My Jack Pearson Problem
We got hooked on NBC’s "This is Us" right from the start. Episode one left my wife and I with tears streaming down our faces. Every week we seem to take a deep breath before we hit play, as if to get ourselves into the right frame of mind to be emotionally wrecked. I think the connection was also immediate because the story starts out as the main characters are all on the cusp of their 36th birthdays, which was the exact place I was in at the time the show first aired. It’s obvious that many others have had a similar experience as the show has received accolades both in the ratings and during award season.
The central character of the show is a man named Jack Pearson (played by Milo Ventimiglia). The patriarch of the Pearson family, Jack is shown over the course of a twenty-year span from the time he meets his wife Rebecca (Mandy Moore) to his (SPOILER) untimely death in a house fire when his three kids are about eighteen years old. There is a lot to love about Jack. He embodies everything about the so-called “American Dream.” A Vietnam War vet, he's what people called "self-made." Not given any guidance from his abusive, alcoholic father, Jack navigates life with his blue collar jobs, unwavering optimism, and big heart. His family adores him, and eighteen year after his death, he is still hailed by friends and family as the "greatest man any of us will ever know." In their adult years, his children are still haunted by his death, and the void that was left in their lives.
Some see Jack Pearson as a return to the good 'ol days of television dads that we can all look up to. Like Danny Tanner, Tim Taylor, or Carl Winslow. The past decade has seen it's share of troubled fathers, spiraling out of control. Walter White, Don Draper, Tony Soprano, and Frank Gallagher are just a few of the dads who might not get a "Dad of the Year" card, but are nonetheless a movement towards more complex characters on television. Jack speaks to a sort of nostalgia about fatherhood that many feel has been lost. Jack has had his issues, but they are severely overlooked in favor of his better qualities.
Herein lies my first issue.
I think in 2018 where we see so many men falling off the horse, we are desperately grasping for some sort of knight in shining armor to put back up rather than embrace complexities in people. I think the show is too passive of Jack's faults because they know how much we all want to idolize people, even when it's actually hurting us. Perhaps (and I hope) future seasons will reveal one of the major problems that "the kids" face in their adult years is the way their father is idolized. Now I haven't lost my father. My dad is alive and well and so I have never been through he trauma of losing a parent. I can imagine the desire to paint a certain picture is helpful in dealing with grief- totally get it. But the picture the characters have painted in their minds of their father actually cripples them from embracing their own paths and instead, has fostered lives where they are in constant comparison - and so are we as viewers.
Herein lies my second issue.
So much of our lives is spent comparing ourselves to the highlight reels of others on social media. I'm constantly scrolling though my feeds with a sense of "not enough" when it comes to my life and I HATE IT. I think we can do better in our storytelling by making more relate-able characters to the reality of our lives. When it come to Jack, I think the most interesting aspect of his life is his alcoholism and I wish they humanized him more by showing ways this impacted his daily life. I'd be interested to see his struggles through rehab and the mornings where he just doesn't want to engage his kids. I want to know more about how he hid his alcoholism from his family and understand his thinking behind this. I know others might argue that it's good to have things or characters to strive to be like, but I think in the case of Jack Pearson we swing too far to the opposite side. When as dads we walk away from every episode of This is Us feeling like terrible father's in comparison to Jack, we need to evaluate the story.
What do you think about Jack Pearson? He's quickly becoming America's dad, but is that a good thing? Again, there is so much I love about Jack, but I'd love to see his character become more complex. Would love to hear your thoughts.