One of my favorite shows on TV right now is This Is Us. It’s the story of three grown siblings, their struggles in life, and how their life story affects their current events. It also features flashbacks to their parents’ lives together. I needed something for Tuesday nights and I’m a sucker for a tear jerker. It’s from the makers of Parenthood, which had me in sniffles at least twice a month when it was on. I’m really, really glad I found the show.
That said, This Is Us has some things that annoy me. The biggest one is the characterization of Jack, the father on the series. We see him interacting in flashbacks with the mother, Rebecca. Basically, Jack is a saint. He is impossibly in love with Rebecca. All he cares about is being a great father and husband. He’s understanding. He makes over-the-top romantic gestures.
Jack makes no mistakes. Whatever he’s doing is always the right thing. Even when he does something that would be a mistake for someone else, the show resolves it in record time. When Rebecca first finds out she is pregnant, they are looking at an apartment when Jack tells her that he has already put down all of their money on it without consulting her. Later they find out they are having triplets and need to find a more suitable place to live. Again, Jack does not consult Rebecca. Instead, he buys a house and tells her later. In both instances, the show thinks these are grand gestures of love and has Rebecca forgiving him before the next commercial break.
In one episode we see Jack has started drinking quite a bit after work every day when the kids are young. Apparently, he’s not been present in their lives because he’s been drinking too much. The show implies that he has a drinking problem. Rebecca gives him a stern speech and he stops drinking by the end of the episode and everything is back to normal.
Truthfully, Jack and Rebecca are my favorite storylines in the show. (I also love Randall’s family and their stories, too.) Given the chance, I’d fast forward right past Kate and Kevin’s stuff to get to Jack and Rebecca. I love their relationship because it’s both loving and comfortable. But Rebecca gets to be a whole person–someone who has good days and bad, hang ups, mistakes, and moments of overcoming all of that to do the thing that elevates her to a higher level.
And then there’s Jack, a one dimensional dream husband for us to ooohh and ahhh over. It’s getting to the point where I’m starting to dislike him because he’s not as real as all the other characters. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if we find out that he’s been killing hookers and burying them in the backyard. Anyone who seems too perfect is suspect in my book. I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop and if it doesn’t, I’ll be incredibly disappointed.
When you’re writing a novel, characterization is huge. Your characters drive your story through their wants, their actions, and their flaws. If the character has everything, does everything right, and always wins, there’s no story. When I start writing a new character, I plot out a lot of their personality by asking questions like:
–What does she want?
–What is she going to do if she doesn’t get it?
–What is her flaw that keeps getting in her way?
Audrey Hart was my main character in The Super Series and she is full of flaws. I wanted to show how someone who was a hero in one part of her life could also be a mess in other areas. In fact, I’d describe Audrey as a walking talking flaw. But even the characters around her who seemed to have their shit together have flaws they have to work through to move their own story forward.
Don’t be afraid to embrace a character’s flaws. Every great character in the world has them. Sherlock Holmes. Harry Potter. Jane Eyre. Bilbo Baggins. Even Batman has his flaws. It’s what makes them human. It’s what we connect with. It’s what make them real.