This Is Us focuses on a group of people born on the same day including a television actor who is tiring of his bachelor lifestyle, a man searching for his father and a married couple expecting triplets.
Warning, there are spoilers ahead.
It happened. I cried. And I’m not talking a few tears. I full on cried. Ugly cried. I already knew from the promo that debuted back at Upfronts week that there was going to be some sensitive subject matter. And then I heard from people who saw the pilot early and it was clear things were about to get very emotional. I’ll admit that I’m an easy crier but honestly I think even those with rarely functioning tear ducts are going to get weepy with This Is Us.
It speaks to the quality of the show that it can elicit such a powerful and dramatic response in its first episode. A lot of people tend to cry in season finales; there’s a sad breakup, someone leaves or a beloved character dies. But to do that in a pilot is almost unheard of. To get us to care so much about a new set of characters in 42 minutes is a feat that is nothing short of amazing. It takes an incredible team of people to produce such an episode of television so it only feels right to credit them.
Let’s start with the actor who delivered the lines that turned me into a blubbering mess. Milo Ventimiglia plays Jack, a man whose wife Rebecca (Mandy Moore) gives birth to triplets but sadly loses one of the babies. I’ve seen Ventimiglia in a few things but I’ve never seen him like this. I mean, the man is definitely earning his paycheck. The performance he gives when learning that one of his children has died is outstanding. Potentially award worthy. Is it too early to call him a 2017 Emmy contender? When he asks the doctor to repeat the news because he’s having trouble processing it’s almost too painful to watch. The agony in his eyes is just heartbreaking. He plays the scene to complete perfection, and then some. Of course, we have to acknowledge his brilliant scene partner Gerald McRaney who plays Dr. K. The inspirational speech he gives Jack had me crying all over again. Hopefully McRaney will be brought into future episodes so we are treated to more scenes with him and Ventimiglia.
It’s not just Jack and Rebecca’s story that is emotionally charged. Randall, played by Sterling K. Brown is looking for his biological father so he can effectively tell him “Screw you”. But when he finds him, his plan starts to unravel. It was very interesting to see the back and forth Randall has with himself. Is he happy or angry to see his father? Does he love him or hate him? Does he want a future with this man or should he leave it in the past? From Randall’s behaviour it seems as if the answer to each question is both. Brown does an incredible job in making his character’s reactions seem very real. His line “He left me at a fire station and I invited him into our home”, followed by manic laughter is especially touching. With such high reliability this storyline might actually be the most interesting to see play out.
But if parent-child stories aren’t your thing then there is Kevin, suffering from a very different problem. Kevin, played by Justin Hartley, is a TV star who is unfulfilled in his current role. I know. On the surface a much-loved actor feeling frustrated with his career doesn’t seem as bad as the two previous men’s problems. But Hartley plays it so well that you really feel for him. His character seems so lost and it’s sad. Maybe not as sad as Jack or Randall’s stories but still sad enough to be effective.
Finally, we have Kate, played by Chrissy Metz. Chrissy is struggling with her weight and feels that her life is unsatisfactory because of it. This is another character that is going to be relatable to a lot of people and Metz does a fantastic job portraying her. Her story is handled in a very honest but sensitive way. The shot of her in her pants on the weighing scale at the beginning of the pilot is particularly powerful. There are a lot of low points in the episode for Kate but also a lot of high points. Although, this seems to be the pattern with all of the characters and is perhaps why the show is working so well.
A dramedy is a complicated thing. Mixing humour with sadness can go terribly wrong. Or it can give rise to a beautiful creation, as is the case with This Is Us. Creator and writer Dan Fogelman has seemingly mastered the balance. For every hilarious scene (see: Toby disrupting the overeaters support group meeting) there’s one that will tug on your heartstrings (see: Randall learning that his father his dying). Even in the saddest of scenes Fogelman has managed to insert a line that will make you smile. It all seems to come together. In terms of writing it really is a spectacular episode. I only hope that such a high standard of quality continues.
This Is Us has proven itself to be in the running for best pilot of the 2016/2017 television season. I can’t find any flaws with its perfect debut episode. The cast are gifted, the writing is intelligent and the characters are compelling. And that twist at the end of the show – genius. Roll on, episode 2!
Pilot Rating: 5/5