*Warning: This post is dark and full of SPOILERS.*
On Sunday, February 4th, the NFL will host its biggest showdown of the year, as the Philadelphia Eagles face off against the New England Patriots in the 52nd edition of the Super Bowl. But the contest on the field won’t be the only battle that evening. After the game, millions of viewers will be going to war with their emotions, as NBC will air the next installment of their hit family drama This Is Us in the coveted post-Super Bowl slot. The Peacock channel announced these plans back in May, and given that the series was one of the biggest breakout hits of last season, the decision was a no-brainer. However, as the advertisements proudly boast, the post-Super Bowl edition will be *THE* episode, the one that fans have been waiting and clamoring for. From a business standpoint, it makes sense to get as many eyes on this episode as possible, but on an emotional level, I beg the question: Is this the right time to be airing this episode?
Historically, the Super Bowl lead-out program has become almost as big of a deal culturally as the other entertainment aspects that surround the game itself: things like the commercials airing during the game and the halftime musical act. If the slot goes to an existing series, the show selected usually uses this opportunity to pull out all the bells and whistles, employing celebrity guest stars and/or breaking big storylines. One of the best examples of this is Friends in 1996, whose aptly titled episode “The One After the Superbowl” is the most watched episode of the series and featured stars like Julia Roberts, Brooke Shields, and Jean-Claude Van Damme. (Not to mention the return of Marcel the monkey!) I myself have fond post-game memories of watching Prince appear on New Girl, learning Comic Book Guy’s real name on The Simpsons, or laughing along with my friends at The Office while we watched what I consider to be their best cold open of the entire series: the Fire Drill.
This Is Us aims to follow that tradition with their own big storyline, but the fire featured in their series will definitely elicit a different emotional response than the one from The Office. Since the second overall episode, viewers have been trying to come to terms with the fact that Jack Pearson suffered a premature death. In those early episodes, it was often only mentioned in passing, which left fans even more curious to find out exactly what happened to him. The current season started to bring more answers, as we learned that a fire erupting from the family home is what ultimately claimed Jack’s life. In this next episode, “Across the Border,” we will see all of the events of that fateful night in detail. If that wasn’t enough, it would appear that given the current storylines of each of Jack’s adult children, their father will be weighing heavy on their minds in the present day timeline. All in all, the combination of the present and past is likely to result in a spike of Kleenex replacement sales the next day.
So I ask again: Is post-Super Bowl the right atmosphere to be airing such a heartbreaking episode? Consider the viewers who are also die-hard fans of what will be the losing team of the game. They will have already suffered enough emotional letdown as it is. (Especially if it’s the Eagles, who have yet to win a Super Bowl.) I can’t imagine they would want to pile Jack’s death on top of that. And let’s not even forget the fact that the man actually died on a Super Bowl Sunday! (Although now that I think about it, it was probably very smart of the writers to likely bury that fact in the previous episode.)
And yet, despite my reservations, I actually believe that this episode will be deeply and emotionally satisfying. It’s hard to see it that way, but all I have to do is just remember the actual series that I’ve been watching and how incredible the writing and performances have been. Throughout the show, aside from the initial reveal, Jack’s death hasn’t been used as a cheap plot device for shock value. Instead, it’s been the core event that drives the characters in the present, and it gives significant weight to everything that they do with Jack in the past while he was still alive. And I believe that despite the inevitable tragedy, the writers will find a way to convey the episode with a sense of positivity, optimism, and gratitude for a character whose real narrative hasn’t been how he died, but rather how he lived.
And who knows: Maybe the actual football game will be so boring and lopsided that we could probably use a little stirring of emotions from this show.
So what do you think? Will you be tuning in after the game to watch this monumental episode? Or will you wait the next day (or beyond) to watch it on demand? Let me know in the comments below!