This is Us, Pilot Review
It has been a very long time since I witnessed a television series that was about us (pun truly intended). Lately, serialized content has been focusing more about their epic scale, and less about their characters and their stories. Sure, one could argue that HBO’s Game of Thrones is as much about its characters as it is about the dragons and its fantasy world, but that argument can only go so far — and I say this being an avid fan of the series. When first saw NBC’s This Is Us trailer, it had a certain spark and it caught my eye.
The opening of the episode smoothly introduces the ensemble cast in a parallel action sequence, which results in the audience’s immediate engagement with the narrative. Mind you, this is a rather quick sequence and it is only by the strength of the actors, the power of the narrative, and the vision of the director that this is even possible. The pilot seamlessly sails through the narrative, continuing this flow from one plot to the next to the point where you forget that you are even watching a serialized medium and almost like watching a familiar home video, or memory, or recalling a story that your grandparent once told you.
Jack (played beautifully by Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (played by Mandy Moore) are expecting triplets and on Jack’s 36th birthday, the day the pilot is set, Rebecca’s water breaks just as they are about to continue a birthday tradition and they rush to the hospital. Meanwhile, Randall, a successful business man (played by Sterling K. Brown), receives a mysterious e-mail and is then immediately surprised by his co-workers who bring him a birthday cake. He is also celebrating his 36th birthday. We are then introduced to Kate (played by Chrissy Metz) and Kevin (played by Justin Hartley) as they are also celebrating their 36th birthday and realizing that their lives are not what they had planned when they were younger. Kate is over-weight, and Kevin is an actor who is selling out.
As the pilot episode progresses, we follow the characters as they go through the highs and lows of the day, leading to the midpoint where Kate decides to take things further with her new ‘fat’ friend Toby, Kevin quits his job as the lead of the sitcom “The Man-ny”, Randall invites his estranged biological father over to his house and discovers he is dying, and Rebecca’s goes into distress while in labor and one of the triplets does not survive due to the complication.
Run away if you have yet to see the Pilot.
The final of Act of the pilot episode is where all the magic happens because the writers of the show, and I must applaud them for being able to keep it all under lock and key, reveal the most tear-jerking moment of the pilot. When Randall goes to confront William Hill, his biological father, earlier in the episode, we learn that William left Randall at a firehouse and then a fireman took him to a local hospital where Randall’s adoptive parents brought him home because ‘*they felt it was right’*. Later, while Jack walks up the courage to go and visit the twins that survived, a fireman tells him that he just brought a baby that was left at his station. Then, Kate tells Kevin to remember what their father used to say when life got hard, and it happens to be the same thing that Dr. Katowsky (played by Gerald McRaney) told Jack during their pep-talk after Rebecca’s surgery.
Just like that the writers tell the audience, in an indirect way, to take a step back and look at the whole tapestry and realize that the characters before us, are more connected than we realize — they are in fact a family. Randall is the baby that Jack and Rebecca adopted when they took home their two newborn twins, Kate and Kevin.
The brilliance of this series, isn’t just the fact that it is grounded, it isn’t the fact that the actors are beyond believable, it isn’t that the execution is sharp, and it isn’t that the writing is amazing. It is the fact that they all worked together in harmony. They composed a melody that had moments that made you smile, moments that made you angry, moments that made you cry, because after all what we were watching was not just another series, no what we were watching — that was life.