March 17, 2018, 21:10

How “This Is Us” Unwittingly Reinvented the Humble Crock-Pot |

How “This Is Us” Unwittingly Reinvented the Humble Crock-Pot |

For two seasons, the hit NBC series “This Is Us” left a mysterious hole
at the center of its family saga: What caused the death of Jack Pearson
(Milo Ventimiglia), the loving husband of Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and
father of three? Even as adults, Jack’s children are rarely seen
discussing the tragedy that ended his life years earlier. In an episode
that aired earlier this month, fans finally got an answer. It’s the
night of the Super Bowl, and all three kids have ditched their dad to
watch the game elsewhere. We see Jack alone in the kitchen, putting
leftover crudité into plastic bags, wiping ranch dressing off the
counter. He powers down the family’s ancient slow cooker, used to make
the Super Bowl chili, and shuts off the lights. In the dark kitchen, we
see the slow cooker briefly flicker on. The machine then shorts out and
catches flame, and the fire spreads throughout the house. Jack’s fate is
sealed by a janky cooking gadget.

The twenty-four hours after the episode aired were devastating—for “This
Is Us” viewers, certainly, but even more so for Crock-Pot. The device in
the episode was not visibly marked with the company’s brand insignia,
but the Crock-Pot, which has been around since 1971, is by far the most
recognized maker of slow cookers. It was toward Crock-Pot, therefore,
that fans directed their grief and anger over their favorite character’s
demise. “I’ve been married less than two months and suddenly I feel the
need to remove the Crock-Pot from the registry,” one person on Twitter
wrote. “I just threw my Crock-Pot out the window,” another said. Fans on
social media demanded justice as if a real person had been murdered:
“Jack is dead because of a faulty crockpot,” one wrote on Facebook.
“Shame on you! I hope his family sues! I’ll definitely be warning my
friends and family!”

“This Is Us” is famous for triggering strong emotions in its fans (see
this list of the show’s “most satisfying cries,”
but a source close to the production told me that the creators didn’t
anticipate the intensity of the rage that would be unleashed against the
Crock-Pot. The choice of a slow cooker as a fatal weapon, the source
said, was somewhat arbitrary; the writers were only looking for a plot
device that wouldn’t be obvious to viewers, and that wouldn’t place
blame for Jack’s death on other characters. The slow cooker could easily
have been a toaster, or a microwave, or a dysfunctional rice cooker. The
“This Is Us” showrunner, Dan Fogelman, was so taken aback by the
anti-Crock-Pot outpouring that he came to the brand’s defense on
Twitter: “Taking a moment to remind everyone that it was a 20 year old
fictional crockpot with an already funky switch? Let's not just lump all
those lovely hard-working crockpots together.” (A Consumer Reports study shows that, between 2012 and 2015, slow cookers caused a hundred and three fires
and only two injuries, neither of them fatal, a small fraction of the damage caused by other appliances.)

Crock-Pot, meanwhile, determined that it had no choice but to play
along. A Crock-Pot spokesperson told me that the company launched its
first-ever Twitter account “so we could comfort fans over the loss of
Jack and at the same time share facts about safety.” On Facebook, some
of Crock-Pot’s two million followers created the hashtag #CrockPotIsInnocent, which began trending. The meme came full circle
just before the Super Bowl, when that hashtag was used in an ad released
by “This Is Us” in partnership with Crock-Pot, showing Jack Pearson
ladling himself a bowl of chili out of a Crock-Pot and beseeching fans
to “find the ability to forgive.”

No subset of the population watched all of this with more satisfaction
than users of the kitchen-gadget newcomer Instant Pot. “After watching tonight’s episode of This Is Us, was anyone else's very
first thought, ‘my instant pot would never betray me like that!’” one
wrote on Twitter. “What if the entire emotional arc of #ThisIsUs were
just an extended infomercial for @InstantPot?” another added. But in the
end, Crock-Pot’s TV cameo may have been a succès de scandale. A
spokesperson from the company told me that it’s too early to tell
whether the incident has affected sales, but afterwards Crock-Pot decals
that read “Unplug me . . . love, Jack” appeared to be trending on Etsy, and Google searches for “Crock-Pot” spiked. The following episode of
“This Is Us” revealed that Jack and his family made it out of their
burning house unscathed, but Jack went back inside to save his
daughter’s dog, and the extra smoke he inhaled during that rescue
mission sent him into cardiac arrest. The night that episode aired, just
as quickly as the Crock-Pot drama unfolded, a new narrative took hold:
blame the dog.


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