This Sunday night, we’ll finally have the answer we’ve been waiting for all season.
No, not THAT one.
After the Super Bowl on NBC, the much-watched, much-loved drama “This Is Us” will reveal how Jack — the pater familias of the central Pearson brood — will meet his demise.
The cause of death is pretty much known. The opening episode of the season featured the Pearson home going up in flames, presumably with Jack inside. What remains unknown is whether he never makes it out of the Crock-Pot-caused fire — or if he rushes back inside in an attempt to save something or someone else (like, say, daughter Kate’s beloved dog).
Yes, death by Crock-Pot.
That reveal during the most recent episode caused such a stir that "This Is Us" producers and product owner Newell Brands had to assure the public that this was indeed a fictional circumstance that wasn't likely to occur in real life. That didn't stop Newell from recognizing its role in the traumatic event — releasing a statement that said, "We, too, are heartbroken by the latest development in Jack's storyline."
Besides, it’s not the most ridiculous manner in which a show has offed a character we’d come to know. The champion in that category remains the toxic wedding invitation envelopes that George’s fiancée, Susan, licked until they killed her on “Seinfeld.”
(Others might be tempted to say Chuckles the Clown on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” who, while wearing a peanut costume, was shucked by an elephant. … I won’t argue.)
“This Is Us” has managed a pretty neat trick in this age of television — letting viewers know a year ago that a main character was going die … and still keeping fans riveted as to the how, the where, and especially the when.
The show accomplished this through the time-period shifting it does in unspooling its narrative; but also in dispensing with the suspense in the first place. By the time Jack dies, it won’t feel like an ending — but the beginning of a new chapter.
We’re no longer sent reeling by the deaths of TV characters. There isn't the shock felt by those of us sitting the required six feet away from our Magnavox in March 1975 when Radar entered the O.R. (without a mask) to tell the doctors and nurses of M*A*S*H that Col. Henry Blake’s plane was shot down … over the sea of Japan … it spun in … there were no survivors.
Let’s take a moment, shall we?
The truth of the matter, though, was that regular characters who came into our living rooms each week — when that was how folks still watched television — just weren’t killed off very often.
It might happen when the performer didn’t want to continue the role, as when Jean Stapleton didn’t want to reprise Edith on “Archie Bunker’s Place." Or it could happen when the show wanted to go in another direction, as when James Garner’s mild-mannered title character in the western series “Nichols” was gunned down … and his ne'er-do-well brother (who also looked a lot like James Garner) arrived to avenge his death.
(By the way, the less said the better about the “it-was-all-a-dream” death of Bobby Ewing.)
And, of course, there are tragic cases when the actor passes away and the series must work it into the plot — either with a memorial episode (Jack Soo in “Barney Miller”), as a turning point (John Ritter in “8 Simple Rules”), or not at all (as when Roger Davis less-than-seamlessly replaced Pete Duel in “Alias Smith & Jones”).
These days, though, series such as “Game of Thrones” and “The Walking Dead” have become a drinking game of “Who’ll die next?” Betting lines actually were drawn over who Negan was going to knock off with his trusty bat Lucille in “TWD.”
And “GoT” deaths are so commonplace that they haven’t reached a “are-they-really-going-to-do-this?” moment since Ned Stark in the first season. (And when the death of a character played by Sean Bean comes as a surprise … well, hold the door, let’s just say the mayhem that follows isn’t all that surprising.)
It’s a trend that’s growing. The invaluable website TVLine.com’s list of the most notable TV character deaths of 2015 listed 15 of that year’s biggest demises. That number jumped to 25 for 2016, and 30 for 2017.
Jack Pearson (a Crock-Pot? … really?) certainly will be on the 2018 list — along with Sharon Raydor, the police captain on “Major Crimes” who died of a heart ailment four episodes before the finale of that longtime underrated series.
Raydor’s death — despite the foreshadowing of her failing health and a request for Last Rites from her priest — stunned fans who hadn’t imagined the show would go through with it.
That might make her exit a candidate for another of TVLine’s lists. She could join Henry Blake, Ned Stark and Negan/Lucille victims … SPOILER ALERT … Glenn and Abraham in its photo gallery of “The 84 Most Shocking Deaths of All Time.”
There are 84 “most shocking” TV deaths? It seems as though this plot device, like nostalgia, ain’t what it used to be.
— Mail Tribune copy editor Robert Galvin, who hasn't trusted elevators since Rosalind Shays got the shaft on "L.A. Law," can be reached at a new email address ... email@example.com.