September 20, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “This Is Us”


THIS IS US:  Tuesday 10PM on NBC (moves to 9PM on 10/11) – If Nothing Else Is On

NBC’s THIS IS US was created by Dan Fogelman, and the pilot was directed by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, the same team that wrote and directed the 2011 feature Crazy, Stupid, Love.  That movie, you may recall, built to a Big Reveal in its last act.  The team clearly likes that mode, because the This Is Us pilot similarly pulls a “gotcha!” in its final few minutes.  The difference, of course, was that once Crazy, Stupid had revealed its hand, it was more or less over.  This Is Us is just getting started, and in a sense it’s tough to tell what the series will be like, because that Big Twist changes what it had previously appeared the series would be.

As is probably already clear, all this trickiness makes the This Is Us pilot hard to describe in great detail without stepping into Spoiler territory.  This much is safe:  the pilot presents us with four storylines.  Two involve fraternal twins, Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Kate (Chrissy Metz).  Kevin is a hunky sitcom star who’s frustrated with the limitations of his role; Kate attends an overeaters’s support group and experiences various degrees of self-loathing.  Meanwhile, Randall (Sterline K. Brown, recent Emmy-winner for The People Vs. O.J. Simpson), who has the same birthday as Kevin and Kate, chooses that birthday to seek out his birth father William (Ron Cephas Jones), a former crackhead who abandoned him as a newborn at a local fire station.  And Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) are about to go into labor with triplets; Jack has the same birthday as Kevin, Kate and Randall, and so will the triplets.

Structural twists aside, This Is Us is aimed at the Parenthood audience, who want to weep a bit for the travails of (somewhat) ordinary people.  It’s extremely well-acted, especially by Gerald McRaney as Rebecca’s kind OB-GYN, and Fogelman is skilled at combining laughs with throat-lumps.  The problem is that none of the individual stories are all that interesting, at least to start.  By the end of the pilot, Kate is essentially the star of her own Mike & Molly clone, Kevin’s storyline is self-indulgent and silly (network multi-camera sitcoms are dumb?  you don’t say!), and Randall’s is shamelessly soapy.  Rebecca and Jack are the most appealing characters, but since her labor is their full role on the pilot, and that’s obviously a one-time event, it’s hard to tell who they’re really intended to be.

Fogelman’s work on television (The Neighbors, Galavant) tends to get better over time, and perhaps This Is Us will prove that it has more than tricks up its sleeve.  NBC is fully behind it, giving the series a prized position behind The Voice, and the competition of sitcoms on ABC, Scream Queens on FOX, and the new Bull on CBS is aimed at different audiences.  In a network landscape littered with procedurals and rote sitcoms, it’s a show that’s easy to root for.  But its first hour doesn’t fully demonstrate how its pieces will come together.

NETWORK FINALS:  Fewer Gimmicks, More Substance.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."