The TV drama “This Is Us” is the highest rated new series of the season among adults under 50. Could it be because the show reflects the original “Us” storyline?
“This Is Us” tells the story of the Pearson Family, a mother and father with twins and an adopted child who was born on the same day as his siblings. It follows the characters through multiple time periods—the children as kids in the 1980s, teenagers in the ‘90s and present-day adults—but with a non-linear storyline. Creator Dan Fogelman has compared the format to paging back and forth through a family photo album.
But they’re not flashbacks, says executive producer and director Ken Olin. Instead, it’s a way of planting visual cues that will only seem significant five or so years from now. “Even though this is an intimate drama with relatively small incidents and events, these twists feel really big and there’s some sense of this being a saga.”
That’s how the Bible unfolds. The original “Us” is a non-linear narrative. “In the beginning, God…” God’s name is Elohim, a mysterious cue since Elohim is plural. In Hebrew, plural nouns denote plurality or majesty, or both. As the Bible moves back and forth in time, we learn it’s both. God is a Royal Triune—Father, Son, and Spirit.
The earth is “formless and void,” an ominous phrase denoting judgment. Something’s wrong. Someone’s lurking in the bushes. It’s a visual cue that won’t be revealed until later, when we learn there’s a snake in the grass—Lucifer. Going back and forth in time, via the books of Isaiah and Ezekiel, we learn why Lucifer is there.
We also begin to see why we’re in the story. “Let Us make them in our image.” God is Us—Father, Son, Spirit. This is Us—God. It’s also us, as we are made in God’s image.
The Bible is full of these visual cues. We later learn of their significance, as in the stoning of Stephen. His accusers laid their garments at the feet of a seemingly insignificant man, Saul (Acts 7:58). He was all for murdering Stephen (8:1). When Saul came to faith, he became Paul, a man profoundly appreciative of God’s love and grace. Paul’s experiences gave him perspective, one reason why he was a profoundly important apostle.
Moving back and forth in time lets us in on a perspective we’ll never have on our own, says Randolph Cornelius, a social psychologist at Vassar College. “Our sense of self is a story we tell ourselves.” He says “This Is Us” tells an engaging story by taking a page from literature such as the looping novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”
It also takes a page from scripture. “This Is Us” reflects how the Bible’s storyline moves back and forth in time to give us a perspective we’ll never have on our own. The twists and turns ought to make us feel we’re a part of something really big, a supernatural saga. Do they?