They did NOT have me at Milo Ventimiglia’s butt on the trailer for “This is Us.” They had me at ‘finding my birth father.’
Because why? For one thing, to me, Milo is Jesse the Gilmore Boy (we’re still in Season 3 of GG, trying to catch up by November, which we won’t.) I mean, I could have been his babysitter! Also, I’m just a simple Mennonite girl from the prairies who is still somewhat alarmed to see bare bums on my screen. (Although, don’t let that first little burst of moon put you off. I’m pretty sure Milo’s backside was a one-time baring.)
“This is Us” had me with its raw and tender-feeling vibe, which, when I watched the series premiere a few weeks ago, delivered on the trailer and more. And though it was hinted at in the trailer, I had no idea then how focused the storytelling would be on adoption. Three episodes in, I am astounded at what a nerve this show touches, for myself as an adoptee and as an adoptive mother. “This is Us” offer story flashpoints on the entire adoption triad—birth parents, adoptive parents and adoptees.
There’s Randall (Sterling K. Brown) finding his birth father, only to find out the man is dying.
Witness the twist to end all twists (SPOILER ALERT), when we find out Jack (Milo) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) end up losing their third twin and adopting Randall instead. Voila— a bi-racial adoption story is born.
See “Castle’s” Javier (Jon Huertas) appear as Miguel, a friend of Jack’s and much, much more. (Also, Jon Huertas himself liked my tweet about it! Be still my heart. Milo who?)
Back to adoption and “This is Us.” Never have I felt so compelled by the adoption insights in a TV show—never! This includes Parenthood and Julia and Joel’s adoption of Victor.
So, here are 10 thoughts, original to me and crowdsourced from an online adoption support group, about Us:
- When Randall’s wife asks him why he found his birth father, and he couldn’t explain why, I yelled at my TV: “I know why! I know why!” Finding my birth father (something I wrote about in detail in “Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter and Me”) was an emotional trek fraught with mystery, and yet I marched toward the almost certainly bad ending. I had to try. I had to know, even if the answers were hard to hear. Kristen, an adoptive mama, said, “I think (Randall’s ambivalence) was a great depiction of the inner conflict between not wanting to love someone and wanting to at the same time.”
And from Julie, an adoptee: “For me, it made complete sense…Who we come from. Who “made” us. They’re settled matters for biological children. However, for the adoptee…no matter how loved; no matter how wanted; no matter how we fit within our family—still we wonder. The power of the blood which we do not share with those within our adoptive home–the longing of belonging–and pursuit of knowing who we are as reflected in the man or woman who helped make us. All realities.”
- Adoptive mom Ivanna says, “When they were able to adopt Randall, I was like, “There is no way that they would be able to adopt that baby.’ It’s not as easy as just taking the third newborn home. But things may have been different then.” Ha! So true. Adoptive parents know there are stacks of paperwork, angst, stops and starts, and lots of financial sacrifice involved in adopting a baby. However, the triplets’ story began in 1980, 36 years ago, and things may indeed have been much easier. When I was born in 1968, my parents were told to come on down and pick door #1, 2, 3, 4 etc. There were babies behind every door.
- Janine: “I’m loving it so far–such open and honest conversations weaving in the adoption triad.” I would go one step further than the triad: Us delves into sibling relationships, too. An adoption quad? Andi: “Wonder how the dynamics with the 2 bio siblings and the adopted sibling will play out?”
- Wendy: “It’s emotionally moving for sure, and I am enjoying it, but why does there have to be a black, drug-addicted birth parent? We’ll see where they take it.” (This was such an interesting comment to me. As the white mother of an Asian, that aspect didn’t occur to me. But then again, there are many messed up birth parent stories from every race, my own story included.)
- Randall’s eagerness (really, hunger) to have a relationship with his birth father, to be seen and acknowledged as the child once abandoned, is authentic. We sense as viewers that he will do anything to make this weird situation work—anything. I see myself and other adoptees in his heartbreaking vulnerability and keenness, and it rings true to the bone.
- Which brings me to: HOW DO THESE WRITERS KNOW THIS? I am betting there are adoptees on the writing team; otherwise, there’s no way they could get inside my head like that (by my head, I mean the head of many—not all—adoptees).
- In an interview with “Entertainment Weekly,” Sterling K. Brown reveals his insights into Randall: “How close will you allow yourself to get to someone who’s been absent forever, and now may very well be absent again?” WOW! It’s like he peered into the depth of the collective adoptive soul, at least the soul who has considered finding or has found their original parents.
- On “original”, I am loving Randall’s loyalty and love for his parents—his real, forever, shaping, nurturing parents, Jack and Rebecca. This is not a guy who is bitter about his upbringing, which is not to say he doesn’t have ambivalent feels for his birth parents.
- As a baby name freak, I found it satisfying to see how Randall’s naming unfolded. “He needs his own name,” William said, insightfully, I thought. And though he gave Rebecca a grand naming idea, which she used, it was really her choice and Jack’s. “Naming,” my pastor and the adoptive dad of three biracial children said, “is a privilege of parenthood.” Amen.
- So important: When Rebecca, as a new and unsure adoptive mom, visits her baby’s birth father, we see clues to goodness in both William and Randall’s birth mother (whose story is veiled for now). We see a typewriter and books of poetry. We know William’s nickname is “Shakespeare.” We know he read poetry to Randall’s birth mother on the day they met. We know he cares about his baby. Sweet Molasses! These are golden crumbs for that child on the breadcrumb trail to finding his beginnings. Too bad Rebecca has to keep them to herself…
What do you adoptive mamas and papas and adoptees (and siblings of adoptees)—the QUAD—think about “This is Us”?
Do the characters and dialogue ring true to you so far?
What do you wish they would cover as they write the show?
I’d love to get a humdinger of a discussion going here on the blog, so please do comment below!