Commentary: The Long-Form Storytelling Of ‘This is Us’ Is An Example To The Television Medium

by Frank Martin

Television is a bizarre medium. It encompasses several different installments of a story over the course of not just the whole season, but an entire show. There are many different approaches to do this and it is difficult to compare them all. For a long time, shows took a plot-of-the week type of approach, where each episode was a different obstacle, challenge, or conflict to overcome. In recent decades, long-form storytelling has become more popular. But even these shows, which seek to tell a single story from the premiere to the finale, are often organized in seasons that can be isolated and broken up. An incredible example of this is the recently completed NBC show This Is Us.

On paper, the show is about as “slice-of-life” as one can get. It follows a single family and its members from childhood to old age. It can best be described as a drama, but the show does the an excellent job highlighting the meaning of life, family, and relationships as we all struggle to get through this world together.

But what the show is about is besides the point. What’s extremely impressive is the format it takes. The show is structured as long format storytelling, but its very hard to decipher the difference in seasons. With most shows, seasons can be viewed as patches that make up the whole. Obviously, This Is Us did that as well. But since the show’s narrative doesn’t work in linear fashion, it gives off the illusion that every scene, every episode, and every season was crafted all together. The timeline and chronology of the show truly appears as one big story from beginning to end. Which is how it should be. If This Is Us is about life, then that is exactly how its story should be experienced.

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