By Paula Hendrickson
One television show kept coming up in conversations over the holidays. NBC’s breakout hit drama, This Is Us.
I was hooked from the start. The pilot episode’s big twist (which contains so many clues that upon re-watching it you find yourself going, “Why didn’t I catch that?”) was great, but what really kept me tuning in was the cast – especially how well and naturally they interact with one another.
Every scene between Randall (Sterling K. Brown, who won an Emmy last year for his portray of Chris Darden in The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story) and his wife Beth, Susan Kelechi Wilson (Louie, The Blacklist), is punctuated with knowing looks and humor that underscore the couple’s strong bond. You believe they’re married with two daughters.
Likewise, Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes, Gilmore Girls) radiates Jack’s joy and optimism in nearly every scene. The Thanksgiving episode, ‘Pilgrim Rick’, encompasses everything that makes Jack one of the coolest dads on TV. Almost single-handedly, he turns a nightmare holiday situation into a beloved family tradition. Whether Jack is interacting with his wife Rebecca (Mandy Moore), his kids, or the peculiar guy working the night shift at a creepy motel, he’s the kind of guy you want in your corner.
The show also created one of TV’s most unlikely and delightful romances when Kate (Chrissy Metz) met Toby (Chris Sullivan) at a weight loss group. (By the time this column runs, we should know about Toby’s fate following the cliffhanger mid-season finale.)
One of the many things This is Us did right was casting kids to play Randall, Kate, and Kevin for the flashback scenes. Not only do the kids bear eerie resemblances to their adult counterparts, they’re wonderful actors too. You feel the pain of young Kate (Mackenzie Hancsicak) being dissed by the mean girls at the public swimming pool, you understand young Randall’s (Lonnie Chavis) reluctance to stand out among his peers, and how young Kevin (Parker Bates) feels so lost that he acts out for attention.
Sure, some scenes and storylines in This is Us are emotionally manipulative and melodramatic, but the actors’ portrayals ground their characters in a way that makes it all work, which forges a powerful connection with viewers.
There’s a reason so many friends and relatives I spoke to over the holidays listed This is Us among their favorite TV shows of the new season: the characters come across as real human beings, warts and all.
This is Us airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on NBC.
Previous episodes can be seen on NBC.com.