TV Review: “This Is Us” Gives You All the Feels

Martha Trydahl Martha Trydahl TV Review: “This Is Us” Gives You All the Feels
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I have to admit, I was hesitant about this show at first. I pre-judged NBC’s This Is Us to be nothing more than a nighttime soap, starring Mandy Moore of all people. And while there is certainly drama on this show, there is So. Much. More.

Every Tuesday, I saddle up with some tissues and prepare for the emotional rollercoaster that is This Is Us. Creator Dan Fogelman (Crazy, Stupid, Love.) is a master at unfurling a story. And with such a tight cast (only five main characters), he is able to tackle a surprisingly deep and layered storyline.

Starting with the over-publicized pilot episode, we learn that the main characters share the same birthday. But in fact, their lives are even more intertwined — we learn that we are following parents Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore), and their three children, Kate (Chrissy Metz), Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown). Jack and Rebecca are pregnant with triplets, but they lose one of the babies in childbirth. Heartbroken, Jack sees a newborn baby in the nursery that had been left at a fire station. Jack and Rebecca adopt the baby (Randall), and the family is complete.

The show continues to reveal pieces of the story and the characters through flashbacks. We pivot between childhood, the teenage years, and today, when the kids are now 36 and at very critical points in their lives. As we get to know each character, we can’t help but cheer for them in spite of (if not because of) their flaws. The emotional level of this show is through the roof, because we love these characters so hard.

We find Kate at a low-point in her life, frustrated with where things stand at age 36, promising to lose her extra weight. She meets a new man (Chris Sullivan) at a weight-loss meeting, and their shared sense of humor makes the sparks fly.

As the show goes on, we see how close Kate is with her twin brother, Kevin, and the comfort and support they are able to find in each other. We also see how she dealt with having a beautiful, thin mother while she struggled with her own body image as a child. Kate and her new boyfriend, Toby, continue their weight-loss journey together, laughing and enjoying each other along the way. But the relationship falters as Toby falls off the wagon. He’s has been an honest, loyal companion so far, and it’s hard to see him falter.

I must say, I am torn about Kate’s character. On the positive side, she is a plus-size woman who is a main character on a show that is NOT a comedy. That in itself is a wonderful thing. However, her storyline doesn’t stray too far from her struggle with weight. I would love to see more depth to this character, which is not limited by Metz’s acting skills. While Metz’s emotions may be subtle, they are honest.

Kevin is a rising star on a hit show, Manny. However, he struggles with the strength of his own integrity, along with his career’s lack of authenticity. He often has his shirt off and spews a catch phrase every few minutes on set. He ends up dramatically quitting the show, possibly ending his career.

Kevin continues to struggle with his constant need for affection. We discover it is deep-rooted in his relationship with his brother Randall, who he believes stole all of the attention and love from their mother. Although Kevin is cast as the hot but vacuous sibling, we still see some depth in him, especially in his recent monologue explaining the concept of death to his young nieces through an abstract painting he’s made. He poignantly explains that he imagines that everyone gets to make their own mark on the painting, “…What if we’re in the painting before we’re born? What if we’re in it after we die? … Eventually we’re not even different colors anymore. We’re just one thing. One painting.”

Randall is a successful businessman and the only sibling with his own family. He has a loving wife (Susan Kelechi Watson) and two wonderful girls (Faithe Herman and Eris Baker). However, he seeks out his birth father (Ron Cephas Jones), and struggles with his decision to contact him. When he does, he discovers his birth father has terminal cancer and ends up moving him into his home.

Randall is easily my favorite character because his issues are the most complex. Brown portrays the vulnerable yet tenacious character with precision. It’s interesting to see how Randall’s adoption, his childhood, and his family have all shaped his character. In the most recent episode, tension surrounding his relationship with Kevin comes to a head, and they end up fighting in the street. But like all good nighttime dramas, it’s neatly resolved just before the credits roll.

The show can still waver into emotionally gooey territory. And the sentimental one-on-ones can be a little patronizing. But overall, this is a well-written show that rolls from moments of gut-wrenching sorrow to well-timed comic relief.

The entire cast is excellent, but Mandy Moore is firing on all cylinders. The relationship between young Jack and Rebecca is honest and sweet. It shines a bright light on the struggles of parenting, which I personally appreciate. Parenting is the toughest, most rewarding thing we can do as people…and did I mention it’s tough? It’s great to see Jack and Rebecca, who I think are excellent parents, struggle as well.

While I may tear up at almost every episode, I’m sure this week’s Thanksgiving episode (which airs November 22) will be an epic tear-jerker. Since NBC ordered a full 18-episode season, we have quite a roller coaster ahead of us. I can’t wait to see how the characters develop further.

Grade: A


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