It occurred to me while watching the Season Three premiere of This Is Us that I feel about the family drama the same way I feel about my real family. I love the show, but it drives me crazy. I may not see my extended family for months at a time, but when I do we’re able to pick up right where we left off. I can be critical of them because I care. I miss them when they’re not around.
Let’s be honest, if I didn’t always see the potential in This Is Us, I wouldn’t be so hard on them. I mean, you don’t see me dissecting the minutia of Criminal Minds.
So I have mixed emotions about the Pearson clan returning after more than six months away, once again kicking off the season by celebrating their birthday. It’s a thing in parenting to go around the dinner table and say the highs and lows of your day. In that same spirit, I bring you the highs and lows of the Season Three premiere of This Is Us.
1. Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) forever. Oh, how I love these two. Their natural, relaxed, loving rapport continues to be a series highlight. They also have a sense of humor about themselves that can come across as forced in other characters (if it’s present at all). My personal favorite this week came when Beth swore on Oprah that she wouldn’t get involved in Kevin (Justin Hartley)’s relationship with her cousin, Zoe (Melanie Liburd, now a series regular), and then made a donation to Oprah’s charity when she immediately broke that promise. Randall’s scenes with Déjà (Lyric Ross, also coming on board as a series regular) had a relatable and believable poignancy. All that, plus a Party of Five reference.
2. A close look at the beginning of Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca’s (Mandy Moore) romance. We knew that, even though we finally learned out how Jack died last season, Ventimiglia wasn’t going anywhere. And so we got a peek at Rebecca and Jack’s first date, on which he only had nine bucks (the episode’s title) to take her to a carnival. First of all, props once again to both the make-up department and Ventimiglia and Moore’s performances, which combine to make a young Jack and Rebecca so believable. There’s a lot of uncharted territory here, and it will be fun to watch their romance unfold and interesting to learn more about Jack’s time in Vietnam. Although the mystery of who is at Rebecca’s door at the end of the episode is a non-starter, since we know she ends up with Jack.
1. Kate’s (Chrissy Metz) weight is once again a major plot point. I don’t have the medical expertise to know if Kate’s weight is responsible for her polycystic ovary syndrome or if her size greatly reduces her changes of IVF being successful. What I do know is that when overweight people go to the doctor for just about any ailment, it’s often blamed on their size. (Please read Michael Hobbes’ great article on this very topic at HuffPost’s Highline.) So why is the series so fixated on Kate’s weight? There’s no equity here. You don’t see Rebecca (Mandy Moore) or Kevin (Justin Hartley) talking constantly about their weight or it causing them problems. Fertility struggles are real, and it would be an interesting storyline for the show to explore. But I really don’t want it to be week-in and week-out about how Kate needs to lose weight. I thought we got over this in the first season.
2. Toby (Chris Sullivan) gets rid of his anti-depressants. Instead of exploring how Toby’s worried about how the IVF medications and hormones will affect Kate, he makes the impulsive decision to flush all his medications down the toilet in the hopes that it will increase his sperm count and help Kate get pregnant. I don’t think the decision necessarily tracks with the character we know Toby to be. He’s someone who is aware of his mental health issues and knows how he is without the medication. In general, I just don’t feel like the series is poised and equipped to deal with these complex issues in a nuanced way.
3. Big, cheesy metaphor. Thankfully, I watched the season premiere with my husband, who was able to tell me that the opening football scene referred to the 1972 Pittsburgh Steelers playoff game that became famous for what’s known as the “Immaculate Reception.” The idea here is to not give up. When you think all is lost—that the fertility doctor won’t take your case, that your foster child doesn’t want you to adopt her, that the game is over—there could be a miracle at any point that could turn your fate around. I get it. It was just a little too heavy-handed for my taste.
4. Yet another mystery. Who is the ‘her” Randall, adult Tess (Iantha Richardson) and Toby are going to see at the end of the episode? Kate? Beth? Déjà? This was dangled at the end of last season’s finale. Are we going to end each episode with another clue? I really don’t want to wait two years to find out the identity of “her.” This Is Us doesn’t need this gimmick anymore.
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 .