This is Us is the rare family drama that we don’t often see on television anymore. Like Parenthood or Everwood, the show deals with some adult topics but keeps its focus on the struggles of different families. The concept is simple and straightforward: the show begins by focusing on a variety of characters who are celebrating their 36th birthdays.
The characters include Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), a soon-to-father expecting triplets with his wife Rebecca (Mandy Moore). There's also Kate (Chrissy Metz), an overweight woman struggling with her diet. Then there’s Justin (Justin Hartley), a successful actor on a silly sitcom who wants more than the rubbish he’s been reading on the script. Then, there’s Randall (Sterling K. Brown), a successful businessman trying to locate his birth father.
Each of these storylines have their dramatic and painful moments but there’s a sincerity in all of their anguish. The characters are all struggling with distinct personal issues but they all feel like relatable and kind-hearted people simply trying to do their best.
At the heart of the show though is family and it’s an idea that carries over from scene to scene. From Jack’s love of his wife to Kate’s relationship to her brother to Randall’s feelings for his absentee father, these characters all feel a deep kinship to their loved ones. It seems obvious that as the show progresses, these relationships will take center stage as the struggles continue.
The show was created by Dan Fogelman, a writer who previously wrote Crazy, Stupid Love and Danny Collins — two wonderful films with a focus on families breaking apart and then coming together. This is Us feels similar. The complications in this show feel like everyday complications that some people have to face despite their best attempts to avoid them.
The pilot, which was made available for review, beautifully sets up the disparate storylines that do come together nicely in the end.
However, each of these storylines is so strong by itself that one imagines that an entire show being built around them. Jack and Rebecca face a painful delivery with the care and affection of Doctor K. (Gerald McRaney). Kate faces her fridge and her weight issues, making it a point to attend a support group where she begins a romance with the sweet but sarcastic Toby (Chris Sullivan). Kevin has a TMZ-worthy breakdown on the set of his show much to the consternation of Alan Thicke, who guest-stars as himself. Randall meets and surprisingly befriends his birth father William (Ron Cephas Jones), much to the chagrin of his ever-patient wife.
These events on these characters’ respective birthdays are big and major turning points and it seems like the perfect opportunity for this show to begin. Each of the actors cast here seem up for the challenge with Chrissy Metz really standing out as a unique character we seldom see on television. “How the hell did I get here,” she painfully asks — her pointed inquiry opening a door to her personal heartbreak.
Late in the show, there’s a beautiful and tender moment when William turns to the son he abandoned as a child and offers his subtle thanks. “It was the kindness you’ve shown me,” he says referencing his gratitude for his son introducing him to his grancdhildren. It’s a moment of true warmth and love in a show that seems packed with such feelings.
When the trailer for this show was posted on YouTube, it broke records with its uplifting message. The trailer though was only a glimpse of what this show has to offer. If the show’s future episodes live up to the pilot, this will be one of the best shows of the fall.
Looking for more shows about families? Click here for our list of five family-friendly programs you can watch with your kids.