21 September 2016
NBC’s new family drama This Is Us is being marketed as the new Parenthood. The fact that Parenthood had to die so this could live has to be one of the great tragedies of the modern television age. Where that show was honest and nuanced, this one is contrived and obvious. Naturalistic dialogue is replaced with a truly shocking number of big speeches and everything is about as subtle as a hammer to the head.
The pilot follows four people on their 36th birthday. There’s Milo Ventimiglia whose wife Mandy Moore is giving birth to triplets. There’s Justin Hartley as an objectified sitcom star and his twin sister Chrissy Metz whose only character trait is that she’s fat and doesn’t like being fat. Then there’s Sterling K. Brown who won an Emmy mere hours ago then inexplicably ended up here, playing a man who was left at a fire station as a baby and now lives a very delightful-seeming life but is still pretty mad about that first part. That’s the extent of our character development thus far and I don’t see it getting all that much better, certainly not for poor fat Kate whose plight is presented in the pilot with all the insight of Wolf Blitzer reporting on women’s health.
It took me a shockingly long time to figure out the remarkably contrived twist but *spoiler alert, I guess* it’s your basic Modern Family “they’re all related” bait and switch with Milo & Mandy apparently existing in the shockingly unidentifiable past and having adopted Brown’s Randall after one of their triplets died (because raising twins isn’t hard enough). So I guess we’ll be watching Randall, Kate and Kevin simultaneously as adults and as babies?
So far the only interesting performance is from Hartley whose own eye-candy career (Passions!) gives him plenty to draw on as Kevin. More screentime for him and a substantive focus on the Kevin/Kate relationship (easily the pilot’s strongest) will bode well for the series. Randall’s wife also seems like a cool chick but that’s based on basically nothing.
I’m usually a big fan of creator Dan Fogelman (I loved Galavant, was a staunch defender of his short-lived alien sitcom The Neighbors, and am likely the only person alive who remembers The Guilt Trip fondly) and my faith in him is the only reason I’ll return to give This Is Us another shot but the pilot episode was one of the worst episodes of television I’ve seen since, well, since Kevin Can Wait I guess but, excluding that, it’s the worst pilot I’ve seen in years.