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This Can’t be Much Simpler: ‘This Is Us’
November 29, 2016  | By David Hinckley  | 2 comments

It’s way too common for a TV show to start off strong and soon be running on empty.

But a select few shows have a less dynamic opening and then get good. This season, that small group includes NBC’s This Is Us, which airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET.

Equally heartening, audiences got on board and stayed on board. This Is Us has maintained a solid position as the highest rated new broadcast show on television this fall.

Last week’s Thanksgiving episode, in which a planned family gathering fell apart faster than dry stuffing, illustrated why This Is Us deserves that attention, and this week’s episode is equally strong.

For those who haven’t watched yet, the show does require some catch-up. Nothing too difficult.

This Is Us revolves around the Pearson family, focusing on three siblings who are now 36 years old: twins Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Kate (Chrissy Metz) plus Randall (Sterling K. Brown), who was sort-of adopted at birth and raised as their brother.

While all three are functioning adults, they also have serious issues. Kevin can’t keep a relationship or a gig, Kate is overweight, and Randall, despite being married with a family and a lucrative career, is having a midlife identity crisis. 

Their parents are Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), whom we mostly see in flashbacks to the time when the kids were pre-teens.

These flashbacks become devices by which Kevin, Kate, and Randall try to understand who they are and whether they can fix the things that are wrong.

Randall’s crisis, which becomes the lead storyline this week, began early in the season when he met William (Ron Cephas Brown, below right), his biological father.

At first, Randall dismissed him as an ex-junkie who abandoned Randall at birth. But as the weeks have gone by, viewers and Randall have realized the story was a lot more complicated than that.

This week’s episode, like previous episodes, shuttles among multiple storylines. But it turns more frequently to Randall, who has come to the point in his backstory where he’s asking what everyone knew and when did they know it.

He doesn’t like at least one of the answers and Brown does a solid job of conveying Randall’s anger and frustration. The writers do an equally solid job, letting Randall simmer and boil long before he has a direct confrontation with the main target of his anger.

It’s a well-played take on a familiar dynamic, and the more Randall vents, the more we all understand that things are less black-and-white than they first seem.

Kate, meanwhile, considers the ramifications of her apparent decision to have stomach bypass surgery and her corresponding breakup with her boyfriend Toby.

Kevin is savoring what he considers the best kiss ever, from the cool and exotic British actress Olivia (Janet Montgomery). Like many of Kevin’s fantasies, this one may not last, though Kevin often does find a Plan B.

The episode is sprinkled with pop-culture and some dark humor, of course. It also continues the show’s MO of a rolling storyline, where intriguing vignettes pop up and then may be submerged for a while as we uncover more about the Pearsons, past and present.

In the end, though, This Is Us maintains a steady focus on its central thread, which is the struggle of people who are damaged, but not broken.

They still screw up. They don’t give up. It’s hard to get more universal than that.

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I so appreciate dramas without a body count that I often grade them on curve, but This is Us doesn't need to be graded on a curve. It's up there with Friday Night Lights.
Nov 30, 2016   |  Reply
love this show!! have tears of sadness and joy at every episode............
Nov 30, 2016   |  Reply
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