I'm the first to admit that I cried during every single episode of This Is Us. Like Hallmark commercials and commencement speeches, This Is Us transforms me into every weepy cliche: A baby, a leaky faucet, a floodgate opening. In fact, I often listen to the show's soundtrack just to bask in my favorite TV family's emotional plight and induce tears.
This is all just to say that I am a huge fan of the Pearson clan. And yet: When I saw network shows like This Is Us and Grey's Anatomy going head-to-head with Moonlight, the film that won this year's Academy Award for Best Picture, in the MTV Movie & TV Awards' Best Tearjerker category, I felt some tremors coming on. It can't be, I thought. Schmaltzy semi-soaps can't be possibly be placed in the same category as a ground-breaking film.
Both This Is Us and Moonlight were nominated for parent-child interactions. In This Is Us, Jack (Milo Ventigilma) teaches his Black adopted son, Randall (Lonnie Chavis), karate. In Moonlight, after a period of estrangement, Paula (Naomie Harrie) apologizes to her son, Chiron (Trevonte Rhodes), for her years of addiction and abuse. While both moving, the moments are tonally disparate: one sentimental, and one wrenching.
Given this year's capacity to surprise at the Oscars and in the polls, I should've known better than to be surprised that This Is Us beat Moonlight.
Who let this happen, you ask? Easy. We, the voters, let it happen. The MTV Movie & TV Awards' winners are selected democratically through a portal on MTV's website. This is an award show by the people, for the people. Well, the people have spoken. And the people were more moved by This Is Us more than Moonlight.
I'd like to think that this dramatic upset can be explained by a simple reason. With a series high of 17.7 million viewers, This Is Us captivated swaths of the American public hungry for a compelling family drama to fill the Parenthood hole. I'd venture to say that far more people saw an episode of This Is Us than went to the local arthouse cinema and watched the dark coming-of-age of a young gay man navigating a rough Miami neighborhood.
Of course, I must acknowledge the other reason why This Is Us beat Moonlight. While, at first, I was shocked to see artistic works of such different critical merit going head-to-head, the Best Tearjerker award isn't evaluating critical merit. It's an entirely subjective award, meant for people to think with their hearts and not with their heads.
I'm sure that when each Academy member goes to vote for Best Picture, she carries his or her preferences and biases. Instead of suppressing these biases, the MTV Movie & TV Awards asks fans to vote with them. And hey, once in a while, maybe it's nice to get off our critical high horses and be moved along with 17 million other Americans by the Pearson family.
This one's for you, Jack and Randall — though all in all, it's still ridiculous. Back on the high horse, it is.