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Series premiere: This Is Us – 2016/17

Picture of man watching big screen tv to represent TV reviews

NBC has a new dramedy called “This Is Us” about eight people tied to the concept of shared birthdays. It sounded originally like the eight would all share a common birthday, but I think it is just four plus four additional characters involved with them. There is a link in Ep 1 that four of them are turning 36. Early on you get to meet them:

  • a nerdy black yuppie (Randall) who has tracked down the dad who abandoned him at a fire station after his mom died in childbirth;
  • an expectant father (Jack) of impending triplets; and,
  • a brother (Kevin) whose a TV star of a low-rated TV show and a sister (Kate) who is obese and wanting to make changes in her life.

When I looked at the premise, I thought it had very little promise. Too much like a few ensemble shows over the last few years — a group who won a lottery, a group who were held hostage, a group who grew up together. A combination of fast forwards and flashbacks, but it is hard for a show like that to find and hold an audience’s attention in the cut-throat world of ratings.

My prediction was that I would try an episode, likely pass, the show would get a half a season at most (10 eps maybe), and certainly no chance at renewal. Having seen an episode, I think that prediction might have been generous, because this show might need some time to gather its legs. Which is too bad.

I *liked* it. The father of the triplets is awesome — Milo Ventimiglia who was in the original Heroes series. I liked him there too, but he has some gravitas here. Much more understated.

The TV star brother (Kevin) is played by Justin Hartley. I don’t always love him, but he gets the benefit of the doubt cuz he was awesome on Smallville as Oliver Queen/Green Arrow. Here he is kind of whiny and pathetic so far.

The overweight sister is played by Chrissy Metz and I thought it was going to go “Mike and Molly” or “make fun of the fat person” cliches, but she is awesome. Let’s be frank — she is a plus-sized woman. And she has a scene where she is just in her underwear. I don’t know if it is all her, or they added to the pounds, but it is a pretty brave scene for someone without a ton of acting credits behind her. She starts of a bit cliche, and then nails it in scenes where she isn’t feeling sorry for herself.

Randall by contrast is hard to judge. He seems like he could be a cliche, but instead, he has these self-aware moments that just sizzle. It’s almost like he’s breaking the fourth wall to say, “Hey, I’m living this and it feels like I’m in a sitcom.”

And some of it rocks as drama, but there are sequential light moments that are great.

On top of it all, Gerald McRaney plays the doctor delivering the babies. And he NAILS the character. I have liked him all the way back to Simon and Simon (particularly if I ignore Major Dad) but his cameos either work great or they don’t work at all. This one may be the best I’ve ever seen him. He is absolutely fantastic.

I’ll watch it as long as it lasts, but I’m likely to be disappointed after about 4 episodes when it disappears.