This post may contain mild spoilers for Netflix's Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life and past (but not future) episodes of NBC's This Is Us.
All TV families are not alike (except maybe on holidays, when most of them go way overboard). But families whose stories get more than 22 minutes a week, and don't, say, also work together in law enforcement, like the Reagans of CBS Blue Bloods, are rare enough that I pay attention when I see them.
I don't always love the manipulativeness of NBC's This Is Us, the hit family drama from Penn grad Dan Fogelman that marks its "fall finale" Tuesday (worry not, it returns Jan. 10), but I do love the way it shows the hard work involved in making a family and how even the best-intentioned parenting can go wrong.
1. Fathers matter. Dead fathers, absent fathers, biological fathers, adoptive fathers, even ghost fathers (who've now appeared in both of Fogelman's fall shows, This is Us and Fox's Pitch) all have their parts to play in the production of interestingly conflicted TV adults. And if Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel) thinks that being brought up without much involvement from her largely out-of-the-picture father Christopher (David Sutcliffe) didn't screw her up in any meaningful way, I dare her to sit down and watch all four 90-minute episodes of A Year in the Life, including those ominious final four words, and get back to me.
2. Mothers matter, too. If This Is Us' Rebecca (Mandy Moore) can screw up, anyone can. It may have been a mistake to keep Randall (Sterling K. Brown) away from his recovering addict father, William (Ron Cephas Jones), all these years, but I'd choose Rebecca over most TV mothers, and especially over the delightfully daffy Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham), whose best-friends parenting style hasn't worked out so well. And yet even Rebecca's three offspring aren't perfect. Except for maybe Randall, who's so perfect it's killing him.
3. Thirtysomething is the new puberty. Rory would look like less of a mess if she were still in high school (when she mostly had it together), rather than nearly a decade out of college. Randall's siblings, Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Kevin (Justin Hartley), only seem sad because they're 36, not 16.
4. Never leave any kind of family gathering until the episode's over. Not only might you miss some key announcement (see Words, Final Four), but there's always a twist. So pretend you're at a Marvel movie, and stay seated till all the credits roll.
5. It is way easier to bring other people's babies home from the hospital than I thought. Even the biggest fans of This Is Us have had logistical questions -- What happened to William's cat? Why weren't Rebecca's triplets delivered by C-section? -- but I'm still stuck on the end of the first episode, wondering about the logistics required to get the abandoned Randall into that third bassinet. And yet I get it, too, that the pilot represents a kind of romance, that we'd all like to believe our most generous impulses could be so easily executed. The show that follows is, at least in its best moments, making that early suspension of disbelief worthwhile.