TV Review: This Is Us 1×04 “The Pool”

NBC's This is Us, The Pool

This week’s This is Us proved to essentially capture exactly the way I feel about this show. I like all the characters a lot for a show I’m just starting to watch. I dove right in as a viewer. I’m still just a lot more invested in the story-lines for Kate and Randall than I am with Kevin…who still isn’t a character of equal significance on the show. I feel like this week was the first time he really had a strong storyline to rival the others, so let’s start with his.

Kevin’s finally moved to New York, to try to be a “real actor” in theater. He goes in for an audition, and he’s bad. Really bad. Like technically bad. I was shocked that he really wouldn’t know how to do a read-through audition. I know acting on screens different from acting on camera but that wasn’t an audition, that was a rehearsal read-through. It went a little too far to make him the dumb, egotistical brother (he seems younger than Randall and Kate) just bombing the audition OR being told he’s a TV actor would have been enough to get the point. That’s what he was called by Janet Montgomery’s (Skins) character, who I hope will be a new addition to the show. Somehow Kevin landed the job, much to her fury, and now he has to learn to act on the stage. Oh, and he moved in with Randall because…I have NO IDEA right now.

No one seems to go to Randall’s house in a normal manner. Kevin dropped by at night to move in this episode. Rebecca drove all the way there without calling first for a very quick visit. Does Randall simply not answer his cell phone or something? As for his storyline this week, it was lower-key in terms of plot but excellent writing and acting. Sterling K. Brown (every week, I’m loving this guy) did a stellar job talking about how he faces racial prejudice as a middle class black man (raised by white parents) and we saw a lot more about the community he lives in. He seems accepted, but being with William is making him more aware of how he “protects himself” not just from racial profiling, but from getting angry about that profiling he’s faced all his life. Bravo from all involved in that part of the show; the writers, Brown, Ron Cephas Jones, and Susan Kelechi Watson who I just love on this show…give her more to do please!

Speaking of who I LOVE on this show, Chris Sullivan and Chrissy Metz scenes are always winners. They have terrific chemistry, and Sullivan finally got a really meaty story to play this episode. We learned about his marriage when his ex-wife (Natalia Cigliuti) greets him at breakfast. She’s thin and successful and seems nice, so why did their marriage break up. It’s a brief scene of his explanation why that marriage almost destroyed him, but it said a lot about his character and gave Sullivan a lot to play. Metz’s portrait of someone with such a profound lack of self-esteem is powerful to watch, seeing her looking for his ex-wife’s approval because she’s one of the pretty people. Powerful and very painful.

But it all makes sense when going back to their 8-year-old selves (right after Rebecca and Jack’s heart to heart about his drinking in episode 2) go to the pool. The difference between two and three kids is huge of course, and public outings magnify the problem. Sweet Kate wants to wear a bikini to be popular, which her dad allows despite Rebecca saying people will stare. Sadly, she of course is teased when a mean girl gives her a note. It hits the nail on why so many little girls suffer from self-esteem related to weight (often it is the other little girls’ rejection). And Jack’s approach to making Kate feel better, without discounting those feelings she has, was right on the money.

Then there’s Rebecca’s struggle with how to deal with the black mothers at the pool who see Randall. It was an uncomfortable scene when a woman chastised Rebecca for not having him playing with their kids, and she wasn’t wrong for taking offense. To take someone else’s child somewhere their parents can’t see without permission would be totally out of line…as would correcting someone else’s parenting. But Rebecca also has to acknowledge there is a difference between Randall and Kevin. There are things she simply can’t know about (like his hair and skin care), and that when she goes back to this mother (Ryan Michelle Bathe is very good here) and acknowledges that fact, she makes a big effort to do something special for Randall.

Then there’s Kevin. While Jack and Rebecca are dealing with Randall and Kate, Kevin’s just in the pool alone…struggling to swim in the deep end while his parent look away. Kevin is sort of easy to overlook on the show because his issues don’t feel as relative or urgent as the others. But this episode did make me realize that discounting his character wouldn’t be right either. Just like his parents shouldn’t discount his struggles in the family either. So while I still want to see richer development of Kevin’s character, I am going to be more invested in his character and watch all the story-lines equally.

Rating 6.5/10

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.