Why we’re so addicted to watching ‘This is Us’ and cryingOn February 5, 2018 by Lucius
Warning: Spoilers for the first and second seasons of This Is Us are below.
Every Tuesday night I have a fun little tradition where I change into my pajamas, grab a snack, cuddle on my couch with a blanket, and spend one full hour having a good, raw, knuckle-biting, mascara-bleeding kind of cry.
Sound horrible? I’m well aware. But a year and three months ago I decided to let NBC’s heartbreakingly dramatic primetime show, This Is Us, into my life and these weekly sob fests are the repercussion.
I’m not alone. Over 14 million people around the world spend their Tuesday nights the exact same way — willingly allowing the show’s protagonists, the Pearson family, to emotionally destroy them week after week.
Why? That’s what I was dying to figure out. So I consulted an expert.
We know what we’re in for
Since Sufjan Stevens’ tearjerker “Death With Dignity” began playing the first second of the pilot, Jack, Rebecca, Randall, Kevin, and Kate have brought viewers on a seemingly never-ending series of obstacles.
In 31 episodes we’ve secondhand-experienced the loss of a child, the loss of a parent, an adoption, family therapy, career changes, sibling rivalry, and marital issues. We’ve sat helpless on our couches as Kate struggled with her weight loss journey, as Jack and Kevin battled alcohol addition in different decades, and as Randall broke down in tears on the floor of his office.
We’ve survived, but not without destroying dozens of tissues in the process.
“I joke with people that This is Us is my weekly date to have a good cry,” Kristin Wynns, a clinical psychologist based in North Carolina, explained. “So many scenes have moved me to tears, but it’s often the scenes in which the characters are struggling with their relationships, their lives going off track, or with battling demons from the past that are so moving.”
Fans, including Wynns, go into each episode knowing full well they’ll be emotionally wrecked, and just in case they had any doubts, the cast is sure to fully play up the pain.
The actors have gone so far as to record a dramatic PSA with Entertainment Weekly apologizing for making everyone cry. They watch the episodes together in advance and share pictures of THEMSELVES crying. They’ve even created promos that are quite literally them sobbing into tissues.
What more of a warning do we need?!
In fact, the “proceed with emotional caution” messages surrounding the series are so exaggerated that people who’ve never seen a single episode can tell it’s here to destroy.
I’ve never seen This Is Us but my understanding is that every episode ends with all the main characters saying emotional goodbyes to each other before passing away together in a big bed
— Dr. Yoga Açai (@alexqarbuckle) January 24, 2018
So as we anxiously await the dreaded reveal of Jack’s death, I couldn’t help but wonder — if we know it’s going to hurt why the heck do we keep watching?
Here’s why we insist on torturing ourselves
According to Wynns there’s a perfectly good explanation for wishing these overwhelming emotions upon ourselves. (And no, it’s not that we’re all masochists.)
“As humans, we love the idea that we are not alone,” Wynns said. “Even though the plot line of This is Us may be very different from our struggles and obstacles, we enjoy watching this show because it reminds us of so many universal truths about suffering, love, relationships, and the human experience.”
Wynns said she and her colleagues often discuss the show, noting how the characters have the potential to remind viewers of their own personal experiences.
“It is a refreshing reminder that for most of us, we have dysfunctional families, if not permanently, at least for a season. But even in the midst of dysfunction, there is love and growth.”
On Tuesdays we ugly cry
Crying on the reg is not the most appealing tradition, but it’s one that I, and other This Is Us fans, have adopted wholeheartedly.
“I pretty much cry in every episode,” said Zach Myers, one of the superfans we talked to about the show.
The 23-year-old watches the NBC drama with his roommate in Brooklyn every week, recalling the death of Randall’s father, William, has been the most devastating episode for him yet. “It just punched me right in the gut.”
Meanwhile in Montréal, 26-year-old fan Vanessa Laframboise finds herself so moved by each episode that she’s unable to talk about them afterwards. Despite the weekly tears, Laframboise loves the show so much that she endures the pain of each episode twice — watching once in English and again in French with her father.
For fans, the pain is real — but as for why they’re so willing to embrace it, they agree with Wynn.
Myers sticks it out because he cares deeply about the Pearsons. “This is Us is so addicting because I feel invested in their family, and they feel like people I know well,” he said. “I want them all to succeed!”
He also feels the weekly waterworks are “without a doubt” therapeutic.
As for Laframboise, she feels the show helps more than it hurts. “This Is Us is the kind of show that wrecks you first to better rebuild you after. There is always a moral or a good feeling to draw from their story, as tragic as it is,” she said.
“This Is Us is the kind of show that wrecks you first to better rebuild you after.”
“I believe people are watching this series because it represents the average person with their hassles, as well as their successes. The characters are really human, and don’t represent an unattainable ideal. Basically, we identify with them.”
The plot lines, while extraordinary and consistently dramatic, also help remind her how important it is to care for others. “Personally, using my empathy makes me feel a little more human, and allows me to revisit times when I may not have been grateful enough. It changes your perspective.”
This Is geniUs
This Is Us might be television’s newest sob show, but it comes in a long line of emotionally charged dramas like Parenthood, Grey’s Anatomy, and more.
Though tears brought on by these television shows may seem off-putting, Wynns said they can also be one of the most enticing reasons we watch.
“Crying definitely serves an emotional purpose. It’s a release from a buildup of feelings,” she said. “There is something cathartic in having a ‘good cry,’ and physiologically crying releases stress hormones or toxins from the body. So it’s good for us!”
So there you have it, people. Tragedy works. Tears work. And we’re all clearly suckers for a good, old fashioned, relatable drama.