Wednesday, November 23, 2016

THIS IS US - My New Favorite TV Show

THIS IS US is a new NBC show that started in September.  Currently, it is broadcast on Tuesday evenings at 9:00 pm on my local NBC station.  

Those of you who know me, know that I was.... am.... a huge fan of Downton Abbey.  That was a show that I looked forward to and savored every minute of.  This is Us is like that for me.  I look forward to watching it every week, and I savor every minute it is on.  Then when an episode is over, it is over too soon - I want more.  

The premise of the show is based on the Pearson family:  Dad, Jack (played by Milo Ventimiglia), Mom, Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and their 3 "triplets" sort of.  Rebecca got pregnant during Super Bowl XIV (January 1980).  9 months later, she gave birth to 2 healthy fraternal twins named Kevin and Kate (as adults, played by Justin Hartley and Chrissy Metz), but the 3rd baby was still-born.  As Jack looked in the hospital nursery window, he struck up a conversation with a fireman standing next to him.  It turns out the fireman had just brought in a baby that was left at the fire station.  This was a black boy who was in a crib next to Kevin and Kate.  As Jack and Rebecca dealt with their grief over losing their 3rd triplet, they decided to adopt the abandoned baby.  Originally they named their third baby Kyle, but they changed his name to Randall when he was still an infant.  As an adult, Randall is played by Sterling K. Brown.   

Actors of the Pearson family - Dad Jack, Mom Rebecca, Randall, Kevin and Kate

 One of the most amazing elements of the structure of the show is the way it flips back and forth through time.  Much of it is set now, but every episode has flashbacks to the early years of the family showing connections between what happened to everyone in the past and how that has shaped them into who they are now.  We first meet Jack and Rebecca when she is still pregnant.  They have just moved into a new home which has not yet been decorated, so there is nothing visual that dates them... for awhile.  It isn't until we see the inside of the hospital, where people are smoking, that we realize the time is not current.  The "now" part of the show starts on the 36th birthday of the triplets.  Each one is dealing with something emotional and dramatic.

Through the episodes, we watch the kids as they are growing up.  How they interact with each other and others outside the family helps us see how their personalities formed and relationships developed.  The family is loving and very close, but they are not without problems.  Tension mounts between Kevin and Randall as they compete for the attention of their parents. and Kate struggles with her own self-image as she learns to navigate the world as a chubby child.

For me, the most intriguing thing is the layers of complexity that are interwoven in the script.  Each episode peels back a few more layers, helping us get to know everyone more deeply.  As we get to know them more, the affection for them builds.  The situations they deal with feel very real, and the individuals feel very real.  The two realities that I connect the most with come from Kate and Randall.

Kate is dealing with her weight which has been a problem for her almost her entire life. She went from being a chubby child to being an extremely overweight woman.  She finds herself at a place in her life where her weight problems overshadow everything else.  It affects her ability to have a romantic relationship and even to hold down a job. After having tried traditional weight-loss techniques, Kate announces at the end of this week's episode that she is going to have gastric bypass surgery.   The actress Chrissy Metz has revealed that weight loss is actually in her contract with the show.  (Article about Chrissy's own battle.)

Randall is dealing with having been adopted.  He always knew he was adopted because the racial difference was obvious, and as a child, he kept a notebook with hash marks for other black people that he saw.  Even though he was clearly loved by his adoptive mother and father, he always felt there was something missing.  When we meet him on his 36th birthday, he has just located and met his biological father William Hill who then becomes part of his life and actually moves into Randall's home.  

William (played by Ron Cephas Jones) is a former drug addict who gave up his baby after the love of his life died in childbirth.  By the time Randall finds him, he is dying of stage 4 stomach cancer.  While the viewers have known this for awhile, this week's episode revealed to Randall that his adoptive mother Rebecca had actually known William for most of Randall's life and had even sent William updates on Randall's growth.  Learning that his mother had kept this from him was devastating to him.  Here is a photo of the first meeting of William and Rebecca when Randall was still a baby. 

Kevin's issues as an adult are interesting albeit not as personal to me.  He is a successful Hollywood actor who quits a TV show that has made him a star because it feels phony to him.  He was "The Manny", and the producers seemed hell-bent on showing him shirtless to delight viewers.  On his 36th birthday. he quits the show and flies to New York to pursue a stage career which he believes will be more meaningful.  He is quickly cast in a play opposite a woman named Olivia who (of course) becomes a love interest of his.  She has her own complex issues which have left her with a very surly attitude. We are just starting to learn more about her.   

Basic plot summaries of the episodes can be found here on Wikipedia.

You can also watch previous episodes on the main NBC link here.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the show if you are already a fan.  What are your favorite parts?  What can you relate to?

Thanks for visiting!  Have a Wonderfully Happy THANKSGIVING!


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