minorities is harmful, especially at a scope as wide as the media.

Fortunately, “This is Us” casts an African American character in a different role than the media encourages. Randall is a prosperous family man and a businessman who holds a high rank in his company. This professional role is juxtaposed with the common portrayal of African American men.

“This is Us” characters object racial and familial stereotypes. One of the twins, Kate, played by  Chrissy Metz, is fighting a battle with her weight. It is uncommon to see an overweight character in a television series that is not used as the “joker” or “friend” stock character. “It’s refreshing to see a broadcast series spotlight an overweight character who’s not a sitcom dad with a hot wife,” according to The New York Times. 

Not only does “This is Us” provide an overweight central character, but the series gives this character a wholesome romance. It is common for characters struggling with their weight to either be doomed to a nonexistent love life or be awarded with a physically fit partner. At a support group in the first episode, Kate meets Toby, played by Chris Sullivan, a jolly man who is also struggling with his weight. The series defies stereotypes of overweight people, challenging the idea that they are unworthy of both respectful representations in the media and romantic relationships.

Some television critics, however, do not believe that “This is Us” deserves praise. A review by Slate notes that the heartwarming authenticity of the series comes off as fabricated, writing, “What is grandiose and hypocritical about ‘This Is Us’ is that it pretends realism, not comfort, is its goal, insulting escapist sitcoms, while it treats anger, sadness, grief, and disappointment as brief stopovers to more constructive feelings.”  

The claim that the plot and characters mock genuine feelings is invalid. “This is Us” is progressive in its representation of minority groups and realistic modern lifestyles; therefore, the series should be celebrated. 

Many family television series poorly portray families. “The Middle,” for example, follows an all-white, middle class heteronormative family. “Modern Family” may offer broadminded ideals with its homosexual couple, but the one Latina character in the series plays the role of an elderly man’s trophy wife. 

These series submit to harmful stereotypes, unlike “This is Us,” which rejects them by using its diverse cast and progressive storyline.

NBC should be commended for creating “This is Us.” It is important that the media correctly portray families of all characteristics. Viewers must be reminded that there is more than one profile of a happy, healthy family.

 Main cast of “This is Us”  (pictured above) make an appearance at the 2017 PaleyFest. The actors, and subsequently the characters, represent a wide range of races, body shapes and values. This is rare in the mainstream media, however, it is refreshing and that positively impacts viewers and challenges character tropes. (Courtesy of Creative Commons)

Main cast of “This is Us”  (pictured above) make an appearance at the 2017 PaleyFest. The actors, and subsequently the characters, represent a wide range of races, body shapes and values. This is rare in the mainstream media, however, it is refreshing and that positively impacts viewers and challenges character tropes. (Courtesy of Creative Commons)

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