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How This Is Us became a matter of life and Crock-Pot

A pivotal episode of the NBC family drama literally served us death warmed up.

The Crock-Pot began planning Jack’s murder in this moment.
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

Spoilers for this week’s episode of This Is Us follow.

Of all the appliances in the world, there may be none less divisive than the Crock-Pot, a machine designed to cook food at an aggressively low heat. And yet this week, the lowly slow cooker was elevated to the realm of controversy due to NBC’s hit family drama This Is Us.

Just three years ago, the New York Times praised the Crock-Pot and slow cookers like it for their ability to transform ordinary items in your kitchen pantry and whole hunks of meat into rich stews, warm dips, and hearty braises. A whopping 4.4. million were sold in 2014, according to the Times.

This was before a Crock-Pot killed Jack Pearson.

Since its creation, This is Us has guided viewers through the lives of the Pearson family from the 1980s to the 2010s, flashing back and forth to tell different parts of each Pearson’s story. But for two seasons, the show’s central mystery has been the circumstances around the death of Jack (played by Milo Ventimiglia), who doesn’t appear in the series’ present-day episodes (though he appears in dream sequences). That mystery was partially solved on this week’s episode, “That’ll Be the Day,” as loyal viewers found out that the house fire Jack died in was the result of a Crock-Pot mishap.

In the last moments of the episode, Jack is cleaning up his kitchen, which includes a Crock-Pot he used to make chili. He finishes up, switches off the Crock-Pot, and puts some rags next to it. Then we cut to an ominous flashback in which a neighbor hands off the Crock-Pot to Jack and his wife Rebecca (Mandy Moore) with a grim warning: the switch is faulty. The show then cuts back to the slow cooker igniting the rags, and then the whole house, intercut with flashbacks of Jack and his family. Roll credits.

Given the centrality of the event to the series, and the intense emotions it was designed to inspire in viewers, it’s perhaps not surprising that some reacted by blaming the Crock-Pot for their beloved character’s death.

To address the backlash, the Crock-Pot company issued a statement to TV Line regarding the fictional depiction of its device:

For nearly 50 years, with over 100 million Crock-Pots sold, we have never received any consumer complaints similar to the fictional events portrayed in last night’s episode. In fact, the safety and design of our product renders this type of event nearly impossible …

The product is designed to cook foods over a longer period of time at low temperatures and the switches connect to only 1 side of the power line voltage, so there is never a high voltage applied directly across our switches. The switches within our slow cookers are subjected to additional internal testing, which includes a Rotary Knob Endurance test, Rotary Knob Force Test and Flame Burning Test and constructed of self-extinguishing, flame resistant material

The Crock-Pot company is being a good sport and playing along with the joke, but the release of this statement underlines the fact that pop culture can have very real effects on the reputation of real-life products. Merlot sales dropped after the movie Sideways, according to one study, while KFC saw its sales drop in part of because of a Patton Oswalt bit about the fast-food chain’s “Famous Bowl,” NBC reported.

Whether Crock-Pot will see a similar effect on its sales as a result of Jack’s death remains to be seen. Will consumers boycott the brand and switch a different kind of slow cooker? Will Instant Pot now become the go-to kitchen device? Or maybe — just maybe — this public “backlash” to the product is all a little tongue-in-cheek, and will have little effect on the humble slow cooker’s place in American kitchens.

For his part, This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman wanted to make clear that this depiction of a Crock-Pot was not intended to diminish all Crock-Pots:

While the faulty Crock-Pot’s This Is Us storyline has likely come to its ignoble end, the story of Jack’s death isn’t over yet. Like an American myth, Jack — whose children were conceived on Super Bowl Sunday — will die on Super Bowl Sunday: The much-touted episode showing exactly how he dies in a Crock-Pot house fire (which spared the rest of his family) will air after the Super Bowl on Sunday, February 4.