‘This is Us’ proves cable dramas need explosive acting; not explosive CGI

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Here is a confession that I should just get out of the way right now. I cried five minutes into NBC’s This is Us. Not a full fledged ugly cry. Just a little swelling of tears. I’m not sure what that says about me. That I’m not manly? That I appreciate cliched tropes? That this show is the new emotional pulse of broadcast television? Probably all three; but definitely the last.

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This is Us follows four people born on the same day turning 36. Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) is married to Rebecca (Mandy Moore), who is about to have triplets. Kate (Chrissy Metz) is an women struggling with obesity who uses sticky notes to remind her not to eat fatty foods. Kevin (Justin Hartley) is a hot actor on a dumb show. Randall (Emmy-winner Sterling K. Brown) is a wealthy man with a nuclear family whose crackhead mother died in childbirth and father left him at a fire station

Early on, the show touches on the fear we all have. That we’ll wake up one day and realize the life we always dreamed we would have has already passed us by. It is not all negative though. The show does a good job balancing the emotional, gut-wrenching moments and those of blissful hope.

That is what NBC is banking on. That these four story lines will pull you in, engulf you in moments of ugly crying followed by moments of ecstasy. I figured it would be easiest to rank the four plots in order of how emotionally invested I am after the premiere. Slight spoilers to follow.

Kate

I felt the best watching this plot. It made me feel happy for humanity. There is an early scene where Kate wants to weigh herself on a bathroom scale. The scene cuts and when we come back she is standing with her back to the camera with just her underwear on. I’m not going to congratulate Metz for being proud of her body. She should be. She’s a talented actress and it doesn’t matter what she looks like. What matters is that she can pull off this performance where she doesn’t request pity from the audience. She makes her character completely relatable regardless of who is watching.

Jack and Rebecca

There was this idea of a “twist” ending lurking on the internet before the show premiered. My gut said it was going to be the story that was affected by it most. Was I right? I would never spoil that. I actually figured out the twist about halfway through (which is maybe a little too late, I admit), but that’s not the point of this section. The point of this section is to laud Ventimiglia’s performance. He is going to the glue that holds this series together. He does so much terrific acting with such subtleness that I can’t believe it took him this long to land a true leading role. Sure, it’s an ensemble but it

Randall

Brown’s performance in this proves he is an actor’s actor. It’s a straightforward plot, but the show needed this specific plot to balance out the pacing of the premiere. I’m not worried that this will serve as that throughout the series. I think a different story will serve as the pacer. It just had to be this one this week. It’s easy to connect to emotionally, and it has a lot of gravity to the situation. However, the two stories already mentioned just were so better rounded this week.

Kevin

I couldn’t emotionally connect with a successful, hot guy whining about life. I know, pretty people have problems, too. His main concern is that he wants to be taken seriously, and his show, The Manny, is a farce at best. Hartley’s performance alongside a guest-starring Alan Thicke in an emotional scene of the show within a show as well as his subsequent reaction provided the best moment for the character. But it was already too little too late to become completely invested in his plot. Luckily, his story will weave with one of my favorites.

The twist

I didn’t plan on talking about the twist, but here it is.

Jack and Rebecca lose one of their triplets in childbirth. They have twins. Jack goes to look at his babies and bumps into a fireman who reveals a baby was just dropped off at his station. That’s right. Jack and Rebecca’s timeline was concealed throughout the premiere and Kevin and Kate are their biological children while Randall is their adoptive son.

How will this play out going forward? I’m not sure. I think the show will go from four distinct plots to obviously two. The past and the present. It feels like the second episode will actually be the pilot. That next step will truly show us what This is Us is all about.

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