It’s a crying shame when TV shows overdo the sentimental stuff

Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia in a scene from "This Is Us."
Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia in a scene from "This Is Us."Ron Batzdorf

Q. In your review of “Away,” you said it’s like “This Is Us” in that it “rubs our noses in the heroism and dignity” of the characters. Really? I don’t find that to be the case. You are too cynical.


A. Maybe so, maybe so. But I nonetheless feel as though “This Is Us” lays on the schmaltz too thick, trying to make me cry at least once between every commercial break. And “trying” is the key word in that sentence. When I am genuinely moved as a viewer, I do sometimes naturally cry or choke up. But as soon as I feel as though the writers are working hard to stir my emotions, as soon as the soundtrack music heightens to assist in the job of triggering me, I start to resist. It’s almost unconscious, but on a deep level I just don’t respond well to manipulation. Of course, it’s all subjective.

That pushy quality in a series isn’t always a deal-breaker for me, by the way, and that’s probably where I differ from many TV critics, a breed for whom “too cynical” is a compliment. I do watch “This Is Us,” and I consistently admire its formal structure and some of its acting as much as I consistently dislike its aggressive sentimentality. I enjoyed every episode of “Away,” which premiered on Netflix last week, even though I could feel the writers and actors conspiring to get me worked up about the redeeming qualities of humanity and the private heroism that gets people through tragedy — easily overdone themes like that. Without spoiling much, I will say that the wheelchair story line in “Away” is, for me, the epitome of tear-jerking manipulation. The action on the show toggles between the five astronauts on a three-year journey to Mars and their families on Earth, and the material set on Earth is significantly cornier.


The acting in “Away,” led by Hilary Swank, Josh Charles, and Talitha Bateman, is good, too, which helps to counteract some of the script’s mawkishness and, in terms of the international crew on board the spaceship, the stereotypes. When someone asks me if they should watch it, I respond with a question: How do you feel about “This Is Us”?



Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.