Every show that focuses on adoption moves public opinion--media attention is a major reason the acceptance of LGBT individuals and marriage equality moved seemingly quickly, compared to the adoption reform. But progress on our issue is being made and more states have at least limited access to birth information for adoptees. Shows also now portray adoption in less than a glowing light. Sixteen and Pregnant, for instance, went from showing Catelynn and Tyler's giving up of their daughter in at least partly positive light so they could go about their teenage lives and finish school, et cetera, but a few years into their semi-open adoption, the audience learns that not all is happy in adoptland, and the limited contact with their first daughter Carly is far from ideal. In 2013, The Baby Sellers on Lifetime with Kristie Alley showed the dark side of international adoption.
NBC's breakout hit his year has an adoption theme right through the center: This Is Us. So far, the show speaks to the intimate issues of being adopted with clarity and empathy. For those who haven't been watching, the plot line revolves around triplets, one of whom is adopted and black, in a white family. The show moves from say, the Eighties to the present day when the kids are grown and living separate lives. In quick vignettes going from past when the triplets are children to the present, This Is Us depicts the genesis of the adult issues of the now grown children--obesity, adoption, sibling rivalry.
The two boys have the issue of adoption between them because the white biological son felt ignored while the black brother was favored because he was adopted and black, and so his mother went overboard to try to make up for that. In addition, the black son, Randall is gifted and much smarter than his adopted siblings. Randall has tried his best to make his brother, Kevin, like him, but the resentment was always burbling along. When the show moves to the present, Randall (superbly acted by Sterling K. Brown) is a successful commodities trader with a wife and two daughters, living in an upscale white neighborhood. He hasn't seen his white brother, Kevin (Justin Hartley) for years. Kevin is an actor trying to bridge the gulf from sitcom TV (where he's been successful) to serious drama on a New York stage. Thus their paths cross in the New York area.
Issues that the show has dealt with in the first seven episodes: Search and reunion with William's biological father, who becomes a continuing part of the drama; the adoptive mother's keeping secret that she knew who the father was all along; raising a black child in a white family, and that child's feeling of alienation from his race; and as noted, the sibling rivalry between the brothers; the influence of DNA.
The issues that adoptees talk about among themselves and here are handled with sensitivity and and subtlety. I am sure they are eye openers to many watching who have not been personally touched by adoption up close.
Where the show falls down is in the depiction of the traits that are inherited. We see absolutely no resemblance between the poetic/musical/drug fused life of Randall's biological father William and Randall when we meet them. The last episode (7) tried to make the bridge as we learn that not only was William a poet/drug user but he also plays the piano. Randall now intends to learn to play piano. In real life, even if the lifestyles and social status of the natural and adopting families is an ocean apart, certain traits seem to bubble up and surprise both adoptee and natural parent upon reunion. When I first spoke to my daughter on the phone--she was 15 and knew nothing about me--she said that when she grew up she wanted to be a journalist. Kinda blew me away, as both her natural father and myself were newspaper reporters when they met, fell in love and she was conceived. The synchronicity involved in adoption stories are legion.
We know that music and math are somewhat related in the brain function, but there was no nod to any music in Randall's life before he came upon his father. In high school he played football like his brother Kevin, which seemed out of character for the brainy kid that he was. Joining the school band, or a teenage garage band, would have had more resonance. However, that would have not made possible the fist fight on the football field when the two characters are on opposing teams. Randall, you see, was taken out of the public school and transferred to an academy where he could be challenged, his brother stayed with his sister in public school, which is how the two boys ended up at different schools.
The two biological siblings are incredibly close. Kevin is blond and handsome, his sister Kate (Chrissy Metz) is obese, and her story line centers on dealing with her weight, also handled realistically. No fat jokes here, poignant realizations instead. There isn't a character you do not like, and except for the above, everything happens the way it might as in life.
As for how they physically resembly one another? That's where the casting disappoints. Obviously the two boys/men would not look similar, but then, neither do the biological siblings. If they are supposedly sharing DNA, it's not obvious. Physical resemblance is rarely considered when putting biological families together on television, and it's certainly missing on this show for neither of biological siblings look like their dark-haired and thin parents one iota.
But my objection notwithstanding, the show is a milestone in portraying adoption issues realistically, the way, say Will and Grace depicted a gay character and increased public awareness of the issues involved. I've been watching On Demand, and haven't caught up with the aftershow, in which I believe the cast and producers talk about the issues they confront in the episodes. Normal time for the show is 9.m. Tuesday on NBC. I look forward to see where this show can go.
Media does have the power to make a big impact on public opinion. I knew that when I and Lee Campbell, the founder of Concerned United Birthparents, made our early television appearances in the mid-Seventies, we were not doing it only for ourselves, but for all the other first mothers out there who were living in secret. We were also telling adoptees that many mothers did not forget them and wanted to find them. Florence Fisher, the founder mother of the Adoptees Liberty Movement Association, did the same for adoptees and mothers who wondered if their children every thought about them. Today we are still working on getting every state in the union to give adoptees their full and accurate original birth certificates, and so the more shows like This is Us this the better. Legislators do have hearts--as well as siblings and children who also watch these shows.--lorraine
Looking for someone you can't find?
One show that focuses directly on reunion is TLC's Long Lost Family which finds missing family members and brings them together. I don't think I can get through a single episode without an ample supply of tissues. While some feel that these shows shouldn't be part of a reunion, their overall good--portraying the need to connect with blood relatives--heavily outweighs any negative. We still have a lot of hearts and minds to move in the world on opening the records, and every bit of focus on this issue helps.
Long Lost Family is an import from Britain where it won awards and is in production now for the second season. It is moderated by two adoptees, one male, one female, and the staff do the search as well as bring the people together. Anyone interested--birth parents or adoptees--read on and please let the producers know you heard about their request at First Mother Forum:
We understand that this is a very emotional quest and it is important to us to handle each case with the utmost sensitivity. Any investigations that we are able to take on would be at no cost to those who participate.
Getting in touch does not obligate you to take part in the series in any way. If any members of your association are contacting me through email, they will need to provide a phone number and a brief summary of their story. They must be 18 years of age or older to apply for the series.Office: 323-904-4680 http://email@example.com
Thank you so much for your time, and please email or call with any questions that you might have.
Associate Casting Producer
TLC's "Long Lost Family"
The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child by Nancy Verrier