TV Review: This Is Us 1×02 “The Big Three”

NBC

Two episodes into This Is Us and I’m still not exactly hooked, but I’m certainly interested in the story unfolding. We are essentially getting three separate stories, two in present day and one in flashback. And it seems the flashbacks won’t be told completely linearly. But for these write-ups, the show is probably best understood from front to back.

Kate and Kevin (I’m not sure if we should call them twins or triplets) are taking on one storyline as the siblings living in Los Angeles. Kevin is struggling to come to terms with having walked away from his high paying gig on a TV show and now being rejected by the industry. This story featured an excellent appearance from the great Katey Sagal (love her), and while still not a huge fan of Kevin’s storyline, the actor Justin Hartley is certainly growing on me. He had a particularly nice scene on the phone with Sterling K. Brown this episode.

Kate (Chrissy Metz), on the other hand, is a pretty compelling character, and I really like her romantic storyline with Toby (Chris Sullivan). They make a completely winning couple, their chemistry is sweet, they have good banter and I care about what happens to them. Which is pretty much all you can ask for from a show just two weeks in. Kate’s struggle to overcome obesity is a touching one that is rarely addressed honestly in movies or TV. We have a lot of shows about women who are relatively thin stressing about their weight, but the other is very rare (although probably more identifiable). The combination of that concern and fear of being mocked at places like the gym (odd, but true; the gym’s full of pressure) or a dance floor is touching.

But thanks to Sterling K. Brown, Randall’s the storyline I’m most interested in following right now. This episode we didn’t get a lot compared to the previous week. His father (Rob Cephas Jones) is still staying with him, and Randall’s too concerned about being perceived as a good man… a perfect man. So his wife (Susan Kelechi Watson) takes the role of protector, asking why he’s still around… questioning why he leaves every day to feed his cat. A cat he won’t bring with him because his granddaughters are allergic. There’s a moment on the show, when he’s learned their routine and gives his granddaughter her inhaler that is just perfect. More small, sweet moments like that and a few less of the big declarative ones on this show would go far. The “big three” chant by the adult siblings was a bit cloying.

The flashback introducing that scene was when we finally saw something of how Randall and his siblings lives played out. It seems Randall and Kevin had a history of being on the outs, and Randall being picked on for being a black child adopted by a white family. And the past also matters because we find out that their father (Milo Ventimiglia) isn’t in the picture in this future. Did he pass away, or was it a marriage that didn’t make it? All we know is their mother (Mandy Moore) is now with their father’s best friend (for how long?) and that their father developed a pretty noticeable drinking problem when they were in elementary school. It’s a small storyline, we’ve only seen him drinking in one episode, so we still need the why and when to be addressed. But Ventimiglia and Moore knock one of their scenes out of the park this episode. Although next week we’ll apparently be back to when they first had their babies (and there’ll be an appearance from Gerald McRaney… so yeah).

So far, I’m kind of just lukewarm about the series. I like the acting a lot and some of the storylines are very interesting… but one still isn’t. And that cloying quality is something a show like this really needs to watch out for. The premise on the whole is so potentially sweet, adding more in that direction could weigh it down. The reason that inhaler pump was so effective was because it was at once real and meaningful. The chant doesn’t feel so real, even with the kids… although the kids playing Kevin, Kate and Randall are totally precious, and it’s nice to see that the stories will intersect.

Rating: 7/10

Lesley Coffin is editor and founder of Movies, Film, Cinema. A writer with a masters degree from NYU’s Gallatin School in biographical studies and star theory. She wrote the biography on Lew Ayres (Lew Ayres: Hollywood’s Conscientious Objector) and Hitchcock’s Casting (Hitchcock’s Stars). Lesley currently freelances for a number of sites, including regular contributions to The Interrobang, Pink Pen, The Young Folks, and previously wrote for The Mary Sue and Filmoria.