Hello, and welcome to our monthly This is Us check-in, where we discuss all things Pearson—the questionable wigs, the bad aging makeup, and the Toby of it all. Do you have your tissues ready? Okay. Let’s get started.
As the show settles into its second season, I appreciate its willingness to continue to play with time. The show has fluctuated between the 1980s and 1990s (with terrific kid and teen actors who brilliantly channel their adult counterparts). Last night it added the aughts to its repertoire, showing us how Kate (Chrissy Metz), Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Kevin (Justin Hartley) were faring in their twenties. (Sidebar: Why is it always that the female character has bangs when the action takes place in the past? I call this “the Olivia Pope effect.”)
But let’s break down a month’s worth of This is Us by examining the show’s defining aspect—its constant surprises and reveals. I’ve ranked them from least shocking to most shocking:
Yawn. Every drama, especially family-based ones, has a character who goes through an addiction crisis. It’s not surprising given Jack’s problem with alcohol (and his father’s problem with alcohol) that Kevin would struggle with addiction. Yet it’s just so predictable. And why the heck is Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge) putting up with it? Hartley brings a lot of sympathy to Kevin with his performance. I mean, I even understood why he tried to steal the job from his roommate. But I did have a hard time believing he would go from desperate actor to someone who publicly quits his hit TV series in eight years. Here’s hoping this storyline wraps up fast.
Look, we all have our pet peeves when it comes to TV shows—clichéd things that happen over and over that drive us nuts. One of them, for me, is how child birth is portrayed. This is a TV column, not a medical one, so I’m not going to go into the gory details, but suffice it to say, I’ve given birth twice and I can promise you there would be a lot more, let’s call it, stuff, all around that living room if Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) actually had given birth at home. Like, a professional clean-up crew would have been called in. Randall, Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and the baby wouldn’t have looked so, let’s call it, spotless. But I did like that the scene demonstrated how Randall can pull it together when it’s crisis time and the through line between his childhood need for order and structure and how that effects his adult life.
I have long advocated that Kate’s weight is not the most interesting aspect of her character. I’m so pleased that the show seems to be acknowledging that as well. I’m particularly a fan of the Kate/ Rebecca interaction. That mother/ daughter friction—feeling like you aren’t as pretty or talented as your mother, frantically cleaning before she arrives, a mother whose compliments have an air of criticism—all of that is spot on. So I got a little concerned when Kate was constantly exercising. Were they going to start focusing on weight again? They weren’t. She was just keeping her pregnancy a secret. As someone who wanted nothing to do with a baby shower and will never understand a “gender reveal” party (shout out to Great News’ hilarious take on that last week), I loved Kate’s hesitancy about telling people about her pregnancy and her discomfort about celebrating it. You don’t often see that nervousness about allowing yourself to be happy that you’re pregnant portrayed on TV. Could I have done without Toby’s Flashdance announcement in the coffee shop? Sure. But overall, I’m voting Kate most improved character.
I kind of feel like I owe Miguel (Jon Huertas) an apology. I absolutely thought he had moved in on Rebecca the moment Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) died, if not sooner. But here was Rebecca still grieving Jack’s loss eight years later, realizing the happiest moments in her life will also be her saddest because Jack isn’t there to celebrate these joyous occasions with her. And there was Facebook connecting Miguel and Rebecca all these years later.
What? Where is Nicky? Is he still alive? Did he and Jack have a falling out? I can’t imagine the Jack we know would ignore his brother if he was still alive. It’s a smart and strategic move to add this plot twist. We already have the lingering mystery of Jack’s death, which needs to be answered soon or fans will become exasperated. Now the show can reveal how Jack died and still have a major development on the horizon.
Performer of the Month: There’s a reason Brown won the Emmy. He can do so much with so little dialogue, relying on his expressive face and the subtle nuances of his delivery. With another actor, the Deja (Lyric Ross) story line could have been sappy and melodramatic. But Brown gives the story the weight it deserves without turning the whole thing into some warped after-school special. Also, Brown knows just when to offer a comedic break. The funniest moment this month came when Randall decided he would follow Deja into the women’s bathroom and Kevin warned him that there could be women pooping in there. “I know,” Randall deadpanned, in just an absolutely perfect and hilarious way.
Most questionable plot development : The Big Three are ten years old and they don’t know that they had a sibling who died during childbirth? I get waiting to tell your children this. But I think 10 is waiting too long.
Most ridiculous moment: The neighborhood they trick-or-treated in looked like something out of Disney World.
We will continue to follow the ups and downs of the Pearson clan each month. Stay with us!
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 .