This is Us: The Power of Storytelling by Syndi Powell
Over the years, many television shows have captured my attentions: Quantum Leap, Lost, Game of Thrones, Sherlock to name a few. Currently, I am infatuated with the new show, This is Us on NBC. The draw of the varied story lines sucks me in, and I find myself laughing and crying along with the characters. The acting is superb, but the power of the show for me lies within the storytelling.
I won't reveal any of the plot here for those of you who have not seen it since it is the twists and turns that keep me watching every week. I wouldn't want to spoil it for anyone.
So what is it about the story that draws millions of viewers to watch week by week? I can break it down into several parts: a strong emotional thread, character growth, and the element of surprise. I could talk about more storytelling tricks, but these are key to my enjoyment.
First, the strong emotional thread. I admit it: I'm a sucker for stories that tug on the strings of my heart. I love to immerse myself in a story that deals with the bigger, universal themes of love, betrayal, redemption, self-image, family, and death. Because those elements are a part of my life, I can identify with the characters who explore them. I see myself in a character who struggles with figuring out what he wants in his life. I can empathize with someone who questions career choices and complicated family relationships. And because I can identify with their emotions, I am a part of the story.
Just as I empathize with the characters, I love to see them stumble in their journeys and grow out of their triumphs and disappointments. These are not perfect people living in a perfect world. Instead, they fight and cry and have breakdowns. They think they are doing the right thing in their mind when later it is revealed that their choices hurt someone else. They rise and fall only to rise again. They are not static. They change and grow and learn that what they thought they knew is only a part of the bigger story. Their growth is not contained into one episode either. They may fail miserably in one episode only to return in a few episodes to redeem themselves.
The element of surprise is key to this show. We the viewers think we know where the story is going only to have it turn and give us something we didn't expect. It is so unexpected that there are viewers who will blog about theories about what will happen next, each suggestion wilder than the last. And those speculations are usually wrong. The episodes aren't tied up in a neat little bow at the end of the hour, but leaves the viewer wanting more. The end credits start, and my first thought is "Already? But we didn't find out how X played out." The wait for the next episode stirs up more speculation. We want to know what will happen next. It keeps the writing fresh. This isn't the same thing the viewers have seen in other shows.
The power of storytelling in This is Us has made the show so successful in it's first season that the network has already ordered two more. The TV execs know that the lure of good stories will keep viewers coming back.
What shows have you watched that have captured your interest? What did the creators do to keep you coming back? What elements of storytelling make for good television?