Saturday, September 24, 2016

Thirtysomething Returns to TV .... as This Is Us


So, the big reveal at the end of NBC's new drama This Is Us is certainly the primary talking point after last night's premiere. But beyond our feelings about the twist that revealed two story lines thirty-six year's apart, I am more interested in exactly what this new series is going after. And I'm not quite sure at this point. The show - developed by Crazy, Stupid, Love writer Dan Fogelman - was adequately hyped with an intriguing premise and engaging enough soundtrack to draw us in with promises of the same feelings we had for The Big Chill or Thirtysomething or even Melrose Place. But who is the target "Us"?

Both in the title and in the target audience, Fogleman and NBC have shot for the middle of the Generation X - Millennial gap. That is either a great move with broad appeal, or it will completely miss the mark with both audiences. By focusing on three main characters who were born in 1980 and are turning thirty-six, the show is in a grey area of demographics. Most Gen Xers are between 35 - 55 while the oldest Millenials are just now 35, and they extend down to high school sophomores at the age of 16. As a 46-year Xer who has a fifteen year old son, I could be a test case for the range of this drama - especially if I can figure out what the message is. Because at this point, all we have is a quirky coincidence and a clever directorial conceit. Gimmicks, though, will only hold for a couple episodes.

Most Gen Xers have kids ranging from kindergarten to college, while the few Millennials who are raising kids are changing diapers and suctioning snot from clogged noses. Do we have a lot in common? Is there a shared experience? What do we think of each other? These are some questions which will probably decide how popular this show is. TV is certainly more of an Xer activity than a Millennial one. And more Xers are in the family game. But, as I've noted in my title, there is certainly interest in this sort of drama for teens just like in the late 80s when many young Xers were watching the Boomer-focused show Thirtysomething or, of course, the iconic film The Big Chill. Is that the feeling that Fogelman is going for? The nostalgia-angle is certainly ripe for Xers at this point.

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