Why We Like That This Is Us Makes Us Cry

Photo: Ron Batzdorff/NBC.
This Is Us made its television debut last fall and quickly became a prime time favorite. Early on, it avoided the "#...SoWhite" trap by telling the story of an adopted, blended family who loves each other through some good times and some bad ones. The cast has kept us entertained both on screen and even after filming wrapped. Milo Ventimiglia’s push up tour, and everything Sterling K. Brown does keeps the excitement for This Is Us at a fever pitch. But what really unites fans of the show is commiseration — the shared experience of crying.
Each week, we tune in to have are heartstrings pulled, yanked, and twisted. I felt genuinely let down when the season finale failed to make me get that achy lump in my throat. I couldn’t help but wonder why? Why do millions of people tune in every week to feel sad? Isn’t there enough sadness happening in the world around us? Haven’t most of us accumulated our fair share of personal problems, so we’d want to avoid any more emotional distress?
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Those things may be true. But even when weeping or feeling bad is warranted, we don’t live in a society where we are encouraged to feel things. We are encouraged to do things. Bu unlike shows like Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder, This Is Us isn’t about strategy. It’s about human emotion and connections.
In a country where more than a third of adults are considered obese, we are flooded with an overwhelming number of diet programs to follow and thinner bodies to aspire to. Kate’s struggle with weight on the show finally lets people feel their way through the experience of being overweight. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, but for people who have not been touched by it, cancer remains an abstract concept. This Is Us humanized cancer by getting up close and personal with William’s mortality. Many people are overworked, but we're encouraged to just plan our finances or time better in order to take a vacation. Randall’s nervous breakdown was too real for anyone who suffers from anxiety or panic attacks.
Despite the stigma attached to crying — we usually cry when we’re experiencing a negative emotion, so crying equals bad — it is the first physiological step toward overcoming hardship. Depending on the situation, we usually feel a little bit better after a good cry. For all of the trauma, heartbreak, and distress that can cause the tears to fall, crying can be a pretty cleansing experience. So while This Is Us makes us sit with some very uncomfortable feelings for an hour every week, we still find it satisfying.
We’re not all masochists. Each week, This Is Us offers viewers a sense of catharsis that keeps us coming back for more. We don’t enjoy it because it keeps us rooted in our own pain, rather it gives us that feeling of overcoming pain, again and again.
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