This is Us scored the biggest post-Super Bowl ratings in six years.
Part of that is following a great game. (Sidebar: I live in Boston and am actually OK with the Eagles winning. I’m not a huge football fan and don’t see the harm in spreading the title of “Super Bowl champion” around. Needless to say, this isn’t a point of view welcome in my home, so I’m sharing it here. Shhhh.). Part of it is that This is Us is one of the more popular shows to air after the big game in recent memory. And part of it is that This is Us is incredibly penetrable. You don’t have to watch to show regularly to be able to find a house fire harrowing and a husband and father’s unexpected death heartbreaking.
Family dramas are the hardest kind of shows to pull off on a weekly basis. As I’ve long said, there’s no patient to save, crime to solve, or case to litigate. Each hour must mine the drama from the nuances of everyday life. This is Us has taken that platform and made time elastic, moving between the past and the present with relative ease. Sunday night’s episode offered one last surprise as the series leapt forward to show us a grown up Tess (Iantha Richardson) and a much older Randall (Sterling K. Brown). (The casting on the show remains amazing and uncanny. Richardson really does look like a grown up Eris Baker, who plays the present-day Tess). The move officially made the series the Lost of family dramas.
The show’s true gift is making the ordinary—a health scare that wasn’t, the buying of a new car—extraordinary. Its one misstep has been turning Jack’s (Milo Ventimigilia) death into a drawn out, maudlin mystery. I’m guilty of dissecting the minutia of all the clues leading up to his death. I doubled down on my idea that he didn’t die in the fire, and I was partially right. He didn’t die in the house fire, but almost immediately after, because of smoke inhalation. (Deep thought: Jack was killed by the smoke monster).
I want to take a moment to publically ask for Mandy Moore’s forgiveness because I have vastly underestimated her talent for years. The scene where she learns of Jack’s death should secure her an Emmy nomination. Who knew the crinkling of a candy wrapper could be so devastating?
But what now? We can’t go into another death mystery or can we? Here are the five big questions I’ll be pondering as the drama takes a hiatus for the Winter Olympics.
1. How much further into the past will the show go?
We know from the previews we will get to see Jack in Vietnam, and the fact that Nicky came up again in last night’s episode sure makes it seem like we will learn a lot about Nicky as well. But will the show go back even farther? If they can cast a young Randall, Kate and Kevin, can they cast a young Jack and Rebecca? Will we see their childhoods? Learn more about Rebecca’s fractured relationship with her mother?
2. Will the show continue to leap into the future?
Why show us a grown up Tess and a more mature Randall unless the show was pivoting to a new storytelling structure? We’ve see how the present has been informed by their past. Will we now see how their present informs their future? Will the future hold different family mysteries that we need to solve. Is the future Kevin romantically tied to someone we didn’t expect? Will we meet the Big Three’s children?
3. What will happen with Kate?
Now we know why she blames herself for her father’s death. (Although, as my colleague Whitney Friedlander notes, the dog inhaled just as much smoke and he’s still alive). And Rebecca vowed to spend the rest of her life convincing Kate that she’s not responsible for her father’s death, but has she really done that? Will Kate be able to move on? And most importantly—is she married to Toby in the future?
4. Will we see the Big Three in college?
I believe at the time of Jack’s death they are high school seniors (this was their last Super Bowl to watch as a family). Will we see them go off to different colleges? See Kevin marry Sophie for the first time? See Randall and Beth meet?
5. What will become of Rebecca?
We’ve seen the Rebecca who missed out on a singing career. And we’ve seen the present-day Rebecca whose every move is tinged with a lingering sadness. But, except for the two most recent episodes, we haven’t seen a grieving Rebecca. Was she always strong for her children? Did she date before she reconnected with Miguel? Will we see the Miguel and Rebecca romance? The guilt they both must have felt as they fell in love? Their children’s reactions? (Kevin is clearly not okay with it, even to this day.)
This is Us put a lot of stock in drawing out Jack’s death, but there’s still a lot we don’t know about the Pearsons.
This is Us returns with new episodes Tuesday, Feb. 27 on NBC. Read prior installments of “This Is Us Analyzing This Is Us” here.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .