OPINION: Why I love emotionally manipulative TV

I can't be the only one?

When you mention This Is Us, an American series about the Pearson clan, you get one of two responses: “I love it” or “I hate it. And it’s easy to understand why it causes such a divide.

When you sit down to watch, you better have a box of tissues handy. The show, in which the lives of three adult siblings are interspersed with flashbacks to their family when they were young, will make you cry. Every episode. It might be the kind of heartwarming, feelgood, don’t-know-where-they-came-from tears you get watching the “I Still Call Australia Home” Qantas ads or the can’t-stop-blubbing kinda domestic tragedy unleashes—the loss of a parent, the loss of a child.

So let’s call a spade a spade: This Is Us is the most emotionally manipulative show on TV and that’s why people love it—or hate it.

The series searches for human weaknesses and then probes them to best effect. You can see the plot twists coming a mile off; you know you are going to get suckered. When actor Kevin (Justin Hartley) finally gets his credible stage-play break but ditches it to be there for his brother who is having a nervous breakdown: tears.

When Kate (Chrissy Metz) watches football on her own and the camera pans to the urn of her father’s ashes: tears.

When tough-as-nails Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) fondly remembers her father-in-law: tears.

In fact, from that very first episode, where parents Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) give birth to their triplet kids, and all that ensues: tears, tears, tears, tears.

For many viewers, that blatant knife twisting in your guts is off-putting, but for me, the formula is a winner. I’m hooked, episode after episode, signing up for more torture of the emotional kind.

It’s not the only drama guilty of playing dirty, either.

Grey’s Anatomy has a pretty good track record of instigating waterwork. 

Remember Denny (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), anyone? Or Cristina (Sandra Oh) and Owen’s (Kevin McKidd) exhilarating vent scene?

Then there are serial offenders Parenthood, like when Adam (Peter Krause) came to terms with having a son who is different; ER, when Greene (Anthony Edwards) died to the ukulele version of “Somewhere over the Rainbow”; and classic weepy Party of Five, which started with the ultimate emotionally manipulative premise of five children left to raise themselves after their parents were killed by a drunk driver.

After a tough day, why not indulge in the tears and triumphs of someone else’s brood, putting your own small-scale hiccups into perspective? And with five Emmy nominations for Season 2 of This Is Us (out on DVD on Sept. 12), there must be plenty of others who like a good cry, too.


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