NBC’s hit dramedy “This Is Us” ushers in a new brand of television programming that transcends any stereotype of the black or American family.
“This is Us,” which returns for the second half of its season on Tuesday, is an unlikely story of unconventional triplets raised in the suburbs of Pittsburg, Penn. Biological twins, Kate and Kevin, are featured alongside Randall who was born on the same day, abandoned at a fire station, admitted to the same hospital, and later adopted by Kate and Kevin’s parents.
Randall is the overachieving, black adopted son of white parents Rebecca and Jack Pearson. Played by actor Sterling K. Brown — who just picked up an award for this role at Sunday’s Golden Globes — Randall is a complex character America has grown to adore. Caught between two worlds, Randall spent his formative years trying to figure out what it means to be black in an environment that provided limited examples.
He is portrayed as intellectual, strong, passionate and romantic. He is a mama’s boy and a devoted husband and father. He vacillates between being the backbone of his family and a stable presence for his twin siblings, to a man who is crippled by anxiety.
In “This Is Us” there is no delineation of “white” and “black” storylines. Randall is allowed to be preoccupied with his formerly drug addicted and cancer-ridden biological father while his white twin Kevin is consumed by his failing career as a Hollywood actor. He can be conflicted in his relationship with a white adoptive mother. He can grapple with the idea of being replaced as the token minority at his financial firm while his Indian counterpart gains the upper hand. He can bow out of the corporate rat race due to his failing mental health. He can support his twin sister after a miscarriage and love his wife more than himself. He can pass on his good fortune by becoming an adoptive parent himself.
“This Is Us” deserves accolades for how it effortlessly addresses transracial adoption, mental illness and the intricacy of the modern family.
Two seasons have captured Randall searching for his birth family in the faces of strangers as a child, reconciling his racial identity as a teen, forging a relationship with his dying birth father as an adult, suffering a mental breakdown while working within the restrictive confines of corporate America and starting a new journey as a stay-at-home dad and hopeful foster parent with a new lease on life.
Through it all Randall has had the support of his loving wife, Beth. Randall and Beth are a captivating couple. Played by actress Susan Kelechi Watson, Beth is a sensible and strong-willed professional who is not shy about voicing her opinion. Randall is her adoring husband, trying to compensate for his past and do what is best for his wife and children.
Even when they are at odds, Beth and Randall always seem to reach a respectful compromise that works for their marriage and their family. They are still in love and we cannot get enough of this dynamic. While raising two daughters, we see them flirt, fight, make up and offer each other the level of friendship we all crave in our romantic relationships.
This story is familiar. I grew up in a nuclear family. My parents chose to settle in Virginia Beach, Va., where they purchased a home in a quaint neighborhood 15 minutes from the shore. They were a cohesive unit, raising my twin brother and me alongside my younger sister. My paternal grandparents died young, but my maternal parents are still united — providing an excellent example of marital fortitude.
As a child, I never imagined there was any other family structure. I was not aware there was a dangerous stereotype, depicting most black households as being led by single mothers with absentee fathers, liable to produce delinquent children.
In a 1993 press conference, actor and comedian Sinbad stated, “I’m so tired of reading all the negativity about black fathers running away….I had a great father. Most of the guys I knew had great fathers.”
The myth of the absent black father is real. While only 27 percent of families living below the poverty line are black and only 42 percent of families receiving welfare are black, the media purports the black family as a precarious.
The rate of black children raised in a single-family household may be disproportionate, but there is evidence to support Black fathers are more involved in their children’s lives than fathers of other races. Media misrepresentations of the black family rarely include portrayals of two-parent homes like mine, or the many I was surrounded by while growing up.
Randall and Beth cannot symbolize every family structure that exists, but their relationship embodies the spirit of commitment, fidelity and unity many of us strive for.
Within his deliciously multidimensional storyline, we can watch the flashbacks as Randall attempts to capture the affection of Beth, secure her affections and begin to build a family with her. We can fall in love with their storyline because their romance is raw, real and promising — written with the same holistic approach as any iconic television or film couple we have grown to love.
As if by strategic design, Randall and Beth have been delivered to us in the form of a black married couple that is decidedly refreshing. A black husband who is uncharacteristically vulnerable and indisputably feminist. A black wife who is equal parts commanding and soft. Together, they are designing a new ideal of what it means to be a husband and wife raising a family in the 21st century.