TV: This Is Us

Show: This Is Us
Network: NBC
Airs: Tuesdays 10/9 central
Starring, Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimiglia, Sterling K. Brown, Justin Hartley
Rating: TV-14
FA Scorecard: A
Reviewed by: Lori Twichell

According to NBC, sometimes life will surprise you.  Life might surprise you but honestly, it isn’t often that television shows do. Usually there’s a formula and it works so the networks stick with it. We can all see those trends. Cop shows, hospital shows, lawyer shows. They’re all pretty formulaic. So when a network goes for a drama that’s outside the norm, you stand up and take note. This is Us is one of those shows.

The Trailer on Youtube had been watched over 8 million times before it premiered. I would hope that shows NBC that shows about real people with real life issues are something that their audience would like to  see.

The show opens with an adorably cute couple played by Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore as they celebrate his birthday. She is so pregnant that it’s almost painful to watch her even try to move. But it doesn’t take long for the chemistry between the two of them to hit nearly perfect Disney-esque status. Can’t you just see her as the adorable head cheerleader and he’s the perfect quarterback? It doesn’t take long for real life to pop the adorable bubble. Life is about to make a breakneck shift for them. She’s in labor. Triplets.  It’s time to hold on for the ride.

At this point, things begin to switch back and forth between a group of people – all of whom are celebrating birthdays.  Kate ( Chrissy Metz) is overweight and can’t figure out how she got here. At one point, sitting on the bathroom floor with her brother (Justin Hartley) she opines that she had a dream of the perfect life but now she just looks like she ate it.  For his part, her brother Kevin is a highly successful actor. He’s known the world over as The Manny. His picture graces magazines and the studio audience is filled to overflow every week to watch the taping of the show. He should be happy, but we can all tell it’s just not as perfect as you might think. He’s missing something. And in another place entirely,  Randall (Sterling K. Brown) is a successful business person but it’s obvious there’s something missing behind that smile and the happy suburban facade. His life is good. He knows it. But there’s a hole and he needs it filled.

As the stories unfold, we peel back the layers on these people who all share a birthday and with each layer, these people become richer and deeper. More than just characters on a screen, it doesn’t take long to make a visceral connection. Each of them in some way represents a hurt that most of us have experienced. A doctor’s dire predictions.  People not liking us for who we are. Someone we love but who maybe isn’t quite the best thing for us. A missing piece of ourselves that seems to be scattered somewhere else. We’ve all known that somewhere. (Right? Or is it just me?)

And then there’s this twist! This mind boggling blow your mind twist. And everything you thought you knew is different.   After that, you’ll want to go back and watch again to see how you missed it the first time around.

I absolutely loved this program. Like over the top, fell head over heels for it. In many ways, it doesn’t even feel like it was a program we were meant to just sit down and watch for an hour a week. This felt like new friends being introduced into our lives. I cringed whenever someone asked Kevin to take off his shirt. I watched through my fingers when Kate felt like she had to take off everything to step on the scale. (Been there, done that.) Randall’s desperate insistence that his life was good while he was missing some key part to himself was agonizing. But I laughed a lot too. I smiled. I anticipated. And I cheered in some places. Yup, there were even a few tears.

And there’s no way I can skip over Dr. Katowsky (played brilliantly by Gerald McRaney) in there. The man exudes experience and wisdom.  I mean this  is the kind of guy who makes you want to sit on the floor and just listen to whatever story he wants to share.   I mean if he asked you to follow him through a minefield with bullets flying, you’d go. Cause he knows what he’s doing.  He was so good, so perfect for this situation that I almost expected him to walk away and disappear into the ether only to leave us mere mortals behind. And yet he was still just as real as anyone we might meet today. My only disappointment was that the big twist at the end made me wonder if we’d ever see him again.  IMDB says probably not , but there’s always hope, right?

I’ll be honest. I approach most television shows with some hesitancy. I’m afraid to make a connection because it’s like I’m getting into someone else’s car as a passenger. I’m a little afraid of where they might take us or, as is often the case these days, if they’ll even finish the ride. What if they take us someplace and just drop us off to wander back home on our own? (Yeah, it’s heavy for a television connection but still – a lot of fans feel this way when they have made that connection and the network cancels.) I’m so glad that This Is Us was as brilliant as the trailer and all of the commercials. This is a program with heart, grace, and humor all wrapped up in a fabulous intriguing twist that made it far more than just another dramatic story.

Some have said it’s the new Parenthood. I’m not there. I think it set the bar higher than that.

You’ve got me NBC. Now please, please, please keep me.

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