Original Airdate: September 20, 2016
Hello, fall television! And welcome, everyone, to my new favorite obsession of the television season. Where do I even start with This Is Us? First off, I should start by saying that this is the first show of the fall (returning or new) that I have watched and the bar has now been set very high. After watching and re-watching the trailer and unapologetically weeping, I knew I would be in for a treat. The truth is, when Parenthood ended, I basically stopped investing in NBC shows. The network always seems to take away the best, but it feels good to be back.
So let’s dive right into the plot of This Is Us: the show begins with married couple Jack and Rebecca on Jack’s 36th birthday. We find out very quickly that they are about to welcome a new addition to their family: their first kid. Well, scratch that — first THREE kids, as she is expecting triplets. We then encounter another character named Kate, who is struggling with her weight and letting it consume every facet of her life. We also meet actor Kevin, who is having a sort of mid-life career crisis on his birthday. And then finally, we meet Randall, who gets some really special news — and not just the birthday cake that his employees deliver to him. (Sidenote: Is HR supposed to bring cakes with employees’ ages out? Just a thought.)
At this point in the episode, all we know as the audience is that the plot of the show will be centered on these five people, but we don’t know how they are connected. Kate, struggling on her 36th birthday to pull her life together and drop the weight, has an accident and twists her ankle. The person she calls is Kevin, and we realize they are twins! Sharing a special bond, these two get a lot of screen time as the pilot progresses. They are each struggling with being 36 and not having the families, relationships, and careers they thought they would in this moment. When life gets hard though, it is clear to see that Kevin and Kate have each other.
We cut to Randall chatting with his wife, Beth, at their daughters’ soccer games, and he informs her that he found his birth father, William. Apparently Randall’s mother was an addict and died during childbirth. William, immediately after Randall’s birth, dropped him at a fire station. Beth is concerned and not quite sure how to help him process this information. At the time, he isn’t sure what he will do with this information, but from the little we know about Randall, he seems persistent if nothing else.
Unable to shake knowing that he has a father out there, he goes to meet him. His plan is to be angry, and show this man that he made it, in spite of his absence and lack of support. Randall begins with anger and rants to William about how he doesn’t need him. But that anger eventually subsides, and he ends up going inside William’s house (and then inviting him to his house to meet Beth and his daughters). Beth is obviously surprised at the arrival of William, but she is trying to give Randall the space to handle this life change in the best way he knows how.
To be fair, he doesn’t know how to handle what is happening. It is a drastic life decision to meet a biological parent, and a range of emotions ensue for Randall. I love that while she may not trust William — and let’s be clear that no one should at this point because we know little to nothing about him apart from what he tells Randall — Beth is giving Randall the freedom, space and time to process in the best way he can.
Kevin, on his hit multi-cam show, really is struggling with the content of the show and character he plays. He is an actor who craves more depth and emotional work, but is on a show that is superficial and filled with live audience laughter. He talks to the writers about changing the show and his character a bit, giving the “manny” more layers. The writer obliges him for one scene and Kevin receives a standing ovation for the emotional content. You can tell that Kevin really connected with his character and career in that moment. This wasn’t just the career satisfaction that he was looking for, though — it was the personal satisfaction he is seeking, too. He is fine until the writer asks him to do a reshoot of the scene that is lighter and less emotional. That’s when Kevin has a breakdown and is decides to quit the show.
Meanwhile, Kate decides to join a support group in hopes of finding people who will continue to encourage her on her weight loss journey. She meets Toby, who is genuinely interested in her, but less committed to losing weight. Kate is really determined to make a change, so I wonder if Toby will be a help or hindrance in this journey. Nevertheless, Kate goes out on a date with him, but ultimately is interrupted by Kevin’s emotional (and drunk) meltdown. Group date it is! Well, at least Kate is making time for love.
Rebecca and Jack are trying to have a romantic moment for Jack’s birthday when her water breaks. They head to the hospital to find that their normal doctor had a medical emergency of his own and a qualified stranger will be delivering their triplets. This stranger named Dr. K is warm, kind, and thoughtful, but also direct. He wants to tell the parents early on about their options (considering Rebecca is a high-risk pregnancy and there is a chance that not every baby will survive the delivery), but Jack refuses to listen. Jack is adamant that he believes all three babies will be delivered healthy and happy, without any complications. You can see in Dr. K’s eyes that something is wrong, but he follows the parents’ leads and just tries to deliver the babies in the best he can. Unfortunately though, during labor, Rebecca loses consciousness after the first baby is delivered, and Dr. K is forced to deliver the babies himself.
We then cut, later, to Jack in the waiting room. Dr. K meets him and tells him that one baby didn’t make it, but he still has twins and a wife. There’s a beautiful little moment where Dr. K tells Jack that he needs to make the most out of the cards that he was dealt, and that he is still a father.
Now here is the end-of-episode twist: we see Jack go to visit the twins. A man is standing next to him. Jack asks the man which kid is his, and he says none. He is a firefighter who just found a baby on the doorstep and brought him to the hospital. Earlier in Dr. K’s pep talk, he mentioned that Jack will be bringing home three babies still, just not in the way he expected. It is in that moment that the planted seed from Dr. K and his insight is grown.
Because, you see, the little baby abandoned at the fire station is Randall. Randall, Kate, and Kevin are siblings! Jack and Rebecca adopted Randall, and are their parents. This storyline takes place 36 years before Randall, Kate, and Kevin’s stories. And so now we will see Jack and Rebecca raise their biological twins and their adopted son at the age of 36, while also seeing their children’s lives at 36. I was genuinely surprised by this twist, and I’m eager to see what the writers do with this.
While I know race will play a large part into the storyline — having an African- American son being raised in a white family 36 years in the past — and will come with its own sets of ups and downs, I am excited to learn more about Randall and his siblings. I’m excited to see the past and present collide, how major historical events impact these relationships, and all three of these journeys discovering self and identity. I am also curious to see the struggles that Jack and Rebecca have as first-time parents of three babies and how everyone grows into their own. This twist was a welcomed surprise and the This Is Us already has more heart than I could ever imagine. I absolutely cannot wait to see more!
So what will happen next? How will this show sustain its appeal? Were you shocked by the family twist? Did you enjoy the pilot?
Share your thoughts below!