This is Us, NBC’s latest tear jerker drama, has been a runaway hit. Every week the audience is lulled by soft acoustic guitar and whisper singing through emotional and dramatic stories of family, those chosen and hereditary. The way the stories travel backward and forward through time have the potential to feel hokey, but here make pointaint connections that develop a world designed to pull at your heartstrings.
Having been burned by Parenthood, NBC’s emofamdrama predecessor, I avoided This is Us like the Falcons avoid super bowl wins. Being a completist, every week I was faithful to the broadcast of Parenthood even though I disliked every single character by the end. Something about the milquetoast Californian whiteness lulled me in and I couldn’t let it go. Even now I could not honestly say I enjoyed it, but I didn’t hate it either, thus I remained committed.
This Is Us, however, has been a remarkable improvement over Parenthood. Characters are flawed, yet likable, and relatable. I can even see it for Kevin (Justin Hartley); the self-absorbed, shallow Hollywood actor, whom we first meet as the constantly shirtless star on his hit sitcom The Manny, is charming. His impulsivity and drive to be the center of attention lead to some predictable situations, but you can see where his heart is. For Kevin, and for the rest of the characters in the show, their motivations are clear and make sense for each one.
Inarguably, (you can try to debate me, but you’ll lose) the best storyline rotates around Randall (Sterling K. Brown), who begins life as an adoptee into the Pearson family. Parents Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) lose one of their expected triplets during birth and take baby Randall into their home. The struggle of raising Randall, a black child in a nearly all-white town, is excellently written. The adversity Pearson’s face because of their ignorance and because of how systemic racism operates is not waved away with some Kumbaya/I Don’t See Color/The Only Race Is The HUMAN Race/#AllLivesMatter bullshit.
Adult Randall’s daughters are the most adorable babies on TV right now and his partnership with his wife Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) is truly #relationshipgoals. I have never related more to TV family. Even when Randall’s birth father appears, his story of drug addiction is treated with nuance, dignity, and humanity. Moreover, when the friction between Kevin and Randall finally erupts, it is very clear they have some writers who truly know what they’re writing about. However, this knowledgeable and nuanced writing all falls to pieces when it comes to the Pearson sister, Kate (Chrissy Metz).
Outside of the bookends of the premier and finale of the season where Kate deals with unemployment drama, she spends the entire season worrying about weight loss. Kate is fat. So when the show deals with her trials around diet, body image, isolation, loneliness, wanting and wondering if she’ll ever be loved, and desire to lose weight, I relate 100%. Having been fat all of my life, I am deeply intimate with that struggle. If she did not live in or confront these spaces, that would leave me wondering if This Is Us writers knew how to deal with it. However, the storyline written for her removed all my doubts and proved that they do not. In fact, Kate’s storyline is a firm reminder that the only worthwhile thing a fat person can do is lose weight.
We meet Kate, looking great in a cute outfit, staring at a scale. She proceeds to remove every article of clothing and jewelry, only to slip and fall off the scale. Ha. Ha.
We see Kate go to overeaters anonymous meetings, because fat people are only fat because they literally cannot stop eating, amiright? While eating disorders are a very real and serious issue, it seems that whenever a fat person is allowed any significant screen time it is paired with the conditions that must also be on a weightloss journey. Kate doesn’t have any real friends, hobbies, or interests. She has dedicated her entire self to losing weight and nothing else.
And you know what? I get that. I have been there. I tried diets, working out, food delivery services, even hypnotism, which I just plain slept through. But this isn’t just part of Kate’s story. It is Kate’s only story. In fact, when Kevin is describing his family to an actress he’s trying to woo by telling her how “crazy” they are, he says, “And my sister Kate, she’s really fat!” Wow, you’ve only shared your entire existence with her and that’s all you have as a descriptor?
Kate is so isolated that she meets her love interest, who is also very fat, in an OA meeting. Because fat people can only ever date other fat people; we’re too disgusting for anyone else you see. Toby (Chris Sullivan, who wears a fat suit for the show) appears as a Manic Pixie Dream Boy, which I can appreciate as fat women on screen are never shown being desired and worthy of romance. However, he can go from 0 to asshole super quickly and as there’s never another rival for Kate’s affections, she sticks with him. Toby isn’t really here for OA and honestly, the show doesn’t seem to be either. Kate and Toby bond over annoying oversharers and how they would never cry like these people. But y’all both signed up AND showed up? Writers, what? We couldn’t have a better meet cute for two fatties in love?
After Toby has a health scare, Kate runs away to a fat camp, determined more than ever to live life thinner. (BTW, how is Kate, who has been unemployed for months, affording this fat camp in the tri-state area?) The show treats Kate’s fatness as evidence of emotional trauma left to fester. Despite that we teach children that people come in all shapes and sizes, there has to be a tangible reason to explain your fatness. If that emotional trauma can be fixed, then the problem of your weight can also be “fixed.” No, This Is Us, fatness is not always about trauma. Believe it or not, some people are just fat and that’s OK.
The way This Is Us tackled Randall’s issues with precision and clarity had me fooled. I believed they would take a chance and tell a different story with Kate. I began to hold my breath for the break in the narrative where Kate finds out about HAES (Health At Every Size) and the Fat Acceptance movement, but subsequent episodes ended my heartbreak as the show dived deeper into weight loss being The Only Answer. While I didn’t think it feasible Kate would end the season loving her fat, I dared to hope that maybe she would begin her journey to acceptance. However, as weight loss is included in the actresses’ contract, it is very unlikely a different story will be told.