Though all of the interwoven storylines on This Is Us bring unique themes and perspectives, one has risen above the rest throughout the first season. In both the past and present, we've seen Randall struggle with race and identity. As a black child adopted by a white family, he was often made to feel like an outsider and was desperate to find his birth parents; as a man now raising a family of his own and finally spending time with his biological father, he deals with feelings of abandonment and doubts about his identity. Though it's been difficult for his character in both timelines, actor Sterling K. Brown tells Bustle that while This Is Us isn't "trying to hit anybody over the head with it," it does hope to "gently expose people to the realities different people face in different situations."
Everyone has likely felt like an outsider at some point in their lives and even if it wasn't in the same way as Randall, they can still emphasize with some of his experiences. This Is Us just takes that basic feeling of not belonging and connects it to the experience of being adopted and overarching issue of race. "The fact that he is African-American and doesn’t know who his birth parents are ... and so, the constant wondering of 'where are my people?' ... 'I know this is my family, and I love my family but I know that there are other people out there that I might have more in common with than my own family,'" Brown explains of Randall's desire to find his birth parents. "So, there’s always this sort of ‘are they there?’ ‘will they accept me?’ because even though I’ve been accepted by this family, I still get taunted by my brother, my brother’s friends call me Webster, so even in the place that is home, I’m a bit of an outsider."
Brown also sees Randall's adult life as an extension of those feelings, which he thinks "can’t help but shape you." As he explains, "I think you see Randall has been very conscientious [in his] decision to marry a black woman. They have black children and the creative space where everything has a certain commonality to it, so no one feels like they’re outside."
But, as we've seen, none of those feelings have taken away from Randall's love for the Pearsons. Though it's currently strained, he has a close relationship with his mother, Rebecca, and deeply loved his father, Jack. And according to Brown, they've influenced Randall's own parenting. "I can say this as a parent myself ... there are things that I like about what my mom and dad did, that I hope to replicate for my children and then there’s a few things that I would like to have done differently. And everybody tries to start from that blueprint and just rework it slightly," he says.
"I don’t think Randall is any different. I think, by and large, the love that he received from his parents, he tries to endear his children with that exact same sort of love. And every once in a while if he feels that things didn’t go right, he’ll try to make an adjustment and see if he can’t do it slightly better. It doesn’t always turn out that way, but that’s the goal."
So far, it seems like Randall is succeeding — not only in showing his children that love, but his mother, his birth father, his wife, and his siblings, no matter how much they disagree. And through his struggles, Brown says, This Is Us has "a chance to tell a story that’s not often shared on a large scale" and give "people have an opportunity to grow in empathy, to grow in understanding."
Images: Ron Batzdorff, Paul Drinkwater/NBC